Woodstock and Redesigning Work | Thomas Fox – Compliance Evangelist

On this date in 1969, one of the all-time events in music history, the Woodstock Music & Art Fair, drew to a close after three days of peace, love and rock ‘n’ roll in upstate New York. According to This Day in History, the promoters sold “about 186,000 tickets and expected no more than 200,000 people to show up. Close to half a million people attended Woodstock, jamming the roads around Bethel with eight miles of traffic.” Woodstock certainly brought a new way of thinking about such events. I thought it was a good way to introduce today’s topic of thinking through a different way to redesign your compliance program based on an article in MIT Sloan Management, entitled The Four-Step Process for Redesigning Work by Lynda Gratton. Gratton believes that a “fear of failure weighs heavily on many leaders tasked with managing new workplace expectations. Seeing the challenge as a process is the way forward.” Her piece provides a great way to think about the decision on hybrid or other models of working going forward.

Moreover, this fear is disrupting other areas which demand corporate attention right now and  “has left leaders hypersensitive to issues of retention and unsure what accommodations, if any, will attract and keep talent. They are also apprehensive about what their competitors are doing. This has a ripple effect: Because of the fear of failure, I’ve seen leaders begin to stumble on issues of inclusion, belonging, and identity. Rather than being bold and adopting an experimental mindset, they are falling back to familiar ways of operating and becoming less empathic to what others want. When we fear failure, we retreat to the known.” I would only add the same is true for the corporate compliance function.

Gratton believes all of this means “the way organizations work is in need of a structural overhaul, and that the task of moving forward needs to be worked out by more people than just an organization’s top leadership. Leaders who have confronted their fears and set about this task of overhaul have done it by moving through four crucial steps: understanding people, networks, and jobs; reimagining how work gets done; modeling and testing redesign ideas against core principles; and ensuring the overhaul sticks by taking action widely.” I have adapted her work for the compliance professional.

Understand What Matters

Probably the top fear or concern is the decision to work from home or require workers to return to the office. But the key is “to understand with precision what matters: for example, where and how productive work takes place, what people want, and how knowledge flows.” For instance, being in the office can allow more productivity in crucial tasks particularly around individual thinking, analyzing, and writing. It turned out that for these people, being out of a busy office during lockdown was a plus.

But that is not the only equation as “work, people, and knowledge flow differ across companies.” As Gratton noted from one study participant, “Bringing ideas from across all our disciplines is crucial for us. In the office, we have engineers, designers, planners, technical specialists, and consultants. We want them to talk to each other and bounce ideas off each other.” This leadership clarity allows that “an office-based way of working would maximize highly valued cooperative behavior.”

Reimagine new ways of operating

Understanding the focus of your compliance team can be a key driver of productivity but it can also lessen “fears about pushing for an office-based way of working and enabled them to be imaginative and bold.” For instance, you might try to create opportunities for some employees to work anywhere for three months. Once again this might not work for all companies but if your compliance tasks can lend themselves to this approach it could be useful for you to consider it going forward.

The author reported, “Unilever reimagined the employee contract — the set of promises that employers make to their people.” To that end, “the conglomerate reimagined how to enable employees to work for Unilever while also engaging in other activities such as starting a business, traveling, or caring for a family member. In this model, called U-Work, some employees receive a monthly retainer and earn assignment pay. Importantly, they also get pension support and access to health insurance.” This allows flexibility “between being a full-time employee and being a contractor or agency worker from a third-party organization.”

Model and test new ways of working

Obviously, any model work should be aligned to the company’s purpose or business strategy. Unfortunately for many top-down run businesses, that means treating your employees like children. But if you succeeded during the pandemic (and you had to) you should be able to determine a hybrid way of working that could have a longer-term play.

For compliance that might mean a fuller determination of what being “customer-centric means and how hybrid work would have to align to changing customer needs.” Of course, for a compliance professional, your customer could be a variety of stakeholders such as employees, Supply Chain vendors or other third parties. The author’s overall point is to “be bold and courageous in your attend… in the spirit of being experimental.”

Act and create

A clear concern is that new models of work may end up becoming fads that are never really embedded into the culture of the company or will be discarded at the first sign of a recession or cost cutting. While senior leadership is critical in supporting such initiatives, Gratton identified four ways to deepen engagement and support throughout an organization for such a change.

  1. Managers must be engaged. A series of workshops with them helped create a managerial playbook.
  2. Communication to describe how these new work models would positively impact talent attraction and retention while supporting the strategic aim of the business.
  3. Managers should have open and active communications channels with their teams to make agreements on details such as when employees would work together in the office and when they would engage in focused work at home.
  4. Managers should support each other through peer networks to support and learn from each other.

Gratton ended her piece by challenging leaders to ask themselves three questions: “Where are you now on the journey of redesigning work? Are there steps you need to reengage with in a more purposeful manner? And are you clear about what your biggest priorities are? The actions you take now will create your signature model of work and define the deal that you are making with your employees and your customers.” The same is even more so for a Chief Compliance Officer (CCO) and corporate compliance function.

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