It may be time for compliance officers to return to being seen as the “Department of No.”

In the early days of the profession, a reputation was forged for compliance as a dead-end for any innovative product or service. Not only was the function an angel on your shoulder when corporate devils hatched various schemes, plots, and accounting shenanigans, it was a team of rivals throwing up a Heisman stance to block potentially lucrative partnerships, sales, and acquisitions.

That wasn’t an entirely fair characterization, of course. But self-serving rejections of compliance, unfortunately, perpetuate.

Undaunted by its critics, compliance continues to evolve. Over the years, new heights of professionalism have emerged, and very good things are happening. Very bad things at companies, however, also keep happening.

We would never suggest a return to the days where CCOs were either feared or ignored. The view of compliance being a problematic chore is no good either.

And, no folks, there is no amount of posters in the kitchen possible of winning over the room when the big problems are out of the bag.

At the best companies, your efforts to shape and perfect culture, and ensure the letter of the law, at all levels of the enterprise will be welcomed and seen as doing your job.

Before dark clouds start to form, CCOs and their staff may need to channel a little bit of their bad boy (or girl) groove.

At a recent Congressional hearing on anti-money laundering efforts, we heard a troubling and common refrain: “We are not law enforcement.”

It is a fair enough declaration. It was a response to increasing demands on what is included in bank’s Suspicious Activity Reports. The goal, on the part of regulators, seems to be encouraging financial institutions to do a better job with this data—as well as know-your-customer/beneficial ownership screens—to out-Sherlock the bad guys. They have a fair point in terms of not wanting to deputized, with a shiny badge forged from increased costs and drained resources. The “we are not law enforcement” refrain, to the ears of some of our colleagues and sources, rang of either foot-stomping or the kind of declaration that only the sloppy or guilty would blurt out.

Where are their compliance folks to step in to urge focus on benefits, not costs? Maybe they should be ferreting out troubles with a better use of their voluminous data troves, rather than being content to let them sit untouched, waiting a for a reputation-damaging issue to strike before, finally, forensically reconstructing the path to the problem.

A lot of talk and strategy focuses on integrating compliance with business units and strategy and development plans. That is how things should be. Be wary, however, of that acceptance. Becoming one of “Them” will help you do your job, but the risk is thinking too much like they do.

Seeing things through the business’ eyes is necessary; losing sight of your own mission can be deadly. Yes, when needed, you still need to remind them all that you can, at will, become that “No” person again, at a moment’s notice. As a compliance officer, never dine in an executive dining room unless you are fully willing and prepared to yank off the tablecloth mid-meal. You cannot afford to buy into rationalizations and the easily-swallowed falsehoods that drive bad decision making, that soon-enough condenses and rains from the top down.

Every test, documentation demand, and admonishment you are willing to impose further down the food chain should be readily available within the upper echelon.

At the best companies, your efforts to shape and perfect culture, and ensure the letter of the law, at all levels of the enterprise will be welcomed and seen as doing your job.

At companies where there is resistance, however, you only have two choices as a member of the compliance team, especially at a time of heightened individual liability: run, run away fast; or gird yourself for battle and dust off the “Department of No” sign on the door.