Great Structures Week IV – The Gothic Cathedral and Compliance Incentives (UPDATED) | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist

I continue my Great Structures Week with focus on great structural engineering and its innovations in the medieval world – that being the Gothic Cathedral. I am drawing these posts from The Great Course offering, entitled “Understanding the World’s Greatest Structures: Science and Innovation from Antiquity to Modernity”, taught by Professor Stephen Ressler. When it comes to Gothic Cathedrals, Ressler notes that they are a rich case study in the development of “architecture and the limits of empirical design, literally written into the walls of the buildings.”

The innovation of the Gothic Cathedral was to use elements of the Roman basilica but to add “height and light, featuring ever taller naves, pierced by ever-larger clerestory windows, and delineated by ever-more-slender engaged columns”. The first innovation came with the pointed arch followed by ribbing on the columns to help stiffen and strength them more effectively. However the truly dynamic innovation was the creation of flying buttresses, which were huge additional columns outside the structure yet were designed to become load-bearing members so the highest point inside the cathedrals could be filled by light through ornately stained glass windows. Two of the finest examples of these Gothic Cathedrals are both found in France. They are the Cathedral of Our Lady at Chartres and Cathedral of St. Stephens at Bourges.

Just as the medieval world built up the structural engineering techniques from their forebears, as your compliance regime matures you can implement more sophisticated strategies to make your Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) compliance program a part of the way your company does business. Using an article in the Spring 2014 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review, entitled “Combining Purpose with Profits, as a basis, I have developed six core principles for incentives, for the compliance function in a best practices compliance program.

  1. Compliance incentives don’t have to be elaborate or novel. The first point is that there are only a limited number of compliance incentives that a company can meaningfully target. Evidence suggests the successful companies are the ones that were able to translate pedestrian-sounding compliance incentive goals into consistent and committed action.
  2. Compliance incentives need supporting systems if they are to stick. People take cues from those around them, but people are fickle and easily confused, and gain and hedonic goals can quickly drive out compliance incentives. This means that you will need to construct a compliance function that provides a support system to help them operationalize their pro-incentives at different levels, and thereby make them stick. The specific systems which support incentives can be created specifically to your company but the key point is that they are delivered consistently because it signals that management is sincere.
  3. Support systems are needed to reinforce compliance incentives. One important form of a supporting system for compliance incentives “Is to incorporate tangible manifestations of the company’s pro-social goals into the day-to-day work of employees.” Make the rewards visible. As stated in the FCPA Guidance, “Beyond financial incentives, some companies have highlighted compliance within their organizations by recognizing compliance professionals and internal audit staff. Others have made working in the company’s compliance organization a way to advance an employee’s career.”
  4. Compliance incentives need a “counterweight” to endure. Goal-framing theory shows how easy it is for compliance incentives to be driven out by gain or hedonic goals, so even with the types of supporting systems it is quite common to see executives bowing to short-term financial pressures. Thus, a key factor in creating enduring compliance incentives is a “counterweight”; that is, any institutional mechanism that exists to enforce a continued focus on a nonfinancial goal. This means that in any financial downturn compliance incentives are not the first thing that gets thrown out the window and if my oft-cited hypothetical foreign Regional Manager misses his number for two quarters, he does not get fired. So the key is that the counterweight has real influence; it must hold the leader to account.
  5. Compliance incentive alignment works in an oblique, not linear, way. The authors state, “In most companies, there is an implicit belief that all activities should be aligned in a linear and logical way, from a clear end point back to the starting point. The language used — from cascading goals to key performance indicators — is designed to reinforce this notion of alignment. But goal-framing theory suggests that the most successful companies are balancing multiple objectives (pro-social goals, gain goals, hedonic goals) that are not entirely compatible with one another, which makes a simple linear approach very hard to sustain.” What does this mean in practical terms for your compliance program? If you want your employees to align around compliance incentives, your company will have to “eschew narrow, linear thinking, and instead provide more scope for them to choose their own oblique pathway.” This means emphasizing compliance as part of your company’s DNA on a consistent basis — “the intention being that by encouraging individuals to do “good,” their collective effort leads, seemingly as a side-effect, to better financial results. The logic of “[compliance first], profitability second” needs to find its way deeply into the collective psyche of the company.”
  6. Compliance incentive initiatives can be implemented at all levels. Who at your company is responsible for pursuing compliance incentives? If you head up a division or business unit, it is clearly your job to define what your pro-social goals are and to put in place the supporting structures and systems described here. But what if you are lower in the corporate hierarchy? It is tempting to think this is “someone else’s problem,” but actually there is no reason why you cannot follow your own version of the same process.

Looking for some specific compliance obligations to measure against? You could start with the following examples of compliance obligations that are measured and evaluated.

For Senior Management

  • Lead by example in your own conduct and in the decisions you take, to the resources and time you commit to compliance.
  • Facilitate and proactively practice in day-to-day activities the key compliance competencies, both internally and externally.
  • Support specific initiatives from the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), legal and compliance functions. 

For Middle Management

  • Demonstrate, facilitate and proactively practice in day-to-day activities the key compliance competencies, both internally and externally.
  • Support specific initiatives from the legal and compliance functions.
  • Ensure that all employees, agents and contractors directly or indirectly reporting to you fully complete all required training and communications in a timely manner.
  • Provide full cooperation with investigations conducted by the compliance or legal functions of any alleged violation of compliance policies.
  • Include the Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) or another legal or compliance function representative in your management meetings at least twice per year, per geography.
  • Identify instances of non-compliance and support compliance monitoring and reporting systems.Partner with compliance in resolving compliance issues.

For Business Development or Company Sales Representatives

  • Certify that all employees, agents and contractors directly or indirectly reporting to you have fully reported all sales and marketing interactions with all government officials in a timely manner.
  • Certify that all employees, agents and contractors directly or indirectly reporting to you have fully, promptly and accurately reported all expenses with third party sales representatives have occurred.

The Gothic Cathedral is one of the greatest structural engineering feats mankind has ever created. It combined a dimension of height not surpassed for nearly 1000 years with an ingress of light not previous seen in structures. This use of light facilitated the development of the artistry of stained-glass windows.

For a review of what goes into the incentive structures of a best practices compliance program, I would suggest you check my book Doing Compliance: Design, Create, and Implement an Effective Anti-Corruption Compliance Program, which is available through Compliance Week. You can review the book and obtain a copy by clicking here.

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