Executive coach and former Chief Compliance Officer Amii Barnard-Bahn responds to your anonymous questions on some of the grayer areas compliance officers face, such as culture, hiring, training, and ethics. Click here to submit your own for inclusion in our next edition.
Q: I literally spend 90 percent of my day either in meetings or answering e-mails. I try my hardest to avoid meetings I don’t need to be in, but I have a hard time delegating because I feel like when someone invites me to a meeting it’s rude to send someone in my place. As a result, though, I get nothing done! What hacks do you know about to be more productive yet still have my hand on all of the areas I need to as a compliance practitioner. - Shep
Amii: It sounds like you need a reset of both your calendar—and your mindset. Perfect timing with the new year around the corner!
These days, most managers are “working managers”—they manage other people in addition to executing their own workload. Time management is key to succeeding as a working manager. And it sounds like your calendar may be running you. To regain control, try the following:
- Audit your calendar. Take a 3-month sampling of your recent calendar and evaluate the meetings you attended. Categorize them into three buckets: green (productive meeting), yellow (unsure), and red (unproductive). Look for patterns. Could others have attended in your place? Can the meeting be declined entirely? With the reds, renegotiate expectations with your stakeholders. With yellows, discuss coverage options with your team—some of those meetings may be perfect development opportunities for a junior team member. If you’re taking all those meetings, you are actually preventing your team from learning. This also frees up your time to attend productive (green) meetings!
- Manage e-mail. Some experts recommend scheduling time twice a day to review e-mail so you can keep flow. My practice: I scan my e-mail first in the morning, immediately taking action on quick items, deleting junk, and noting priority items that will take more time. I then do a second e-mail sift (either at that time or later in the day) and respond to items that have co-dependencies—where I’m a gatekeeper holding up action. Lastly, in between client meetings, I respond to items that require a more thorough answer or research. I generally end the day with a fully “processed inbox” with a few items in queue for a response that week.
- Take regular breaks. Most productivity experts say we can’t work in flow for more than 90-minute stretches. Even taking a five-minute break to walk around the office, get a cup of coffee, or chat with a neighbor can give our brain a break that frees up creative thinking and focus for our next stretch of work.
- Block sacred time on your calendar. I block at least 90 minutes each month for strategic thinking; It helps me achieve my quarterly plan, make important decisions with a clear head, and allows me to think at a “big picture” level.
- Communicate your schedule. Be clear with employees that there are certain times that are only for you. As a manager, you need to make time for your employees and their concerns, but you also need get your own work done.
- Have an end-of-day ritual. At the end of each workday, I make a list of the one big thing I want to accomplish the next day. And after I do my cursory e-mail review, I get to work on that one big thing. Then if the day just falls apart, I’ve already completed what was most important.
- Hold regularly scheduled office hours. Designate a chunk of time at the same time every week when you are open to being disturbed (Friday afternoons work great). This can cut down on midweek ad hoc interruptions and requests for meetings when folks know you will be available to them for that block of time.
- Set the routine. It takes about four to six weeks to set a new habit, so expect that these practices may be hard in the beginning but will get easier and easier if you have the discipline to stay committed.
As you go through this exercise, consider why delegating or declining meetings is difficult for you. If you’re not accustomed to setting boundaries, this will be uncomfortable at first—but your leadership effectiveness depends on it. No one will value your time if you don’t. You have to take the lead.
Q: Need your opinion on something: Which is better, anonymous employee surveys or surveys where employees put their names to their comments? I find the latter to be more effective, because the answers can be conversation starters. That being said, I work at a small company, so it’s easier for us. I just don’t put much stock in anonymous surveys even though they’re supposed to encourage more honest answers—but in reality I just don’t think [that] is the case. - Anonymous
Amii: “Better” depends on the purpose of the survey and the openness of your culture. Usually companies issue employee surveys as a valuable tool to check in on how things are going. You may want to understand what your employees think of a new process you’ve set up in the office, how they would feel about moving the office to another location, and other decisions that impact their work.
When you design a survey, a key decision is whether to make it anonymous. There are pros and cons. Making a survey anonymous usually leads to more honest feedback. When employees know that they won’t be tied to their answers, you are generally guaranteed more insight into how they really feel and how things are really going for them. An anonymous survey may be best used for topics where employees wouldn’t feel psychologically safe if they had to tie their name to the survey, such as manager evaluations or reporting misconduct. Some employees are going to be more likely to speak up or share information if they know they won’t be tracked.
As you’ve pointed out, however, the downside to anonymity is that some responses may not provide enough context to understand the issue. You may receive important feedback but not enough specifics to act on the situation. This can impact your ability to follow up and ask clarifying questions and is frustrating when you your intent is to improve.
If you can’t decide which type of survey suits your purposes, consider giving employees a choice of whether to answer anonymously at the beginning of the survey. Through doing this, you may find a clear preference from your employees and the next time you can use that to design your next survey.
Q: What does it mean to “transform compliance into a business enabler”? To me those just sound like buzzwords that don’t really say much. What are some actionable steps I can take to do that? - Anonymous
Amii: That is a snappy little phrase and, if you assume that legal and regulatory compliance is in a company’s best financial interest, you can make a strong case that compliance is ultimately a business enabler. In the short term, however, compliance may require significant cost investments to implement and can impact the pace of business-generating activities. But in the long run, if something is illegal, the company will likely get caught and have to pay. So, the best course is to build compliance controls at the outset to avoid any hard-dollar costs and hard-to-quantify hits to reputation that could occur.
Building compliance controls is always best done at the beginning of a new business process. Your opportunity to get in early may depend on the maturity of your business model, the rate of change, and cross-functional awareness for stakeholders to include compliance in major product builds and operational upgrades. If compliance is not already invited to participate and weigh in on these types of initiatives and upgrades, the new year is perfect timing to begin. Get to know each major stakeholder’s strategic plan and deliverables for the year. Which of these has compliance implications? Get on the project team and make it easy to embed compliance into the build. Once on the team, don’t limit yourself to legal and compliance contributions—your analytical skills and risk assessment mindset may be helpful in evaluating operations weaknesses and other value-adds.
Lastly, some compliance projects do result in actual cost or efficiency savings. In some of the compliance implementations I led, we uncovered inefficiencies and saved the company money through streamlining business processes, even while operationalizing a compliance process. We should always be on the lookout for those hard-dollar wins.
Special report: Compliance 2020
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