Compliance Measures Must Be Seen To Be Fair To Be Adopted

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This month’s technical corner article comes from Amy Bell, Director at Teal Compliance

Amy Bell

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“If it appears unfair, they won’t do it” 

That not the exact words of the behavioural scientist’s advice to the government on lockdown measures, but near enough. As we are facing an uncertain few months, the government, indeed society, is going to have a real struggle on its hands.  

We will need all people to comply with local lockdown and social distancing laws. And that will need to be not just the letter of the law but the spirit and intention behind it.  

Otherwise we will fail.  

Now, I am not actually sure what not failing looks like because there probably isn’t a way to win against Coronavirus, but I know without compliance it will be a lot worse.  

This is my day job, getting people to comply with things they don’t want to do.  

On talking to some of my fellow Mancunians about our local measures I am hearing lots of frustrations, even dissent!  

Why should I not be able to see my family but I can go to work and share an office with people, or sit in a restaurant near people who I don’t know or where they’ve been?” 

They don’t think it’s fair.  

And with unfairness comes dissent. People look for reasons to say the rules don’t apply to them, they “bend” them. There is a lot of “show me where it says”, or “that doesn’t apply to me because” and “it can’t mean that really, that’s not fair”. 

To build a compliance plan which works, what you are asking people to do needs to be perceived as fair. If you were to look at the behavioural scientist’s advice given to the government then you will see that they emphasised that it needed to be seen as fair and applying to all.  

In practice that means  

1.Be clear about your expectations and why they are necessary. Make sure you have thought about why the measure is needed, what process will everyone need to follow and that you explain this clearly to everyone. Policies can often be very wordy and the detail of what is required can be lost. Make the process easy to find either within the document, or maybe as a page on your Intranet. Explain what will happen if the process is not followed, in terms of the consequences to the business and to the individual involved. If there appears to be a different process for different people explain the reason for the differentiation. If you don’t, then some may assume other people are being given favourable treatment.  

2.Gaining commitment. This might sound obvious but lots of businesses skip this step. I’m not talking about just sending people on a training course or asking them to confirm they’ve read the Policy. It is getting tacit agreement to comply with the requirements you have set out. It makes it much easier to do if you have done step 1 above and explained why it is important and the consequences of failure.  

3.Deal with noncompliance. Nothing defeats a compliance plan quicker than letting someone get away with not doing it, especially if that someone makes their noncompliance well known. I once heard of a Partner in law firm who insisted his secretary type his emails despite a firmwide ban on the practice. His secretary was in tears and gradually, one by one, other solicitors started to request their secretaries did the same. Without getting into the ins and outs of the time and motion impact of that, it is clear that the noncompliance by one snowballed into noncompliance by many. The Partner was not challenged about this, as he was a “big biller” and so the plan failed. Always follow through and apply discipline consistently. Don’t let people get away with it for the sake of a difficult conversation because it will cost you in the end, in wasted compliance time, missed benefit to the firm, increased risk and possibly disciplinary sanctions.  

For all the above steps, repeating the mantra of “is it fair?” should get you to the right place.  

by Amy Bell, Director at Teal Compliance 

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