By Roy Snell
There is tremendous confusion with regard to what a compliance program is. The word compliance has a definition in society that is nothing like the definition of a compliance program. Compliance is often defined in dictionaries as, “The action or fact of complying with a wish or command.” Ethicists are adding their own spin by implying that compliance means the use of rules to get people to behave ethically. They think that is impossible. I agree; however, ethicists are using the word compliance and the words compliance program synonymously to disparage compliance programs. Ethicists are writing articles with titles such as, “Go beyond compliance to ethics” and “Compliance is not ethics.” In these articles, they are directly and indirectly impugning compliance programs.
Compliance programs are used by organizations to prevent, find, and fix problems. Problems at VW, Wells Fargo, and Michigan State University were not found quickly. They did not effectively implement education, auditing, monitoring, investigating, disciplining, controls to prevent problems from occurring again, etc., or otherwise run an effective compliance program. People ask why the victims of this wrongdoing suffered for so long. It was because no one was in charge of preventing, finding, and fixing ethical and regulatory problems.
The idea that ethicists say, you can’t regulate ethical behavior, is fine. I totally agree, but go tell that to the regulators. Compliance officers are not regulators. Compliance professionals are not using compliance programs to regulate ethical behavior. They are trying to find people who are harassing women. They are trying to find people who are abusing children. They are trying to find people who steal other people’s money. They are not just talking; they are taking action.
When ethicists lump compliance programs into their inaccurate definition of compliance, they mislead people. The idea that you would criticize a process that actually does something about these existing problems is mind-blowing. The idea that you criticize compliance programs that are actually looking for ethical and regulatory problems is ridiculous.
I understand that ethicists believe that ethics is better than compliance, and if everyone would just behave ethically, our problems would be solved. What I am asking is that until ethicists get everyone to behave ethically, please let us continue to prevent, find, and fix ethical and regulatory problems with compliance programs. And stop misleading people about what a compliance program is.