Chalk Lines: On Baseball, Groundskeepers, and Compliance


In honor of the end of baseball season, I am recalling (and revising) some thoughts I originally posted last fall
— and adding some pictures. Hope this takes you out to the ball game.

Catcher and field closer1By Wednesday, the Major League season will come to its last glorious inning. And this afternoon, my son will catch the last game of the year for his Babe Ruth League team, ending a long string of seasons and games that began in March. So

Doing what I do, every time I leave the clean white chalk powder on the rusty matte of the base paths, I think to myself, “Even here, even now, I’m leading compliance!”

Does that make me Mister Baseball Buzzkill? Yeah, maybe so. But I think there is a parallel between the Compliance Officer and the Groundskeeper.

I mean, compliance is in large part about winning while staying inside the lines. And for an organization, who paints those lines?

Government? Regulators? An industry Code? Your Code of Conduct? Sure, but not precisely.The Rules of the Game may specify that the foul line extends from the first base line and the third base line. But it is still the compliance team that has to paint the lines precisely.

To push my metaphor way too far, compliance leadership has to decide the slope of the base path, and the tendency of slow grounders to stay in bounds or to roll foul. And to abandon the realism of my metaphor, we have to decide whether to paint the lines on our own field with a little cushion, so minor fouls don’t really cross the legal line… or paint the lines wide, to give our organizations a bigger playing field but also a bigger risk of stumbling out of bounds.

But most of all, as compliance leaders we have to do the painting. The Rules may say where the foul line should be, but the players would be left to just guess what’s foul and what’s not if we didn’t draw an actual line that they can see while they are playing.  Our teammates rely on our education programs, our communications, and our internal enforcement to know where the dividing line falls.

The author's first-base line left something to be desired, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.
The author’s first-base line was visibly imperfect, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.

Frankly, I can think of times when my base lines left something to be desired, straightness-wise. The umpire might have checked to see how I drew the line (or he might not have), but once play began, he relied on the white line I put down in chalk. It’s a big responsibility.

So you can picture me standing out there today, superimposing all these philosophical musings about work onto our national pastime. Then you can picture my son pointedly reminding me that the game is about to begin, and that I need to get my carcass off the field, and help coach my players to success.

Play ball!

Two Things Watching The Oscars Taught Me About Ethics and Compliance

Patricia Arquette, accepting the 2015 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Patricia Arquette, accepting the 2015 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

Last Sunday, three of us compliance lawyer types had ourselves a virtual Oscar Party.

We three – Amy Hutchens (CCEP), President of CLEAResources; Kirsten Hotchkiss, now an employment and employee relations counsel with American Express Global Business Travel, and I (President of LeadGood, and also CCEP)– conducted an experiment with the following hypothesis:

  • IF the leaders of an institution, through their every message and action, set a “tone from the top” that either fosters or undermines the ethical culture of that institution; and
  • IF the culture of our nation – an institution we all share — is in part determined in those rare events that a large proportion of the population share in-common;
  • THEN an ethical “tone at the top” will be set by the cultural stars and leaders who speak and act during the massively multi-person annual event that is the Academy Awards.

Amy, Kirsten and I made that hypothesis the topic of a “live-blog” that we conducted Oscar-night on my company’s website. We watched the Oscars along with everyone else, and reacted in real time to those things that compliance lawyer types notice. (You can still read our stream of observations and musings here.)

Our hunch going in was that we might hear a few moments of ethical leadership, and maybe a few ethical gaffes, among the presenters, red carpets types, and the commercials of the Oscar telecast. To our surprise, we (along with the rest of the billion-plus viewership) wound up hearing an almost continual series of stars speaking out forcefully and fervently for noble causes that should command our attention. Just in the acceptance speeches, we heard advocacy for:

 Gender Equality (Best Supporting Actress)

A.L.S. (Best Actor)

Alzheimer’s (Best Actress)

Whistleblowers (Best Documentary Feature)

Teen Suicide Prevention (Best Adapted Screenplay)

Returning Veterans (Sound Editing)

Civil Rights (Best Song)

Immigrants’ Rights (Best Picture)

Calling Your Parents (Best Supporting Actor)

 

As the New York Times put it, “Oscar nights usually do have their share of political posturing, but this was a particularly passionate evening. “

But there was a tone from the top, and it was this: “Speak Out for your Beliefs! Take Action to Help Others!” It was Corporate Social Responsibility Night at the Movies. Hooray for Hollywood!

