Let's be clear, Brand does NOT equal Reputation

The Branding phenomenon is mesmerizing. The public would appear to believe that a new logo and a fresh story actually create a new beginning.  Do people actually believe that "magic" happens with a new website layout, a fresh headlines and better graphics? You can't fool me. The cable company's reputation didn't change when they tried this, trust me. As a friend has said through the years, "Same dancing pig. They just slapped on a different color lipstick."

Reputations are once in a lifetime, be it your personal reputation or that of a business. Business reputations develop through good business practices, reliability, solid leadership and strong relationships. Until there is a major change in the players behind the scenes, there isn't usually a chance at a fresh run at reputation. And even then, that's a managed campaign requiring a colossal team effort to shake a tarnished image.

Reputations are fragile. The concept of Reputation vs. Brand needs to be talked about, confronted and honestly assessed. Wisdom, experience and history make up the business legacy that leaders need to share with the next generation lest they think that a new Brand will solve it all.

"What's-your-plan" vs. "Let-me-take-care-of-it"

Are you really helping your team or co-workers evolve if you constantly rescue them at every misstep? In my opinion, no.  In fact, definitely not. You might be making or keeping co-dependent friends and a dysfunctional management team but stepping in all the time to "help"  ultimately impedes the growth trajectory and long-term development of the organization.

Coaching your team to solutions instead of creating solutions is the goal, albeit a challenge for control freak DNA's typically found in most of our Compliance personality profiles. Key phrases to start this conversation include:

   "What do you think should happen next?"

   "What do you think the key impact points are here?"

   "Do you think we need any additional information?"

   "What is the spirit of the regulations that apply in this situation?"

   "Who are the right people to get together to take the next steps?

   "What are your critical message points and objectives?"

So rather than reacting and going into high gear, take time to encourage ownership and understanding. 

No Award Show Invitations Forthcoming

As I look at the red carpet pictures from another Hollywood extravaganza, I'm reminded that there are no award shows in Compliance. Profitability is the golden Oscar for best film and best director. Compliance, if it all, would be one of the more non-glamorous awards like sound-editing or best short documentary film. But that's not why we do it.

We do Compliance because of the intrigue of being the essential element of the process, not the chance to be well-liked, lauded and popular. Compliance contributions are exceptional when we help internal business teams do their best work, when we lend focus to staying true to stated goals and when we offer candid feedback.

There aren't any award invitations for Compliance. Rather, we'd rather keep our business and our peers out of the headlines. A quiet "thank you" speaks volumes.

Leader or Manager?

by Lynn Bjorkman

A most fascinating puzzle when being introduced to a new consulting assignment is my curiosity in "cracking" organizational charts. It isn't the organizational chart on paper that tells me whether or not there are leaders.  A chart committed to paper only identifies the managers that have been provided authority to do their jobs.  I wonder if the delegated managers are actually the individuals that I will find leading or if there are other hidden gems, that are leading key contributors. 

Leading contributors are the individuals that work outside of the organizational chart to really get things done. They solve problems, contribute to decision-making and move the business forward.  Seldom do to I find a business organization where all managers actually lead.  When I do, it's a treasure.

Granted, my analysis is subjective and can take time. Sometimes initial impressions are accurate. More often than not, I need to take the time to ask more questions, listen to where the actual answers come from and observe people in action. Only then can I accurately solve the puzzle and create the true organizational chart I am working with.

Managers that aren't leaders are typically resigned to their role. They have stopped asking questions. They have stopped engaging their staff in the greater mission and they have stopped innovating. Managers that just manage are the ones that complain about decisions. They often are the ones that insist that "nobody asked me" for input and spend much of their time structuring their deliverables so that they can blame everyone but themselves for poor outcomes.

On the other side, leaders are those fascinating people that jump into problem-solving, don't back down from analysis, seek to understand and own shortcomings. Through the course of their days, they naturally energize the people that they work with by getting things done, recognizing and respecting the efforts of others and sharing information to help others develop their own skill sets.  When they are wrong, they admit it, apologize if necessary and work to make it right. People like to work alongside them.  They are attracted to that leadership charisma.  It isn't always a fancy package, but rather an authentic one.

