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By Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel, Microsoft Corporation
Many of us begin a new year thinking about possible resolutions. A great new year’s resolution for all organizations — regardless of size, industry or location — is to ensure that your organization embraces a culture of compliance.
Unfortunately every day we read about yet another high-profile organization involved in a compliance-related issue that subjects it to potential liability and erodes trust. Regulators all over the world are increasingly focused on compliance matters. Making sure that your organization and employees comply with applicable law and act with a high degree of integrity is more important than ever before. Here’s some practical steps that your organization can take to establish a compliance mindset:
Set the Tone at the Top
It’s critical for your organization’s leaders to always model and evangelize compliance. All leaders should look for every opportunity — team meetings, 1:1 meetings, emails, career discussions, etc… — to reinforce the importance of compliance to their employees as part of the rhythm of their communications. Your leadership team’s ability or inability to demonstrate ethical conduct and compliance will trickle down to the rest of the organization.
Embrace Lessons Learned
The various recent and well-documented compliance challenges involving organizations provide excellent learning opportunities for all of us. Take the time to understand the facts of those situations and treat them like case studies so that your organization can avoid similar missteps by learning from others. Also be sure to actively learn from your own organization’s and employee’s compliance issues from the past.
Educate, Educate & Educate
Develop and deliver periodic and practical mandatory compliance-related training to all of your employees. Depending on the size of your organization such training can be delivered via online or in-person — however for greatest impact make sure to develop training that is thoughtful and based on real-world compliance scenarios that may arise within your organization. Special care and attention should also be made to provide proactive compliance training to new employees as you indoctrinate them into your organization.
Break Down Silos
Almost every organization has silos that may impair the ability for its employees to spot issues, cross-check, communicate and exercise good judgment – all of which could lead to potential compliance issues. Eliminating silos in your organization’s operations will help you embrace a culture of compliance. Make sure to leverage leading technology to enhance collaboration, use big data to identify key trends and if you are a large and de-centralized organization, embed lawyers and compliance professionals in locations outside of your organization’s headquarters where significant amounts of your employees are based.
It is well understood that organizations should establish meaningful written code of conducts and/or internal policies for their employees to follow in key areas – and of course ensuring that your organization and employees actually follow them is absolutely critical. Update those code of conducts and policies as needed to ensure they do not become stale over time – especially as both the law and the surface area for compliance issues evolve. It’s also imperative that your code of conducts and policies be written very clearly so that they are easily understood and avoid making them the size of a legal treatise.
Go Above and Beyond
Don’t just comply with applicable law, but look for opportunities to go beyond what the law actually requires. Doing so will inspire greater trust for your organization in your industry and will be viewed positively by regulators.
While compliance must be an important focus area for everyone, lawyers play a vital role in helping organizations avoid potential compliance issues. As a lawyer make sure that you not only embrace that responsibility but act as a role model for compliance, ethics and integrity in your own organization.
Editor’s Note: The author of this post works in Microsoft’s in-house legal team.