The most important 20 minutes of my work day come at the end. Every night at 5pm, I shut my office door, I turn off my e-mail, I put away my phone, and I read. I read books, compliance blogs, regulations, leadership pieces from the Harvard Business Review. It doesn’t matter. I read. And I’m committed to it. Because I believe that even the best compliance officer with even better intentions can’t possibly memorize every regulation or have an answer for every situation immediately at their fingertips. You need to prepare for it. And the more you prepare, the better you get. This is continuous improvement or Kaizen.
In 1986, Masaaki Imai introduced the concepts, systems and tools of Kaizen to western civilization. Loosely translated, Kaizen means change for the better. It has been utilized successfully by a variety of organizations in healthcare, psychotherapy, government and other industries to help develop long-term competitive strategies, improve operational practices and stay viable. When you think about it further, this principle has even more direct application to the compliance practitioner. In today’s environment in which we work, being a compliance practitioner is like setting yourself on fire at the beginning of the day and trying to put it out by day’s end. We fight fires. We want to be able to control the fire that is burning within ourselves – by learning how to handle the difficult conversation before it occurs, or anticipating how we will act when someone challenges our knowledge or authority.
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So how can you best put Kaizen to work for you right now, today? I know that you’re very busy and you have candy to crush. So start small. As Imai believed, the starting point for improvement is to recognize the need, which comes from recognizing a problem. So tonight, if there is a regulation that you know you are hazy on, read it before you leave the office. Or if you know you need to be a better communicator, google it and see how others communicate. You don’t need an hour a day. Start with 10 minutes. Over the following days, months and years, 10 minutes a day works like the principle of compound interest with the money in your savings account. It grows. Very big results come by very small changes and when you take care of the little things, then the big things take care of themselves.