Who are you? Who am I? Who do I want to be

 

Compliance is "Parenting the Spirited Child"

by Lynn Bjorkman

Admitting that Compliance and Parenting are comparable for me is probably not a professional, career-building statement. At the risk of offending credentialed regulatory experts, bringing practicality and analogy from one part of my life to another is my coping mechanism.  If I can't break a problem down into the simplest elements, identify the obvious, the inferred and the insane, I can't get my arms around it. So often I picture a regulatory infraction or question as I would as a parent.  

Just because "everybody else is doing it" has never been a viable persuasive argument while raising children.

"But I got here first" does not mean you get the front seat again.

"But this was how we did it last time" or "but this how we have done it forever" does not mean that we haven't learned something in the process, and can, perhaps improve how we can do it in the future.

"But I can just earn extra credit" does not mean that it it is okay to keep making mistakes that produce sub par results.

Compliance conversations will always be a challenge.  The guidelines have stood as rules for decades.  Wrestling with how they apply today in an ever-changing business landscape is tough, and in my world, kind of like parenting.  The basic tenets don't change, and with good reason.  When have thoughtfulness, patience, level-headedness and consistency not been a hallmark of both worlds?

 

All Businesses Are Not Ethical But All People Have the Potential

by Lynn Bjorkman

Think about it, the objective of any business is to maximize profit.  With that as the honest capitalist objective, how can businesses actually be ethical?  Yet many businesses do have that honorable reputation.  In those instances, I believe it is a collective reflection of the team, both the current and the historical teams. In an ethically reputed organization, there is no room for employees to have taken the sidelines. Business is about the people and the decisions they make that create the ethical difference.

To make it tougher, we rarely see or experience the ethical outcome of our day-to-day decisions. Our caring reflection gets diluted in a process and timeline that is often bigger than we are. So the immediate feedback isn't what we wish it would be. Whereby one heroic, usually expense decision, only gets recognized for the immediate negative impact to the balance sheet instead of the long-term, positive impact it makes to the culture or the ongoing process.  As a personal addict of immediate gratification, where's the fun in that?

The "fun" comes in the messaging and what we make of it. If we let decisions focus on cost without giving equal weight to the value of the long-term mission, we have missed a chance to clarify our collective ethical mission and business development goal. Talk about the "whys" and champion the courage that it takes to stand by convictions.

We each have an opportunity to be part of business cultures that move forward ethically, one decision at a time. Decisions that are a part of financial quarters, balance sheets, growth and success.  

Individual decisions do indeed make a difference.  Collective team decisions we are proud of create reputation.  People are the critical ethical elements of potential in the larger puzzle.

What's Been Keeping You Up at Night?

by Lynn Bjorkman

I know. You put off that difficult conversation. You know the one I'm talking about. We usually try at all costs to avoid the uncomfortable "tough talk"...or put it off for another day. These are the conversations that keep us up at night with our brain racing through all of the worst outcomes.  They are the conversations that need to happen. Because even when you are a grown up or trying hard to be one, the tough talks don't get any easier the longer you wait.

Begin the process by setting yourself up to pursue the desired outcome or most positive outcome, given the variables at play.  This conversation preparation may need to occur in an internal deep breath that gives you 30 seconds of planning time or you may have the luxury of putting it together over the course of a full business day.  Ideally, you wouldn't have to put it off for several days, hence saving yourself those sleepless nights. 

Next, mentally clarify your message and identify your objective. Ask yourself if you need additional information. Figure out if it is possible or how you will follow-up to compile data and relevant facts. Anticipate and consider potential roadblocks, planning accordingly.

Next, touch base to confirm management consensus on the tone and the content of your message.  The tone needs to reflect your business mission, core values and your compliance program.

Finally, enable the right people to be in the room or dialed in. If it is productive to have the conversation, then don't leave critical individuals out of the dialogue. 

You can do it. Remember the ultimate opportunity and positive impact of a person-to-personconversation over an email or no interchange at all.  Have the dialogue when it needs to happen and do it well. 

