Arsenale and Incentivizing Compliance (UPDATED) | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist

I continue with a Venice themed blog post today by focusing on the Arsenale. No this is no a precursor to that famous north London football club, the Arsenal Gunners, but the district in Venice where one of the main commercial enterprises of the city took place, that being ship building and ship repair. At one point, the Arsenale employed almost 10% of the city’s workforce or 12,000 people. This was in the mid 1200s to the 1400s when Venice was at or near the height of its trading and financial power. The Arsenale developed the first production line for the building of ships, when, of course, it was all done by hand. The equipment developed to drag ships up on shore and repair was simply amazing. Appropriately, the Arsenale is now an Italian naval facility.

But I also picked up some interesting compliance insights in learning more about the Arsenale. The ship building techniques were of such a high level and importance to the city that they were viewed as state secrets. To protect against the loss of such valuable intellectual property, the Venetian city fathers put in a series of incentives and punishments that can help inform your best practices compliance program up to this day. First, and foremost, Venice forbade any skilled worker from leaving the city to go to work at a neighboring or rival city; the first non-compete and still widely used by corporate America today. Second was the punishment that if you were caught passing secret, you were summarily executed only after excruciating torture; while these techniques are not as widely used by corporate America today I am sure there are some non-enlightened corporate leaders who might like to re-institute one or both practices.

However over on the incentive side there were several mechanisms the City of Venice used to help make the Arsenale work force more loyal and desirous to stay in their jobs, all for the betterment of themselves and their city. The first was job security. The Arsenale was so busy for so many years that lay-offs were unheard of. Even if someone lost their job, through injury, mishap or worse; they received enough of compensation that they could live in the city. Finally, when a worker died, the company provided not only funeral expenses but would assist in taking care of the family through stipends or finding other work for family members.

This dual focus on keeping the state secrets of ship building and repair within the City of Venice reminded me of one of the points that representatives of the Department of Justice (DOJ) and Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) continually remind compliance practitioners about when discussing any best practices compliance program; whether based on the Ten Hallmarks of an Effective Compliance Program, as articulated in their jointly released FCPA Guidance, or some other articulation such as in a Deferred Prosecution Agreement (DPA) Attachment C. They continually remind Chief Compliance Officers (CCOs) and compliance practitioners that any best practicescompliance program should have both incentives and discipline as a part of the program.

Regarding disincentives for violating the FCPA Resource Guide, 2nd edition is clear in stating, “DOJ and SEC will thus consider whether, when enforcing a compliance program, a company has appropri­ate and clear disciplinary procedures, whether those proce­dures are applied reliably and promptly, and whether they are commensurate with the violation. Many companies have found that publicizing disciplinary actions internally, where appropriate under local law, can have an important deterrent effect, demonstrating that unethical and unlawful actions have swift and sure consequences.”

However, the Resource Guide is equally clear that there should be incentives for not only following your own company’s internal Code of Conduct but also doing business the right way, i.e. not engaging in bribery and corruption. On incentives, the Guidance says, “DOJ and SEC recognize that positive incentives can also drive compliant behavior. These incentives can take many forms such as personnel evaluations and promotions, rewards for improving and developing a company’s compliance pro­gram, and rewards for ethics and compliance leadership. Some organizations, for example, have made adherence to compliance a significant metric for management’s bonuses so that compliance becomes an integral part of management’s everyday concern.” But the Guidance also recognizes that incentives need not only be limited to financial rewards as sometime simply acknowledging employees for doing the right thing can be a powerful tool as well.

All of this was neatly summed up in the Resource Guide with a quote from a speech given in 2004 by Stephen M. Cutler, the then Director, Division of Enforcement, SEC, entitled, “Tone at the Top: Getting It Right”, to the Second Annual General Counsel Roundtable, where Director Cutler said the following:

[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 cutting 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.

All of this demonstrates that incentives can take a wide range of avenues. At the recently held ACI FCPA Bootcamp in Houston, TX, one of the speakers said that the Houston based company Weatherford, annually awards cash bonuses of $10,000 for employees who go above and beyond in the area of ethics and compliance for the company. While some might intone that is to be expected from a company that only recently concluded a multi-year and multi-million dollar enforcement action; as the speaker said if you want emphasize a change on culture, not much says so more loudly than awarding that kind of money to an employee.

While I am sure that being handed a check for $10,000 is quite a nice prize, you can also consider much more mundane methods to incentivize compliance. You can make a compliance evaluation a part of any employee’s overall evaluation for some type of year end discretionary bonus payment. It can be 5%, 10% or even up to 20%. But once you put it in writing, you need to actually follow it.

But incentives can be burned into the DNA of a company through the hiring and promotion processes. There should be a compliance component to all senior management hires and promotions up to those august ranks within a company. Your Human Resources (HR) function can be a great aid to your cause in driving the right type of behavior through the design and implementation of such structures. Employees know who gets promoted and why. If someone who is only known for hitting their numbers continually is promoted, however they accomplished this feat will certainly be observed by his or her co-workers.

Just as the fathers of Venice viewed the workers of the Arsenale as critical to the well-being of their city, senior managers need to understand the same about their work force. In places like Texas, employees typically are incentivized with some enlightened remark along the lines of “You should just be happy you even have a job.” Fortunately there are real world examples of how corporate incentives can work into a compliance regime. The City of Venice long ago showed how such incentives could help it maintain a commercial advantage. Fortunately the DOJ and SEC still understand those valuable lessons and continue to talk about them as well.