Seriously, Oscars 2015 was a big-time, highly public, star-studded endorsement of a speak-up culture. (Even the Lego Movie’s brainwash-the-citizenry song, “Everything is Awesome,” lost.)

But on reflection, I wonder if all those appeals blurred together, and if any of them still stand out in the memory of most viewers. It was almost as if the message was, “Everyone has their own cause – so any cause is right.” Having heard so many appeals for action, viewers may have felt ironically unmotivated to action.

So I ask: Was the experience of the Oscar viewer on Sunday that different than the experience of our employees, in this time of the multi-modal, socially savvy, short-message-oriented, compliance communications program? I happen to love the practice of delivering compliance information in shorter bursts at higher frequencies, of “social learning streams” and the like. If we’re not careful, though, does it sound like this?

Don’t discriminate! (HR).

Recycle! (Sustainability).

Wear safety glasses! (EH&S).

No gratuities! (Commercial Compliance).

Donate! (United Way).

Protect our Trade Secrets! (General Counsel).

Protect our Company Data! (IT).

Follow our Code! (CCO).

 

If our quick compliance hits seem a blur, then the Oscars may have offered two lessons for our programs.

First, Focus. Too many emotional appeals may leave me numb. Too many instructions at once may strain my memory. If everything is important, nothing is important. (Maybe those programs that stress a theme-of-the-month have the right idea.)

Second: don’t just send a message; tell the story.Still Alice” had a compelling message about Alzheimer’s, and “American Sniper” about veterans and war, because of the power of their storytelling. The movies had the time, and craft, and humanity to make a social issue real. By contrast, the short plugs in the acceptance speeches at the Oscars were only reminders: they returned an issue to the front of mind, and reminded us of something we care about. That is an excellent thing to do in the short nuggets we have added to our compliance messaging.

But the power behind those messages originates in good old-fashioned storytelling. And even in this social age, it is the story that provides the inspiration to act.

Hooray for Hollywood!

 

P.S. Since our little experiment worked, we’ve resolved to do our “Ethics and the Oscars” live blog again next year. Hope you can join us!

 

(Note: A version of this post also appears on LinkedIn.)

On Learning Objectives and Duct Tape

The other night, I watched a group of Boy Scouts plan a skit. Their Patrol had the assignment of teaching the rest of the Troop how you could make first aid supplies out of duct tape. They had the idea of doing a funny little show about a Scout falling out of an apple tree, and suddenly needing a stretcher, a splint and a sling. They threw joke lines and sight gags at each other, and put together a nice little script and demonstration.

But I noticed: at no point did one of the boys suggest that they should start their skit by saying, “At the conclusion of this skit, you will have a thorough understanding of how to manipulate industrial-strength adhesive tape for purposes of medical care.”

ducttape

 

 

Just sayin.

 

Tips for leading from within

I wrote up some nitty-gritty tactics for how to “Lead Good” for the website of the Association of Corporate Counsel (ACC) — the leading trade association for in-house lawyers. My article, “Top Ten Practical Ways to Enrich and Empower Your Compliance Program,” is the ACC’s featured “Top Ten” article of the month.

The sub-text for my recommended methods: Don’t just administer. Be pro-active. Be creative. Lead.

Ethics in ethics training

Interesting appellate decision spotted by lawyer Howard J. Susser of Boston’s Burns & Levinson LLP: The copyright case is a cautionary tale to compliance trainers who build their course materials by cutting, pasting, borrowing, and lightly paraphrasing from somebody else’s course, like maybe from a PowerPoint made available at a conference or from a course provided by a vendor that their company’s not using anymore. (I’m shocked, shocked….)

Well, that’s copyright infringement. In Situation Management Systems, Inc., v. ASP Consulting, LLC (1st Cir. March 19, 2009), the First Circuit Court of Appeals nails one training company for using another’s course materials as a template for its own. (The opinion is available at the Court’s website.) The Court says those courses are “original expression,” even if they are “vapid” and “filled with generalizations, platitudes, and observations of the obvious.”

In his article posted by the firm, Mr. Susser concludes: “What this decision means is that companies and individuals risk exposure when copying for commercial purposes any training materials or other commercial business materials from competitors or other sources.”

We ought to know better, given our concern with compliance. It’s kinda like a movie exec downloading bootleg films. Hurts to be hoisted on one’s own ethical petard.