“That ain’t working. That’s the way you do it. I’ll tell you something, those [Compliance] guys aren’t dumb”
— Dire Straits
Despite what you may have heard, working in compliance isn’t just “daiquiris and dancing girls”; in reality, it’s often hard, thankless and difficult work. We can’t change that overnight, but we can, at least, point out some of common challenges you’ll encounter and provides strategies for overcoming them; from dealing with resistance within the organisation to managing self-doubt.
These challenges can be daunting but, with the right strategies and mindset, they can be effectively managed and even turned into opportunities for growth and learning.
Dealing with Resistance
One of the common challenges you’ll face is resistance within the business that employs you.
A former colleague used to boast about his “willingness to go to war” but his show of bravura blinded him to the reality that he was walking into a guerrilla war waged in foreign territory; he never knew where the shots came from or who was shooting at him.
Tim outlasted me but the point is still valid; it’s important to understand that the resistance you may encounter can take many forms, from a lack of support from management to a lack of understanding or appreciation for the role of compliance among staff.
It may sound bleak, but reframe yourself as a Byronic hero by adopting these strategies for dealing with resistance:
- Communicate the Value of Compliance: One of the most effective ways to overcome resistance is to clearly communicate the value of compliance. This includes not only the potential costs of non-compliance (such as fines and penalties) but also the positive benefits of compliance (such as improved operational efficiency and enhanced reputation). I’ll also recommend that you don’t assume that anyone understands what compliance is – even those that say they do may have a very different understanding. Compliance is culture; it’s how we demonstrate our values. It’s less about external impositions than about how we, as a business or as an employee, want to behave and be seen. Arguments about technicalities, box-ticking or obstructionism when compliance (or non-compliance) is recognised as a statement of personal value.
- Build Relationships: Building strong relationships with key stakeholders within the organisation can also help to overcome resistance. This includes not only management but also staff at all levels of the organisation. For compliance professionals, effective relationships are based on competency, consistency and a recognition that you are the custodian for the business; you need to assiduously champion clients’ interests and dedicate yourself to the sustainability of the business and the long-term of its employees and stakeholders (sometimes even to the detriment of their short-term interests).
- Provide Training and Support: You are a member of a profession that’s committed to problem solving, constructive criticism and continuous improvement; use this base to help lift up your peers and colleagues. The reality is that your willingness to provide advice, training and support can dramatically increase the understanding and appreciation of compliance within your business. Model the behaviour of American Bandstand idol, Quintus Fabius Maximus Verrucosus (“Fabian”), and understand that building engagement and overcoming resistance takes both time and patience. Teaching and training are incredibly effective ways to manage resistance and this could include formal training sessions, one-on-one coaching, or simply being available to answer questions and provide guidance.
Managing Self-Doubt and Building Confidence
Every new role involves feelings of self-doubt and uncertainty; but compliance is a particularly complex, profound and problematic field (especially given the number of moving parts, weak points and significant penalties). If you feel that you’ve bitten off more than you can chew, recognise that you’re not the first to feel that way, and keep chewing.
If you want more practical suggestions than perseverance and sheer bloody-mindedness, here are a few simple strategies for managing building your confidence:
- Focus on Learning: Remember that it’s normal to not know everything when you’re new to a role. Instead of focusing on what you don’t know, focus on what you’re learning. Every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow.
- Seek Support: Don’t hesitate to seek support when you need it. This could be from a mentor, a colleague, or even from external sources such as industry groups or professional associations. Remember, everyone needs help sometimes, and seeking support is a sign of strength, not weakness. If you have no-one else who you can trust to provide you with objective advice and confidential support, reach out to us.
- Celebrate your Successes: Celebrate your successes, no matter how small. Successfully navigating a difficult situation, learning a new skill, or receiving positive feedback from a colleague are all achievements worth celebrating. You might not get much internal recognition for preventing a major compliance problem, but you know what you’ve achieved (and so will other Compliancers). Celebrating your successes can help to build confidence and momentum.
- Put things in perspective. Financial services compliance is complex, complicated and frequently changing. You may understand the gaps in your knowledge, but other wont and few compliance experts know everything. Don’t “fake it until you make it” but don’t think that you don’t have valuable contributions to make or profound insights to offer. Stay optimistic, stay curious and accept that however you feel know, you know far more than others.
Overcoming challenges and dealing with resistance isn’t easy, but compliance is an incredible (and incredibly fascinating) field in which you can build a rewarding and satisfying career; and with the right strategies and mindset, it’s definitely achievable. Remember, every challenge is an opportunity for learning and growth and, as you continue to learn and grow, you’ll not only become more effective in your role, but you’ll also find it more rewarding.
In the next article in this series, we’ll delve into a 28-day plan for improving effectiveness and influence in the compliance role.