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Bill Coffin | February 21, 2017

I spend a lot of time training in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a form of grappling where you submit your opponent through various kinds of joint locks and choke holds. It’s the kind of martial art that is especially suited for when you get taken down to the ground and if you are fighting somebody who is bigger and stronger than you.

It takes at least 10 years to go from white belt to black belt and, during those first two years or so as a white belt, most people kind of thrash around, not quite knowing how to use their bodies yet, how to minimize their movements, how to apply their weight and strength, and how to simply relax in the face of physical, mental, and emotional pressure. That’s why the mantra for all students, but especially beginning ones, is that whenever rolling on the mats, it’s key to remember “the four goods”: good control, good technique, good position, and good submission.

Good control means not flailing about with your body. Much easier said than done. Good technique means remembering the moves you have been taught and not just freewheeling it, or trying to apply some move you watched on YouTube. Good position means not always trying to submit your partner at all times, but taking the time to get yourself out of harm’s way and into a place of advantage. And good submission means trying to submit your partner only when the conditions are right for it. If they’re not, you probably haven’t paid enough attention to your control, technique, or position. Go back and fix those first.

These are all important because when applied properly, you can handle somebody who is much more powerful than you through an application of skill, conditioning, and patience. And while one of the big reasons why I train is because it’s a welcome diversion from the stresses of everyday life, there are lessons I learn from it that often translate back to my work. And lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how the four goods in BJJ could also work as the four goods of compliance.

Many compliance programs never have enough resources to really tackle the mission they have been given. They’re the equivalent of a 140-lb. person rolling with some dude who’s 200 lbs. and full of nervous energy. So, what would be the four goods for compliance programs to ensure they achieve the results they’re looking for every time? Same as BJJ, really: good control, good technique, good position, and good submission.

Good control means having an understanding of the scope of risk that you want to manage, but also understanding the scope of risk that you can manage. Nothing quite undermines a compliance program than unrealistic expectations. Good technique means designing solid operational protocols, communicating them throughout the organization, implementing necessary training, and following up regularly. Good position means making sure your compliance program has fostered an enterprise-wide sense of teamwork, isn’t operating within a silo, and has a clear line of communications with senior management and the board. And Good submission is measuring the results of your program so you can demonstrate its effectiveness, thereby gaining cultural buy-in (not to mention material support) from across the organization.

Like getting a black belt, building a strong compliance program won’t be easy or quick. It takes a lot of hard work. It takes dedication to a daily grind. And there will be setbacks. Believe me, there will be setbacks. But a black belt is simply a white belt who never quit, and if you truly commit to your efforts and your vision, you’ll soon see that building a better compliance program is as much about the journey as it is the destination.