I recently had the opportunity to read a very interesting and engaging Round-Table Discussion in the 2-2015 Issue of the Journal of Business Compliance (Baltzer Science Publishers. Editor-in-Chief: Anthony Smith-Meyer) titled Benchmarks and Standards. As a regular contributor to the Journal, I asked the Publisher, Laurenz Baltzer, if he would allow me to make the article available to my readers and non-subscribers, and he was kind enough to grant permission, which can be done via a link here with my gratitude.
The Round-Table participants represent a well-experienced panel from a number of fields, including some familiar names from previous blog post such as Scott Killingsworth (Partner, Bryan Cave (profile here) and a member of the Journal of Business Compliance Editorial Board), as well as Alexandra Almy (Certification Manager, Ethic Intelligence), who I had the pleasure of seeing via video at the OECD Integrity Week. But please read the work for the reflections and profiles of the entire panel
As Anthony Smith-Meyer asks in his introduction, “How far can we go in meaningful guidance as to how businesses should govern themselves, take decisions and manage their risks?”
What caught my attention is how benchmarks and standards influence those at the front lines of international business who confront corruption risk in their work, as well as the compliance professionals who are tasked with supporting them to manage that risk. If benchmarks and standards that are designed to govern and chart compliance are all bringing some value, or, as Mark Compton (Partner, Mayer Brown and BC Editorial Board Member), states “Good advice is never counterproductive,” is there a point of diminishing returns? As Anthony Smith-Meyer asks “At what point does good advice become counterproductive? Or is it a case of the more the merrier?” Perhaps that dilemma is well addressed when Pinsent Masons Partner (and my interlocutor at a 2014 UK compliance symposium) Barry Vitou proclaims in a blog post of his own (link here): “If your anti-bribery policy is more than three pages, it probably won’t work.”
I think a good reflection on the debate comes from Alexandra Almy, who states, “the compliance and ethics community is indeed facing a plethora of guidance, recommendations and best practices on the issue, which can be quite understandably overwhelming.” Indeed, and if it is overwhelming to those in the C-Suite and home offices who are compliance professionals and who write these policies, how about for those at the field level, who do not have such professional backgrounds, but who are clearly tasked to grow the business? As Scott Killingsworth well states “Compliance is about influencing the behavior of individual, free willed human beings on a large scale in the face of temptation and pressure, which is a little different from, say sterilizing a knee implant.” Furthermore, Scott points to what I call the “least common denominator (LCD)” syndrome, which I have experienced in other industry standards, where a “certification-based regime may, in effect, encourage companies to do exactly the minimum necessary to achieve certification, and no more.”
So, where is the sweet spot between fatigue and the LCD? I will be uncharacteristically brief, and invite those interested to “jump ship” to the Journal of Business Compliance article and to read more! (link here).