Criticism is Great...Unless It's Headed My Way

by Lynn Bjorkman

Let's face it, criticism is easy if you live on a one-way street. Being in a position where you play the "compliance-card" on a daily basis, it can get pretty comfortable providing feedback. But reality is a four lane highway. When the inevitable "crap" hits the fan, we sometimes are late todiscover that we live at the bottom of the hill with everyone else.  Criticism erupts like a flash flood and really does a number on the basement, if you know what I mean.

Seriously, criticism doesn't work unless it is constructive.  And that hurdle can be lost in the midst of pressure-filled days and looming deadlines.  Despite the odds, don't give up on the lost art of providing feedback or constructive criticism. It can feel like a two-edged sword, but it remains a critical component to good leadership.

To qualify as constructive, criticism needs to meet two important criteria. One, it has to be based on fact, clear information or quantifiable observation.  And second, the motive for sharing the criticism needs to be professional and fair, with a clear objective of improvement.

Constructive criticism is more easily accepted when you align yourself as being a part of the team, someone willing to share in the effort rather than that person that is preaching from a pulpit.  It's that "Holier-than-Thou" attitude that kills the opportunity to be auspicious and considered a problem-solver. It is important the individual on the receiving end of feedback believes that you understand the parameters and challenges of what they are trying to accomplish. It is then that you can paint a picture of the desired outcome or what greater success will look like.

Let's face it, we have all been on both sides of criticism, and we've been constructive in delivery as often as we have epically failed.  So before we throw stones from our glass houses or walk away from an opportunity to lead, let's think again.  Align your thoughts and motives before launching to fill dead air. Each of us can continue to build teams when we deliver tough - but thoughtful, clear and fair - messages that need to be shared.

Why Document the Process? Answer this Question Correctly and Win!

By Lynn Bjorkman

True or False: Great business leaders insist on writing things down.

Answer: TRUE.  Procedures are not just about compliance and supervision.  Rather, procedures are about good business and great leadership.  Granted, with written supervisory procedures you will also "win" with the regulators and your critical business partners. Hands down. Nothing builds credibility like solid process and refined practice. But famous last words of struggling business managers often sound like this:

"We intend to hire and train great people but first we have to build a successful practice."

"Process and procedures are important, but that will come after this next big initiative when we'll have more time to refine delivery.  Besides, then we will only have to document the process once."

"We have resource strains right now and procedures would be the last thing we have time for with the schedules we keep."

Let me explain.

  1. When you articulate required steps to a process in writing, you mutually agree on what it takes to deliver exemplary service or what an excellent product looks like.  By writing it down, you eliminate trial and error which takes unnecessary mistakes off the table. Staff members will not waste time with unnecessary exceptions and each individual will understand their personal parameters for decision-making. Imagine how much more efficient you and your staff can be if you have identified improvements, consolidated individual efficiencies and eliminated gaps.
     
  2. Policy and procedures are the single greatest training tool and one of the simplest, most powerful investments that a business can create for itself.  Process documents like this create training opportunities for new staff, educational opportunities for experienced staff and clear coverage assistance for juggling inevitable absences. By completing a plan we develop best practices that take into account the lessons that have already been learned and we save each other valuable time.  Building off internal expertise creates strong staff relationships and solid team structure.
     
  3. Foundation and framework make it more possible to exponentially grow your business and expand your practice. Improvements and growth can be effectively implemented when the current blueprint is understood and documented. We leverage ourselves to gain traction quickly and efficiently.

Doing things by memory is like working with a leaky bucket, where critical information isn’t going anywhere quickly and usually falls away. Great leadership insists that we write things down for clarity’s sake. Write it down and stay on track.

Procedures 101 – A Handy-Dandy Outline

By Lynn Bjorkman

If you want to end a conversation, insert the word "procedures". If you want people to leave a room quickly, start discussing critical elements to process development. Case in point, how many times has a fire alarm gone off in the office and you note people looking at each other saying, "Really?", "Now?", "I'm seriously in the middle of something, so I'm just going to stay here until they drag me out!". But on the flip side, "I'm looking forward to seeing your updated procedures". Or, "Let's document that process!", delivered with sincere enthusiasm and people start to move away quickly without registering or acknowledging your request.

Go figure. Most of us hated those written assignments, no matter what the subject was.  But writing procedures shouldn't be daunting and feel impossible. When there is work to be accomplished, it will always be the last thing on the "to do" list but here is the real truth. With an outline, we can work quickly and efficiently to get this done.  The written process takes on credibility and is more recognizable within a team.

