Let’s start this lesson with a little compliance quiz. First think of the most impressive compliance professional you’ve ever met. You have five minutes to think and then answer the following questions. Now go!
Why do you think this person has the right stuff?
What kind of relationship does this person have with his/her leadership?
Why do you think this person is so effective?
What does that person do that is impressive?
What does this person do that others don’t do as well?
What does this person have that others don’t have?
Did you select this person because he/she knew the rule of law well, could audit like no one else, or did great risk assessments?
Do not proceed until you have a name in mind and answers . . . . Now look at your answers. Do you see a pattern?
I’ve given this quiz during several presentations and noticed a definite pattern to people’s responses. No one ever told me that they picked someone because they knew the rule of law well. No one said the person picked had excellent auditing or risk assessment skills either. What was it that people valued most in a great compliance professional? People skills and the ability to influence others. Nearly everyone said that the person they respected had strong interpersonal skills, had a high emotional IQ, and could negotiate and collaborate well with others.
Being able to influence others is critical in compliance. Just look at what happened at PSU and MSU. Their advisors were unable to influence leadership and sexual abuse continued at these organizations for years. Sexual predators were allowed to be around children and young adults. The harm those predators caused affected dozens of young people and their families. Yet, it could have stopped if the right person influenced leadership. Many major organizational failures occurred with a building full of technical experts—experts in law, audit, and risk. These organizations knew about their different problems for years. What finally made the organizations act? Society. The public found out and crushed these organizations for letting their issues go on for so long. What was missing? Technical skills? I think not.
What was missing was someone, anyone, in the room who could have influenced leadership to fix a known problem. Rather than rationalizing doing nothing as others do, an effective compliance professional needs to be convincing—even when the problem seems incredibly difficult to fix. Having the ability to influence others may be the most important skill that a compliance professional needs to be successful. If you’re not able to influence leadership, old problems persist, potential compliance issues are ignored, and the chances of new problems occurring grows. Without influence, you may not get the resources you need to be successful. Without influence, an ethical culture won’t develop. Influence is critical to almost everything we do in business and life.
The Seven Elements of Influence
One of the most effective compliance professionals I have ever met is Jenny O’Brien, chief compliance officer at UnitedHealthcare. What makes her so effective? I think one of Jenny’s greatest strengths is her ability to influence others. She knows how to build strong relationships. She takes time to get to know and help people in her organization before she asks for their help. She studies people, determines what they need to be successful, helps them get what they need, and then tries to influence them to help the compliance and ethics program.
She and I talked about how important influence is and why we need more education about interpersonal skills in our profession. Then she and a colleague developed a list of the seven elements of influence. It is a structured approach to studying and understanding influence, something that every compliance and ethics professional needs to continuously and consciously work on. I presented these elements with Jenny in a general session at SCCE’s 2014 Compliance and Ethics Institute. Your influence will improve as you practice each of these elements, however ideally you should work on all of them over time.
Mastering the art of influencing others takes time and it takes work, but it makes the job of a compliance professional much easier to accomplish. And as Jenny said at the end of the session we presented, “Influencing isn’t a one-time thing. We can’t just influence when we want to get something done or we want to influence someone, so then we say, ‘Oh, today I’m going to influence.’ Influence is something we have to do and think about in each interaction, very intentional, strategic communications of what we’re doing. [We need] to look down the road and say, ‘If I want to get here, what are some of the steps that I need to be doing to build up to that at this time.’” That’s what Jenny does every day as a compliance professional. Take her sage advice. You’ll see that when you are able to effectively influence others in your organization, your advice and information about an issue will be heard—and they’ll be heard from not only you, but also others in the organization who’ve become compliance ambassadors through your influence.
Roy’s Rule: Interpersonal skills can make all the difference when gathering facts and influencing others.
Support Leadership with All the Facts
A big part of influencing leadership is to have as many tools as possible to back up your argument. You need to have all the facts—not just a few cherry-picked ideas that support your argument. Giving your leadership the entire picture of an issue is critical to making an objective plan of action to fix the problem.
During my time as CEO and a compliance officer, I kind of knew how things worked or didn’t work. I spent 20 some years watching people try to make decisions for our organization without all the facts and then come to bizarre conclusions. It was probably the most frustrating thing I had to deal with. As CEO, I had many people come to me with their hair on fire about something and I reacted quickly and strongly to support them. Then I was told some very important fact my employee left out. I looked silly. I looked ill-informed. I looked like I overreacted. So, if you think your CEO is being unsupportive—maybe you are not providing your CEO with all the facts.
The thing that helped me the most in all this influence, fact-gathering, and decision-making, was consulting with others. I would find someone (maybe several people) unafraid to speak the truth to me and ask what they knew or thought about the facts and the decision I was going to make. And this is key: I would listen to them. If what they told me didn’t feel or sound right, I would talk to more people. If the stakes were very high, I would search the country for people who had been through that kind of issue before. For the most important decisions, I hired an expert to analyze the information gathered by my compliance investigators and come with me to meet and better influence leadership.
Roy-ism: Watch influencers’ influence. Then do that.
Think about what you can do to be a more effective communicator, rather than place blame on unsupportive leadership. Get more information before you try to influence others. Have passion and emotional reasons to help your argument, but also make sure your argument sits on a solid foundation of facts. The facts are your leverage, and you need them to win. Take the time to build relationships with people before you try to influence them. Try to figure out what someone needs, but hasn’t asked for. Listen more, talk less, and be objective rather than subjective.
Study those who do this well and learn from them. Pay attention to the subtle things they do that make them effective influencers. When you are in a meeting, briefly stop listening to what the people in the room are saying. Instead, study how they are saying it. Think about the questions I asked at the beginning of this lesson to help you study what is happening in the room. Think about who has the right stuff and who doesn’t—and why. Then pick an influence mentor. Observe that person and think about why that person is so effective or impressive. Then try to emulate some things that person does. You have to stop only listening to the substance of the conversation and start studying the process of influence.
Influence is not rocket science. It’s just hard work. Fine-tune your interpersonal skills before the compliance conversation ever starts. It’ll make it so much easier for that conversation to not only be heard, but also have an effect that lasts.