Effective Compliance: Communicating the message across the business

gamificationSo, you have a compliance program and you’ve achieved senior executive buy-in – you hope. But what is the key to successfully communicating that message out to your employees or agents in the field?

This topic was central to a lively discussion at Legal Leaders GC (LLGC) compliance conference in March, for which LexisNexis was the headline commercial partner.

While the conference panels and delegates agreed that ‘tone from the top’ is important (ok, let’s agree essential), ensuring that all employees are wholly aware of their ethical and legal obligations is never that one dimensional.

The right business model

Taking one step back, before you work out how best to actively deliver the compliance message, it is worth considering your company’s underlying framework and culture.

If you’ve ever been to John Lewis on a busy Saturday, you will notice that the shop floor is usually kept immaculate, despite the same amount of clothes and litter being dropped on the floor as in other stores. The reason, pointed out LLGC panel member Peter Neville Lewis, founder of Principled Consulting, is that within John Lewis’ business model, employees are collectively invested in and responsible for the delivery of its customer services.

Neville Lewis said: “One simple answer is to find the right business model. If you asked John Lewis how many people are involved in risk management, the answer would be ‘all of them’.”

The corporate personality

Much as with any important message, it’s no use just thinking about what you’re going to say and not how it will be received and by whom.

Compliance is often perceived as a dry topic and it’s important to consider the personality and culture of the organisation in how you deliver it.

At ASOS, a young fashion brand with employees who reflect that brand, general counsel and company secretary Andrew Magowan said: “We wouldn’t set up a separate compliance department. No-one would talk to it.”

Instead of ‘compliance training,’ the company finds more subtle ways to spread the message, in particular under a corporate social responsibility banner. Magowan said: “Having worked in two different industries, in oil and gas they knew the consequences of not doing what lawyers say. We’re achieving the same thing now but working out how the business is motivated.”

Roll your sleeves up

While for some corporates it is enough to deliver the compliance message from on high, Laurence Perrin, head of compliance at GE Money Home Lending says that’s simply not enough.

“You need skilled lawyers who go can go on the ground, roll up their sleeves and give advice,” she said.

Bottom up

While GCs typically spend a significant proportion of their time wondering how to achieve tone from the top, some of the most successful programs start at the bottom.

One GC at LLGC said: “We had the burning platform; it’s very disruptive to go through an investigation but it was a catalyst for change and we went grass roots up and asked what can we do to make you feel safe? To make you feel no personal strife.”

Neville Lewis added: “People say communication is key. It’s about involving people from the bottom up.”


It sounds, well, a bit obvious. But it’s worth remembering that some compliance ‘problems’ may have a simple, non-legal explanation and solution.

When Asos got to the size where staff were required to wear their pass around their neck, take up was poor.

“It turned out most people didn’t like their photo, which is taken on the day they arrive. We’re a fashion retailer and people care what they look like. It’s easy to conclude it’s one answer but in fact it might be a different answer requiring a different solution,” said Magowan.

And then think outside the box

Developments in technology mean that compliance is now being delivered through mobile apps that can be absorbed by staff on the go in bite size chunks.

LLGC chairperson, former RB group legal affairs GC Claire Debney, pointed out that RB uses a ‘Can I, Can’t I’ app, which is adaptable to most markets.

GE, meanwhile, which has long had its compliance policy online and accessible by 30 different nationalities, uses apps for gifts and entertainment.

The financial institution also appoints compliance champions and allows them to create a video blog in which they put senior managers on the spot under interview. In Japan, GE has created a comic version of its compliance rules.

Gamification is a growing area and at Vodafone, the telecoms giant has launched a ‘snakes and ladders’ compliance game – if you get a question wrong, you plummet to the bottom.

At T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom, the company uses YouTube videos to train and engage its employees.

Like Vodafone, T-Systems also uses a snakes and ladders game where if you fall foul of a snake, you fail, fortunately – and here is the rub - only virtually speaking.

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