Developing and enforcing company policies and procedures can be challenging. It becomes even more difficult when your business has to comply with the policies and procedures established by other businesses and regulatory agencies.
Unfortunately, some businesses find compliance to be an area of stress. Employees find themselves at odds with each other, communications break down between teams and there is the risk of noncompliance due to misunderstandings. What is important in compliance is the development of a mentality that helps you and your people to think and act in ways that keep you in compliance while reducing risk and tension.
Here are the three hallmarks of the compliance mentality:
Ask questions. To be in compliance, your company has to understand the guidelines it’s complying with. This means that it isn’t good enough to be 90-percent sure about a policy, to make guesses (no matter how educated) about a standard, or to rely on common sense when interpreting a law or regulation. If your people aren’t certain about something, they need to start asking questions. They also need to keep asking questions until your company has the information it needs to be in compliance.
Asking questions is hard for many people. They feel stupid and incompetent. These feelings are exacerbated when it becomes necessary to double- and triple-check seemingly minute details.
The compliance mentality addresses these feelings by recognizing that questions are necessary to the success of your business. When you’re out of compliance, your business is at risk. The questioner needs to understand that he or she is neither ignorant nor a pest, but is a guardian of your company’s long-term success.
Accept the standards. Businesses, industry boards and governmental agencies sometimes come up with rules, policies and regulations that we don’t agree with. They may be inconvenient, incompatible with how your business does things or simply make no sense.
While it’s easy to get frustrated, it’s crucial to work on being accepting. While there is nothing wrong with your team trying to get a rule or standard changed, as long as the rule is in place, your primary goal should be complying with it. Team members who have difficulty moving from frustration to acceptance aren’t going to be as effective as those who are willing to find ways to work within established guidelines.
Acceptance also means that your team doesn’t waste energy on trying to figure out ways to skirt around the rules that they don’t agree with. The compliance mentality understands the importance of acting in good faith. Regulators, industry leaders and other business owners are more likely to listen to your suggestions for policy and regulatory changes when your team has demonstrated a consistently positive attitude.
Affirm your team’s efforts. While some of your team members may have the word “compliance” in their job titles and descriptions, it’s a mistake to force them to bear the entire burden of keeping your business compliant. Siloing compliance quickly creates an adversarial environment within your company. Your sales, product development and marketing people regard compliance as the “business prevention department,” and your compliance managers develop a persecution complex.
Compliance professionals need to feel affirmed and supported by upper management. But more importantly, it’s crucial that other departments understand why compliance does what it does. Without this knowledge, it’s easy for other departments to question the loyalty of compliance staff and to regard them as bureaucrats.
A corporate culture that is affirming of compliance is one in which everyone understands the entire company is at risk when a product is out of compliance. Relationships are severed or strained, products may be recalled and public trust compromised.
In worst-case scenarios, the business may find itself subject to litigation and investigation by regulatory agencies. The compliance mentality seeks to reduce, and even eliminate, these risks by staying in compliance and affirming the work of compliance specialists.
Don’t let negative attitudes about compliance derail your good work. Develop an appreciation of how compliance protects your company and helps it to grow. Bring this new mentality into your daily routine and encourage your team members to adopt it.
Over time, compliance will become less of a chore for your company and more of a challenge to improve your company’s standards and practices.
Lainie Petersen previously served as a senior compliance administrator for a large educational company and is now editor of Walmart News Now.