So here's my basic no-nonsense outline:

Heading - This section should be a bullet list of important identifiers that will make procedure management simple and efficient.  Include such items as:

  • Name of Process
  • Owner of Process or Department/Manager
  • As of Date
  • Next Process Review Date
  • Regulatory Reference, if applicable

Description of the Process - This short paragraph should expand on the "name of the process" to provide clarity on what is being accomplished or the objective of the process.

Information or Systems Needed - This is a laundry list of the data and or technology support that is required to move forward in the process.

Process Checklist - A bulleted list of steps with owners identified if it takes in process that isn't specific to one individual or one department. This list should be concise and complete. It should identify how to identify an exception and resources for resolving exceptions.  It doesn't need to describe each column of information, but should reference an attached example.

Process Timeframe - Describe whether this is a daily, one hour deliverable or a quarterly, two-day project, as well as any contingencies that impact the process.

There's a Reason Why "Follow Your Gut" is Good Advice

By Lynn Bjorkman

Go figure, it's science...it's a real thing. The gut has its own nervous system. There are nine times more messages sent from the stomach to the brain than from the brain to the stomach. In a nutshell, the brain tells the stomach that something is wrong or something doesn't "feel" right and your stomach takes up the message by making you physically unsettled. 

On one consulting site, the Chief Compliance Officer unconsciously downed antacid. You might have thought they were breath mints. I'm no expert, but his job appeared to be killing his stomach lining.  The CCO admittedly noted that this wasn't the case when he really got away on vacation and he was notorious for amazing two week adventures. Wow, doesn't take an MD to diagnose this one.

I asked him what he was thinking about, what concerned him. The litany he regaled me with didn't stop.  There were lots and lots of symptoms that I listed as I listened. But go figure, there was primarily one issue. He loved his job, he enjoyed the people he worked with, he craved the challenge but he couldn't be brutally honest with his boss. And he didn't really want to be.  He wanted to own it all and solve it all.

At what point does the "Type A" in all of us just move over and listen? At what point, does physical discomfort trump ego? At what point, do we look as crazy as we feel?

I'm not telling you to quit your day job, I'm encouraging you to listen to yourself, listen to your stomach. Sometimes we move too fast for our own good. Stop, listen and look both ways.

My Hair is on Fire

By Lynn Bjorkman

Seriously, breathe.

It feels like a critical framework of policy and procedure has just suddenly vaporized and disappeared. For that matter, if that process has gone by the wayside, what about all the others? Is anything occurring as it was outlined? What happened? Who am I and how do I spell my name again?

Seriously, breathe.

When you are in the midst of what could be a crisis, panic may appear to be the easiest step. That is our natural human response to an event that takes us by surprise and goes completely against the plan. But crisis is going to happen, and probably more than once or twice in your career....or this week.

Breathe.

If you've been lucky enough to surround yourself with professionals that you trust, make a phone call.  An effective initial step is to "talk it out loud" and then capture as many critical points on paper, including dates, times, names and observations or actions. In the talking part of the exercise, you may call a trusted, confidential professional or you may be driving alone in your car talking to yourself. Either way, talk it out. There may be emotion and elements of judgement in your monologue but that needs to be recognized and then kept separate and distinct. Recognize those issues and move on because a clear head must prevail. It is the written log that needs to be factual and without speculation.  And your initial draft is going to be full of gaps and questions, as it should be. This is a work in progress.

Breathe.

Make a plan. List those individuals you need to talk to and start jotting down those questions that will need to be asked and investigated. Measure your response and estimate a reasonable timeframe. Is this an issue that can be mitigated with immediate action or has the time for reaction passed. The most important message to convey is, "I'm on it. I have a plan and I have a timeframe for resolution.”

Breathe.

You can do this. Your hair is probably not on fire. Maybe you singed your eyebrows. With each crisis, there is an answer. There is a plan and there is a resolution. Granted, it may be a painful process, require uncomfortable conversations or result in a gut-wrenching decision.

Breathe.

Be a professional. Be the leader that your peers and your clients need you to be.

