Leading compliance through a crisis

Now, more than ever, organizations must demonstrate ethics, integrity and compassion, writes Angela Crawford

Businesses and their employees continue to struggle with the economic and personal fallout of the Covid-19 crisis. Now, more than ever, it is imperative that businesses must demonstrate ethics, integrity, and compassion.

The following are three strategies for leaders to consider as they navigate corporate compliance challenges during the Covid-19 crisis and its aftermath.

1. Remain Vigilant

Governments and regulators around the world have recognized the need to unburden businesses affected by this crisis. Certain rules and expectations have been relaxed, and the pace of some government investigations has slowed. At the same time, global regulators have publicly warned businesses that they must comply with regulations in the midst of the crisis, even as they have also warned the public to be on guard against fraudsters.

In addition, the guidance the public is receiving from local, state, federal, and international government authorities changes weekly – sometimes daily. This piecemeal framework is causing significant uncertainty and confusion. What is certain, however, is that businesses will still be liable for compliance failures. Regulators, the media and the public will no doubt hold accountable those that have been seen to take advantage of the situation.

It is too early to tell exactly what a post-Covid-19 future will bring for our business, financial, and regulatory environments. What we do know is that the world as we’ve known it has forever been changed. Businesses of all sizes and types must remain vigilant on how this new and complex, regulatory system will impact their businesses and employees.

Practical Tips

Task people on your team to monitor each applicable regulatory agency and government authority so that you stay abreast of the changing rules.

Automate this as much as possible by signing up for alerts from each relevant body.

Communicate via recurring virtual meetings, and other online tools, to share relevant updates.

Monitor financial transactions and compliance reports to both minimize the risk of improper conduct, and address it as soon as possible.

2. Stay the course 

During a time of crisis, when so much is uncontrollable, do not let the time, energy, and resources you have spent in developing a strong ethics and compliance program and corporate culture to have been in vain by failing to control what you can control. You do not want to put your chances for relief and financial support, or your hard-earned reputation and goodwill, at risk due to shortcuts, compliance lapses, and quick fixes.

While some improvements to your corporate compliance program undoubtedly are warranted and may be very timely right now, in general companies may fare better by simply staying the course.

Practical Tips

Continue with due diligence.

Train your employees remotely.

Move forward with ethics and compliance meetings.

Continue monitoring and auditing programs.

Conduct investigations that can be done by video and telephone.

Maintain open lines of communications with regulators.

Remind employees that core values such as respect, ethical behavior, compliance, and integrity remain in full force, as does your code of conduct.

Ensure any information shared on internal and external corporate social media accounts conveys a commitment to integrity and accuracy.

3. Be empathetic and compassionate

The uncertain impact of COVID-19, coupled with the constant news stream and health threat, is creating anxiety, stress, and tension. Compliance is about more than just policies, procedures, and rules – it’s also about ethics, integrity, and doing the right thing. Now more than ever, doing the right thing requires empathy and compassion. We all are suffering right now, we need understanding, we are dealing with some level of misfortune and, most importantly, we need others to share our concerns and treat us with grace. Things are not normal, and it’s not business as usual. We appear disingenuous and callous if we pretend otherwise.

Practical Tips

Communicate clearly that employees’ health, safety, and families’ needs come first.

If your employees need to work from home and you can let them, let them – even once restrictions are lifted.

Share encouraging, informative, and appropriate content that helps employees stay healthy physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Encourage managers to reach out to their teams personally and one-on-one to see how they and their families are doing.

Remind employees of resources and company benefits available to them, such as employee assistance programs, emergency child or elder care or financial support.

Business leaders can, and should, model ethical leadership and strong “tone at the top” during this unprecedented crisis.

Remain Vigilant. Monitor the constantly-evolving flow of relevant information and its impact on your business. 

Stay the Course. Don’t let your internal standards and regulatory compliance slip simply because regulators may be focusing on urgent, COVID-19 related matters. Your employees, customers, and communities need and deserve more from you – they are looking to you to lead by example, preferably with ethics and integrity. Now is the time to do so.

Be Empathetic and Compassionate. Be there to support your employees and customers/clients as they and their families navigate through this crisis. Now, more than ever, we need ethical and compassionate leadership.

–– Angela Crawford is a partner at compliance and investigations boutique law firm Crawford & Acharya