Hiring and Promotion in Compliance – Wait for Great


The role of Human Resources (HR) in anti-corruption programs, based upon the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) or UK Bribery Act, is often underestimated. I come from a HR background and practiced labor law early in my career so I have an understanding of the skills HR can bring to any business system which deals with legal issues; which is not only required of all businesses but certainly is true of FCPA or UK Bribery Act compliance. If your company has a culture where compliance is perceived to be in competition or worse yet antithetical to HR, the company certainly is not hitting on all cylinders and maybe moving towards dysfunction.

One of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance program relates to the key role HR plays in incentives and discipline. However, another key area that is not given as much attention is in hiring and promotion. The FCPA Guidance states, “[M]ake integrity, ethics and compliance part of the promotion, compensation and evaluation processes as well. For at the end of the day, the most effective way to communicate that “doing the right thing” is a priority is to reward it. Conversely, if employees are led to believe that, when it comes to compensation and career advancement, all that counts is short-term profitability, and that cu tting ethical corners is an ac­ceptable way of getting there, they’ll perform to that measure. To cite an example from a different walk of life: a college football coach can be told that the graduation rates of his players are what matters, but he’ll know differently if the sole focus of his contract extension talks or the decision to fire him is his win-loss record.” In other words make compliance significant for professional growth in your organization and it will help to drive the message of doing business in compliance.

I thought about these concepts when I read an article in the Corner Office column of the Sunday New York Times (NYT), entitled “Sally Smith of Buffalo Wild Wings, on patience in hiring” where columnist Adam Bryant interviewed Sally Smith, the Chief Executive of Buffalo Wild Wings, the restaurant chain. She had some interesting concepts not only around leadership but thoughts on the hiring and promotion functions, which are useful for any Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or compliance practitioner striving to drive compliance into the DNA of a company.

Leadership – Get Feedback

One of the early lessons which Smith learned about leadership is to set clear expectations. Bryant wrote that Smith told him, “You have to be really clear about what you want and what your expectations are. When you’re clear and everybody understands them, you have a much better chance of success than if you say, “Just do it.” It’s a great slogan, but you’ve got to know what it is that you’re just doing.” This is a constant battle for the compliance practitioner when senior management also makes clear that you must make your numbers as well. However this dynamic tension can be met and one of the best ways is to require business-types to make their numbers but doing so in a way that is in compliance with a company’s Code of Conduct and compliance regime.

A second leadership lesson that Smith has learned is around feedback. As you might guess from a Chief Executive, Smith has found that obtaining honest critiques about her management style from those who work under her is difficult to acquire. To overcome this reluctance she set up a program where her leadership can give anonymous reviews of her performance annually to the company’s Board of Directors. Bryant said, “My leadership team does a performance review on me each year for the board. It’s anonymous. They can talk about my management style or things I need to work on. If you want to continue growing, you have to be willing to say, “What do I need to get better at?”” This type of insight is absolutely mandatory for any best practices compliance program as anonymous reporting is also one of the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance program. But more than simply an anonymous reporting line for FCPA violations, how does your company consider feedback to determine how all levels of the company is doing compliance going forward or as the FCPA Guidance states, “From the boardroom to the shop floor.”

Hiring and Promotion – Waiting for Great

Here Smith had some thoughts put in a manner not often articulated. One of her cornerstones when hiring is to search out the best person for any open position, whether through an external hire or internal promotion. Bryant stated that Smith said “We use the phrase “wait for great” in hiring. When you have an open position, don’t settle for someone who doesn’t quite have the cultural match or skill set you want. It’s better to wait for the right person.”

Smith articulated some different skills that she uses to help make such a determination. Once a potential hire or promotion gets to her level for an interview, she will assume that person is technically competent but “I assume that you’re competent, but I’ll probe a bit to make sure you know what you’re talking about. And then I’ll say, “If I asked the person in the office next to you about you, what would they say?””

Passion and curiosity are other areas that Smith believes is important to probe during the hiring or promotion process. In the area of passion, Smith will “Often ask, “What do you do in your free time?” If they’re passionate about something, I know they’re going to bring that passion to the workplace.” Smith believes curiosity is important because it helps to determine whether a prospective hire will fit into the Buffalo Wild Wings culture. Bryant wrote, “I look for curiosity too, because if you’re curious and thinking about how things work, you’ll fit well in our culture. So I’ll ask about the last book they read, or the book that had the greatest impact on them.” Smith also inquires about jobs or assignments that went well and “ones that went off the tracks. You ask enough questions around those and you can determine whether they’re going to need a huge support team.”

I found these insights by Smith very useful for a compliance practitioner and the hiring and promotion functions in a compliance program. By asking questions about compliance you can not only find out the candidates thoughts on compliance but you will also begin to communicate the importance of such precepts to them in this process. Now further imagine how powerful such a technique could be if a Chief Executive asked such questions around compliance when they were involved in the hiring or promotion process. Talk about setting a tone at the top from the start of someone’s career at that company. But the most important single item I gleaned from Bryant’s interview of Smith was the “Wait for great” phrase. If this were a part of the compliance discussion during promotion or hiring that could lead to having a workforce committed to doing business in the right way.

This publication contains general information only and is based on the experiences and research of the author. The author is not, by means of this publication, rendering business, legal advice, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such legal advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified legal advisor. The author, his affiliates, and related entities shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person or entity that relies on this publication. The Author gives his permission to link, post, distribute, or reference this article for any lawful purpose, provided attribution is made to the author. The author can be reached at tfox@tfoxlaw.com.

© Thomas R. Fox, 2014

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