Looking for tips and ideas in the compliance field? Check out Mary Shirley’s new book -

How to Live your Best Compliance Life: 65 Hacks and Cheat Codes to Level up your Compliance Program.

Joe Murphy

By Joe Murphy

I like sources that provide practical ideas that we can use in our compliance programs.  Either we can just lift the idea right out and start using it, or it may inspire us to our own new ideas that are perfect for our company. 

If you appreciate new ideas then you will be delighted with Mary Shirley’s personal journey building up a rich repertoire of practical ideas. 

Here I will give you just a small sample of ones I liked; I have included the page reference so you can get the full picture on each.  Use the ones I have covered here if they work for you, but by all means go to the original source, to Mary’s book. 

I am a big believer in the importance of compliance champions; our journal has even published an extensive bibliography of sources on this subject (“Field & Business Unit Compliance & Ethics Managers”).  Mary adds in a nice additional idea at pp. 25-26, to give the position an air of prestige, to make this a position people crave, perhaps seen as a path to promotion. If I remember correctly at one time GE (when it was a giant in the corporate world) was known to do this with internal auditors – it was a ticket that ambitious employees would want punched if they wanted to advance. Field compliance positions could have that same cache, especially considering how much talent and skill any compliance position may require.

Mary, who writes in a very personal way, even offers insights on personal development.  For example, at pages 39-40 she shares an idea from Walter Johnson, who makes a point of having lunch with a new person each week.  This can help develop relationships throughout the company.   

She also offers a nice lesson on the danger of making assumptions. She had heard people complain about receiving too many emails in general, but when she took the opportunity to ask what was their preferred way for them to hear about compliance matters, the answer was still that same vehicle – emails.  The more you talk with people, ask questions, and listen, the wiser you can become.    

On page 57 she recommends some specific compliance exit interview questions for departing compliance team members: 

  • What should I continue doing?
  • What should I stop doing?
  • What should I start doing?

Asking and listening is always good.  I would just add one more excellent one I learned from Amii Bernard Bahn: “What is one thing I could do better?”

On page 92 she cites my co-editor, Adam Balfour, for using a monthly compliance tip as part of his email signature block. Simple enough to do, and a nice, add-on step. I like ideas where you can bookmark the page you are reading, turn to your laptop, and in a minute you have made the idea your own.

On pages 94-96 she cleverly picks up a specific term to apply generically:  mystery shop your compliance program.  This could mean, for example, calling your helpline to test it out, or sit in on a compliance presentation.  I really like this approach, and it can be considered qualitative data assessment of your C&E program. This is not a tool that needs to be rigorous and statistically valid. You can find enormously helpful insights from discussions with people.  Big data has its place, but it can never replace qualitative data.  You should do this type of checking and assessment, but also be sure to include it in your write up of your program, because it demonstrates how serious you are. 

Pages 139-40 provide more on qualitative data analytics. Here she provides as an example a  short list of questions to ask during training sessions. In this she taps into a central point for all of us, that there are not really the sharp lines between various compliance functions that some observers may think, and that one type of activity, such as live training, can add more to the program than just its nominal purpose. Training also provides data and can even serve as a form of auditing, if the trainer is observant enough.   

Pages 63-65 delivered some great, insightful pointers that were a real surprise to me.  For example, from reading the book you can find out whether, when you have to deliver bad news, this opening helps the process or makes things worse:

“I know this is not the news you were hoping to hear . . . .”   I don’t want to give away all the secrets, so you need to buy the book to find out. 

At page 69, relating to tone from the top, it is suggested to use non-offensive cartoons of the CEO with a speech bubble on a compliance topic. Like all ideas, this might work for you, or spark something even better for your company. 

At pages 72-75 you hit one of my favorite topics, the use of incentives (thank you Mary, for reminding people of this;  for lots of detail on this topic see Murphy, “Using Incentives in Your Compliance and Ethics Program” (SCCE; 2012)).  She correctly notes that this can involve relatively small steps.  I like her idea of ordering a large number of greeting cards for the C&E department to send out to recognize positive, compliance oriented behavior, such as managers who have been providing positive role modeling.  Your company could get the cards customized for what you want to do with them.  This can also include small gifts with the card, such as refrigerator magnets.  Incentives can cover a broad range of steps, and providing recognition for behavior you want to encourage is central.

On page 80 you experience the real Mary Shirley, where she recommends being human, even being your own “kooky” self.  This makes you are more relatable and approachable.  In my case that is not the primary reason I am a ballroom dancer, but it certainly sends the message that I do more than just read law reviews in my spare time. You will have enough instances when you need to be very serious, but at other times you can be kooky or even demonstrate how to do the Charleston to your colleagues.  Do whatever helps you to live your best compliance life. 

Thank you, Mary. And just let me know if you ever want that Charleston demonstration.

Grab your copy here.

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