What Compliance & Ethics can learn from the Police

by Mary Shirley

Attending the 2023 Europe Compliance and Ethics Initiative by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics marked my first European conference after attending symposiums in Asia Pacific, the Middle East and the United States previously.  I loved how interactive the audience was with the speakers compared with many of the other forums I’ve participated in.  One of the pleasant surprises was attendance from folks outside of Europe.  Clearly several American based representatives saw value in attendance and I was especially stoked when a fellow countryman approached me to say hello – it’s not common to run into other Kiwis in Compliance and that was a highlight for me. 

How about a substantive highlight?  One of the best sessions of the conference that I attended was a keynote worthy talk led by Richard Lewis Chief Constable at Dyfed Powys Police (UK).  Richard commenced his talk with a compelling real world story about a rogue actor and the whistleblowers around him who were constantly being impeded.  Poor ethical leadership and decision-making ultimately led to a tragic ending.  The audience was gripped from the start and if you ever have a chance to hear Richard tell this story, I would highly recommend it.  Richard shared with us an initiative that he has commenced for new Sergeants to the police force.  He writes a congratulatory letter that urges the newly promoted officer to engage in some dedicated contemplation about the leadership role that awaits them.  What I found striking was that he expressly asked the newly minted Sergeants to consider the inevitable times during which they will be forced to have difficult conversations and bravely approach them appropriately – of course all the more relevant to the audience in light of the devastating story we had just listened to.  Richard also appends the Code of Conduct to the letter.  How was this received by the relevant stakeholders?  The proof is in the pudding.  Richard spoke of being blown away by the emotive, pages long responses that he regularly receives from the new Sergeants, indicating that this exercise is really garnering the right attention.

Think for a moment about how we can strategically apply this to new managers in our organizations as Compliance Officers.  Moving into the role of a people manager comes naturally to some, but even the most talented leaders often shy away from having challenging discussions, especially in cultures where saving face is prized – and let’s be honest, no one really likes indignities in any culture.

In a world where we as Compliance Officers often try to get away from the reputation of the Sheriff who always says no, why don’t we take a leaf out of this policeman’s book and work with HR to create induction packs for new managers in our organizations that first congratulates them and then invites them to consider what the new responsibilities mean in practice in regards to our ethics and integrity programs.  This isn’t just a sweet pay raise and increase in prestige due to more impressive designation for no good reason.  These rewards come because of the increased responsibility that is being bestowed upon the individual and it would be prudent to take a moment to reflect upon the role they used to have, and how the new role will bring about change. Draw attention to the resources, including other humans, that are available when faced with tricky ethical decision making and addressing compliance crises and as Richard does, append the code of conduct so that the colleague can spend some time considering it in a new light – that of a leader with additional responsibilities and expectations of them.

I thought this conference was well worth attending.  If you’re interested in gaining the types of insights and inspiration such as that I’ve described above, the 2024 ECEI will again be in Amsterdam at Hotel Okura.

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