Sometimes You Just Can’t Argue


By Jodi L. O’Neill, CCEP
Deputy Compliance Officer – Indiana Public Retirement System (INPRS)

I am a mom of two girls eight years apart. My oldest is a long-term planning, “Type-A” rule following mini-me. My youngest….well, let’s just say she’s not.

I could reason with my oldest at an early age. I could tell her to not do something with an explanation and for the most part, she was compliant. She was self-policing and motivated which enabled her to excel in school. We never worried about her missing curfew or the friends she hung with because she was just that good. We educated and trained her and she was compliant with minimal work.

The youngest, on the other hand, …oh my. That child could make me whip off my calm, cool and collected hat in a nanosecond!

One Saturday when she was almost three, she had lost cartoons, her favorite snacks and toy by 3 p.m. The timeout bench had been worn thin by the frequent visits of her tushy. I put a new bench on my shopping list.

She could predict the timing of her release from captivity and would ask, “Momma, can I get up now?” Before she was allowed up, she would have to state why she was there in the first place. On this day she surprised me by rattling off ALL the reasons she had been in time out. It ranged from poking our Doberman in the eye to throwing her sippy cup across the room out of anger that it was empty. I asked her, “You understand that when you do those things you will be punished, right?” To which she replied, “Yes.”

Hmmm…I just had to ask. “If you know it’s wrong and you know you are going to get punished, then WHY do you continue to do these things?” Her sweet little voice took on an air of sarcasm and she exclaimed, “BECAUSE I WANT TO!”

Explosive laughter threatened to blow my head off and I quickly ducked into the kitchen. Uncontrollable tears turned my mascara into black rivers on my cheeks. As I tried to pull myself together, her voice turned sweet again, “Momma? Can I get out now please?” I replied, “Nope. Sit there a few more minutes and think about your behavior.” I was the one who needed a few more minutes.

That sweet girl is now 12 years old. She receives frequent training and can regurgitate the answers to all the compliance and ethics quizzes. She knows how to use her resources and where to go for answers. She can even train others on compliance and ethics and help them understand that actions have consequences. But in some moments when she’s faced with a decision, all that training and instruction goes right out the window and she still does her own thing. More than once when asked why she did something, she has replied, “I don’t know! I just couldn’t help myself!” Ugh.

Compliance program outcomes can be a lot like my girls. On one hand, you can speak truth to your staff, train them well, and rest assured the message is received, heeded and acted upon with minimal work. Staff can pass all the quizzes and know where to find, and use, the resources. You aren’t worried about who they hang with because they are just that good.

On the other hand, you can do all the above only to have a few do things you know will land them and your organization on the business side of an investigation. Why? “I don’t know” or they “just couldn’t help themselves.”

Educate, train, and equip, but prepare for the worst. And if you get the equivalent of a rouge three-year-old testing your program, take a few minutes. Compose yourself. And put a new time-out bench on your shopping list. You just might need it before it’s over.


  1. In the ranks of those that officiate sports we call people that like to argue “Yeah but” people. The reason is that one of the key elements to becoming a good official is watching film of yourself in action because as athletes and officials know, “The eye in the sky don’t lie!”

    There are some officials that take feedback on how to do better by correcting their mistakes very, very well and often their performance increases quickly. On the other hand there are those officials that when you inform them that what they are doing doesn’t work, instead of recognizing the upside of the direction will go on and on and justify what they are doing by starting a response with “Yeah but….” followed by every excuse in the book.

    Ironically, this is not limited to only sports officials. I find that sometimes folks in other areas, even compliance, might sometimes fall into the “Yeah but…” category. I’m sure I’ve done it to. The good news…one can change and often become a much better compliance professional by being open to hearing feedback and considering how to apply it.

    Of course, this doesn’t apply to those compliance pros that already know everything and no longer make mistakes. How do I know…because I’ve met some that have reminded me of such qualifications.

  2. Hi, Jodi – A good story that illustrates an important point. Compliance programs cannot just be designed for the older daughters; they also need to reach the younger ones too. We can’t assume people will always do what is right just because we tell them to, or even that the threat of discipline (time outs) will always deter. We need to use all the tools we can to reach everyone.

    As an example, perhaps the surest way to keep people on the right side is to eliminate as much temptation as possible, or make it impossible to do things the wrong way. There may also be ways to monitor in high-risk areas. We need to be creative, and always checking to see how we are doing.

    Cheers, Joe

  3. Hi Jodi,
    Your scenario rings true for me. Both at home and at work. At home my son (now 22) was the “just give me the punishment because I am going to do it again” is looking to be military police. Not because he finds it fascinating, he just believes you have to take your punishment when you choose to go against the grain.
    The same at the office these days, my pat answer is we need fact finding and reporting, followed by correction. People now start the conversation with I know what you are going to tell me, I just want to know if you have found a new way to say it.

    Thanks for sharing,

  4. Jodi, you described an age-old problem in a fresh way. If rules and laws worked for everyone, no one would ever steal or kill (both of which I suspect are illegal in every part of the world). Pure self-interest can squelch conscience–at least in the moment! As we write our policies, we have to find that “hook” that helps people understand that following them IS in their best interest, even when it doesn’t exactly “feel” like it. Thanks for the great share!


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