How the Role of Your Compliance Program is Changing


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In 2019, the need for a strong compliance program—and empowered professionals to execute that program—is greater than ever. Consider these developments:

  • Federal, state, municipal, and industry regulators have instituted stricter, more complex, and further-reaching rules and laws governing a wide range of compliance concerns. For instance, California passed the California Consumer Privacy Act that will go into effect Jan. 1, 2020—but the law has faced constant scrutiny, interpretation, and confusion since its passage.
  • Outside watchdogs (e.g., regulators, consumer groups, the media, and even customers) have heightened their vigilance of organizations, looking for noncompliance and otherwise immoral and unethical behavior.
  • Social media can quickly turn business transgressions—whether they are workplace harassment incidents, data breaches, or other instances of noncompliance—into embarrassing scandals that erode public confidence.

Unfortunately, compliance officers often don’t get the respect they deserve. Besides fostering an uneasy relationship between compliance and the rest of the organization, this perception limits what professionals can accomplish with more support. The benefits of a dynamic compliance role have the potential to help the entire company.


The Roles of Compliance Professionals: Perception vs. Potential

How compliance officers often feel:

What compliance officers, given the right support, can become:

Hall monitor

Rule follower

Dean of students


Fall guy

Intelligence officer


Knight in shining armor

The Perception of Compliance Specialists

Compliance officers and personnel are a special breed—the job can be thankless and undervalued; they may be ignored until a compliance crisis comes up, at which point others might wonder where they’ve been the whole time. Some common “roles” corporate compliance officers are tabbed with, fair or not, include:

  • Hall monitor: This assumes that the compliance officer is there to point out little things, gently reminding people (or nagging them, depending on the attitude of person getting the advice …) to be smart and stay compliant.
  • Rule follower: Audits and oversight are such a big part of corporate compliance’s job; personnel must stay on top of the rules and ensure adherence, even if employees believe infractions are “minor.”
  • Dean of students: This role is proactively authoritative (and maybe a little fear-inducing) so that compliance rules are followed for fear of punitive action when they don’t. No detention is given like it would be by a real school dean, but still, employees may dread being contacted by compliance.
  • Fixer: A compliance mess happens, and someone must deal with the aftermath.
  • Fall guy: The “thankless” description from before lands on this role too often—an incident happens, and the C-suite wonders why the compliance department didn’t prevent employees from causing it.

These roles, warranted or not—and indeed, many compliance professionals have days when they think they do nothing but fix others’ mistakes or remind someone for the umpteenth time to not be stupid—limit the potential of corporate compliance. Specialists get bogged down in policing and are unable to create a well-oiled compliance machine that delivers education, mitigates risk, and reduces problems.  


How Compliance Specialists Should Be Used

Audits and oversight will always remain a big part of the compliance department’s role; regulatory requirements make much of this core work unavoidable, and experts are needed to handle it. Yet compliance specialists are poised to achieve much more in the way of proactive strategy beyond telling someone, “Hey, don’t do that!” The expanded roles can include:

  • Intelligence officer: Compliance experts deliver valuable, resonant information that helps employees be better at what they do.
  • Ringer: In the sports world, a ringer is an all-star, brought in with a unique skill set to help the team. In compliance, this role vastly improves the organization by educating employees, recognizing trouble spots ahead of time, and realizing improved results.
  • Knight in shining armor: This might be the preferred role: a noble warrior who defends the organization from compliance disasters, advises the masses, and leads the charge against knowledge gaps and potential dangers.

Ultimately, compliance professionals must be seen as allies, not adversaries. This change is especially critical as the stakes for noncompliant organizations increase.


Training Tools for the Transformation

Employee training is a small part of the compliance department’s job, but it is nonetheless essential and offers an opportunity to deliver long-lasting results in the form of employees who know to make the right decisions at the right time. Consider:

  • Adaptive training technology: A far cry from boring training that follows the same path no matter the user or the responses to test questions, an adaptive course automatically adjusts to how the employee is progressing through the course. For example, someone who is struggling with a certain concept may be served information and questions to master that concept; someone breezing through the content may be exposed to advanced ideas and tougher questions...and finish faster.
  • Robust data: The best training platforms embrace and provide comprehensive behavioral data based on employees' interaction with courses. These metrics not only identify problem areas but also drive future strategy and allow compliance personnel to predict where the organization may be headed for trouble.
  • Micro learning: Compliance doesn’t need to be limited to once-a-year training. Micro learning allows compliance professionals to send relevant content that refreshes employees’ skills (particularly if the data says those employees are at risk for a knowledge relapse) and introduces new concepts.
  • Job aids: Even employees who have seemingly mastered compliance rules may want references and reminders to help them in their day-to-day jobs. Digital job aids—anything from checklists to infographics—provide people with critical yet easily accessible information when they need it, where it’s most impactful.

These tools and others help make corporate compliance officers’ lives easier because they can stop being the fixer, or the hall monitor, or the fall guy—and instead be the knight, charging into battle and protecting the organization and its employees.

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