But Nobody Would Actually Talk to Compliance

By Lynn Bjorkman

When we can look beyond our world, the horizon shows us that there are abilities and skills that contribute to an effective Compliance Manager or Chief Compliance Officer, no matter what the industry. Those attributes have been catalogued for us by the O*NET program, which provides a comprehensive database of occupational information (www.onetcenter.org). Compliance Managers are defined specifically in O*NET's summary report 11-9199.02 as individuals that "plan, direct, or coordinate activities of an organization to ensure compliance with ethical or regulatory standards".  Sounds like the right category for my purpose, how about yours?

I think we can too often worry about an individual's securities knowledge depth and experience. Do they understand trading and complex products? How many regulatory exams have they passed? Are they adept at reviewing marketing and advertising activities? However, I would argue that we should concentrate initially on those innate abilities that are not industry specific and can't be as easily acquired in study.

To illustrate my point, how do you train an individual to be a critical thinker, an active listener and adept in judgement and decision-making? How do you coach an individual to develop in their reasoning, speech clarity and ability to monitor and manage projects? How hard is it to learn to effectively persuade, negotiate and manage conflict?

Yes, work-related experience is a part of the equation but effectiveness is going to suffer if the attributes of personal ability are lacking. If no one wants to spontaneously talk to the Compliance Manager over a cup of coffee in the break room, perhaps you have hired knowledge over innate ability and are paying the price. 

 

But Have You "Done" Compliance?

By Lynn Bjorkman

As a consultant, the most confusing question to answer is indeed, “Have you done compliance?”  I guess my personal confusion comes from the notion that implies you accomplish compliance and move on to other things.

To have "done" compliance would be to have worn the heavy yoke of responsibility and supervision every day.  It would mean that you never stopped questioning, never stopped testing and never stopped listening or asking the tough questions. It would mean that you never shied away from a problem. It would mean that you owned issues through to resolution, even when you wished to your core that you didn't have to.

To have "done" compliance means to have failed. Failure in the realm of the job means to have experienced loss, to have not anticipated the selfish side of human nature and to have missed a signal or a detail or a trail. On the other side of failure is self-confidence in a role with responsibilities that are constantly evolving. A little self-esteem through a success here and there never hurt anybody but it doesn't build confidence in contributing to the long-term, unless it has gone hand-in-hand with a degree of failure.

To have "done" compliance is not just about a title and a pay grade within a department specifically named just that. It is a mentality and a commitment to think that way.  Compliance, in the securities industry is a part of every contributor's daily task list, a paramount responsibility within the first few bullets of every job description. 

Yes, I've "done" compliance and I still "do" it.

Wondering How to Identify and Attract the Perfect CCO? Well, "Good Luck" With That.

By Lynn Bjorkman

In my opinion, it isn't possible to find the perfect Chief Compliance Officer, but it is possible to introduce a solid CCO candidate to a culture that allows them to be successful. The larger issue lies in the potential within your organization. Not in finding the candidate to build, promote and sustain a compliance-oriented culture in which a CCO could flourish as a contributor. 

Most successful organizations rely on a sales culture to bring them the best long-term potential. For obvious reasons of course, revenue brings growth and opportunity. However, revenue without a culture of professional skepticism and the appetite to wrestle with the authentic elements of risk and reward have historically built a poor long-term business strategy.

Instead, I would challenge you to ask and answer the following questions about your organization:

  •  How do we identify mistakes internally? How are mistakes owned and resolved?
  • How receptive are we to internal questions about strategy, policy or process?
  • How and why do we reward internal contributors?
  • Are we focused on objectives or service levels that leave us exposed to unnecessary risk?
  • Do we actively listen to employees, as well as our clients?
  • How consistently compliance-oriented is the company about business discussions? How often does compliance rationale contribute to business actions on a day to day basis?
  • What is our "tone at the top?" Is that message understood and believed by each employee throughout the organization?
  • Are employees proud to work here? Am I?

You have your answers and you either like them or you don't. If you feel charmed, maybe it is worth asking others on your management team if they would genuinely concur. Or maybe you don't like all the answers and have some pretty good ideas about how to change them.

In any case, I would encourage you to stop looking for a perfect CCO as the only answer to your compliance dilemma.  Instead create a culture that insists on it.