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Lesson 8. Get into the Soul of the Machine

Early on in my career, a compliance officer at a Fortune 100 company asked me to come give a presentation on “Compliance as a Verb.”

“I would love to do it, but I have no idea what ‘Compliance as a Verb’ means,” I told her. I was honored—I had never received a call from a Fortune anything company to come speak. However, I had no idea what she meant.

She explained, “I was talking to your outside counsel. She says you do compliance by walking around and talking to people, rather than just going to meetings all the time.” I went from clueless to I got this, instantly.

“I love this subject. I am in,” I said.

At the presentation, I basically told the folks in the audience to stop going to meetings, creating spreadsheets, and agonizing over what colors to put in their PowerPoint presentations. I told them to get out and talk with the people who make the mistakes you want to prevent. Get out and talk to people about the kind of culture they want their organization to have. I said they should try to effect change rather than plan to effect change.

I have been preaching this strategy for 23 years and the reaction is always very positive, but then people go back to their office to work on spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations for their next meeting. I have made a difference in the effectiveness and productivity of others in my career, but at the same time I feel like an absolute failure because people can’t seem to follow this advice. This has been one of the most frustrating elements of having to manage people. They want to be productive, but they can’t seem to tell the difference between planning to do something and doing something.

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