Impressing the importance of ethical and compliant corporate culture is a challenging task. Taking policies and laws that are developed at the executive level and making them digestible for employees on the front lines takes combination of grit and empathy to get right. Those challenges are multiplied for compliance and legal departments at international companies, who need to translate the corporate way of being across disparate languages and cultures.
During the Women, Influence and Power in Law conference, three high-level compliance professionals discussed the need for communicating compliance and ethics protocol across multiple arenas and how to get the buy-in from your workforce. Members of the esteemed panel – Indrani Franchini, VP and chief compliance officer of Hess Corporation, Ashley Watson, senior vice president, chief ethics and compliance officer of HP and Sherry Williams, SVP and chief compliance officer of Halliburton Co. – discussed the underpinnings of corporate compliance and the challenges disseminating it across their work force. The session was moderated by Tamika Tremaglio, principal at Deloitte Financial Advisory Services Practices.
To more efficiently engage workers with compliance, it’s about setting tone from the top down.
“I need all 14 thousand people at Hess to set that tone, and figuring out how you get that tone set is really important,” Franchini said. But getting that message from the compliance office to the production line requires strategy. Williams pointed out that while she might be creating and reviewing compliance policy, the message needs to be delivered by the direct supervisors of those the rules are targeting, the people who influence their promotions, compensations and movement within the company.
In regards to determine the success of a compliance operation, Williams’ compared it to trying to prove a negative. She said that most organizations want metrics, and because compliance adherence is not necessarily conducive to numbers on a page it’s often hard to prove a strategy is working in an accessible way.
“I can tell you we are doing a good job because no one went to jail, but if one person goes to jail it doesn’t necessarily mean we’re doing a bad job,” Williams said.
When your company has supply chain partners or properties in many part of the world you need to make sure that the workers abroad understand their ethical standards, even when local customs might make them seem out of touch or even insulting. “When you’re international, getting the U.S. mentality out of your head is essential to making a difference in compliance,” Watson said.
Obviously the challenges of organizing and disseminating a compliance strategy is a complex and daunting task for anyone, but these three women, representing the consumer product and oil and gas industries, but gender is another hurdle for them to overcome. Boardroom politics are not always tolerant to the perceived “softness” of female professionals, but all the women on the panel agreed it was possible to use those prevailing stereotypes to their advantage. “The fact that I have a soft outside and an extremely hard inside can be helpful, I will be really nice to you but there no moving me and everyone knows it,” Watson said.
Regardless of gender, these three women have one of the toughest roles in corporate law, but with their determination, they’re turning compliance and ethics plans into international pervasive corporate cultures.