If you encountered Richard Bistrong at a cocktail party, your first instinct would likely be to comment on his fashionable glasses or his experience running marathons, rather than to ask about his time in prison. As Richard recounts in his recent whitepaper, Behind the Bribe: What Compliance Officers Can Learn From A First Hand Account Of The Dark Side Of International Business, he began “breaking the law by nodding.” Anyone in any company could find themselves in this position on any given day. Those on the front line can dip their toes into the pool of corruption almost accidentally, by simply agreeing to a little extra something that is good for the company, the employee and the customer. It may seem like there is no true loser in sight, but that little nod of the head breaks the barrier of unethical business, and the well-meaning employee walks away feeling like she’s done the right thing. This is exactly where Richard is coming from.
Richard recently shared more of his experience with The Network and a virtual audience via a webcast in May, explaining how he ended up spending 14 and a half months in prison, as well as how compliance officers might use his insights to strengthen their anti bribery compliance programs.
Richard now consults with international corporations and blogs about anti bribery compliance, often emphasizing that employees who run into issues with violating the FCPA and other compliance laws are well-educated, hard-working model corporate citizens. So how does your model citizen turn into a willing criminal? In this series, we’ll examine 6 dangers your front-line employees could be facing and how you can mitigate them.
Richard was gracious enough to share his story with Jimmy Lin, our VP of Product Management & Corporate Development, during the webcast and to talk about what he has since learned from his non-compliant actions. Richard advocates clearly defining the temptations that front-line employees face, understanding how they could tempt an employee to justify bribery.
Richard brings a different and much needed voice to our industry. Here are things you can do to proactively protect your organization and employees from low-integrity situations.
1. Communicate Clearly
Oftentimes, the specifics of compliance laws are filtered down from tier to tier through the corporate org chart. During the webcast, Jimmy described it as a game of “telephone”; one message becomes slightly tweaked as the information passes from the lawmakers, to the C-Suite, and down from there, becoming increasingly diluted until it eventually reaches the front-line employees.
Herein lies the challenge: how do the employees at the end of the funnel – where the law meets reality – get equipped with the right tools, calibrated to correctly confront real-world risk? The people tasked with growing the business are located at the furthest point from the information they need to interpret the best way to handle opportunities in high-risk sectors.
Keep It Simple, Sweetie: Compliance Edition
One of the founders of thebriberyact.com vehemently states that “if it’s more than 3 pages long, it’s not going to be read.” Simple language and clear communications are the secrets to making sure accurate information about laws, rules and regulations are understood by the people who need them most. Salespeople in the field will likely be reading emails on smart phones while waiting for flights, so information must be succinct, easy to understand and, most of all, timely. Make access easy by ensuring that trainings or policies that your sales team requires are mobile friendly – if they’re hard to access, sales may not come back to reference the materials in times of need.
Address sales ethics from the beginning; work with HR to ensure all new employees are trained in the ethics and compliance laws and regulations that affect them the most. Research from the military suggests that procedures that are not in daily use are the most likely to be forgotten, “and deteriorate to unsafe levels within a retention interval of weeks or months.” For employees on the front line, it may be worth sending a refresher training or awareness campaign on a quarterly basis, to make sure the critical procedures and expected behaviors are not forgotten.
2. Establish Checks and Balances
One of the most difficult gaps to bridge is that between compliance and incentives. Most of those who attended the webinar said that they develop incentive programs outside of compliance programs, or weren’t sure if their incentive packages aligned with their anti bribery compliance initiatives. That’s stunning to consider, especially if it is the norm.
Your salespeoples’ commissions may be based on individual performance, endorsing a “eat what you kill” mentality. However, management could be inadvertently sending employees mixed messages; sales teams feel pressure to achieve their quotas and “get the deals done,” then are often left wondering, “Do you want compliance or sales?” Sales teams do need to be incentivized to close deals, but sales executives often operate in high-risk, low-integrity realms that offer frequent opportunities to engage in bribery, leaving them possibly conflicted about whether to act with lawful integrity or do their job to make the company (and themselves) money.
Forge a Sustainable Selling Business
Invite your HR department to make sure you’re not delivering conflicting messages. The Harvard Business Review published a handful of articles in the April 2015 issue that discussed solutions for indexing performance and compensation. The solution seems to lie somewhere between emphasizing individual and team/corporate performance, but the balance can be tricky to find.
Richard spoke with an HR representative recently about her solution to forming a compliant incentive package wherein people still strive to perform. They pay 40% based on corporate performance, 40% based on how the group or division performs and 20% based on individual performance. In Richard’s opinion, this approach best promotes progressive societal goals over individual performance goals. This type of formula is very helpful in looking at how you can re-index compensation to develop long-term, value-based sustainable business. This company understood that promoting ethics and compliance would often be at the expense of short-term business, but that they also wouldn’t be giving their front-line kings a financial haircut for doing the right thing.
Richard outlines a risk assessment you can perform in his whitepaper, Behind the Bribe: What Compliance Officers Can Learn From A First Hand Account Of The Dark Side Of International Business. You can start making further progress with your team today by asking some of the questions he poses within.
Also, if you’ve listened to the Behind the Bribe Webcast already, consider joining us in New York on July 23rd when Richard Bistrong will speak at a complimentary half-day event with the former U.S./UN Prosecutor who launched the investigation into his case, Robert Appleton.
Attendees will have an opportunity to hear two perspectives on FCPA and anti corruption compliance challenges employees face in the field.
This will be a ‘face-off’ of sorts, between Richard, a former sales executive that went to prison for violating the FCPA, and the former Head of the UN Anti Corruption Task Force that started the investigation that ultimately put Richard on the DOJ’s radar. Both are extremely charismatic speakers and will provide rare insights into what it’s really like to operate in high-risk areas, what red flags compliance leaders should be monitoring, and how to strengthen anti bribery and FCPA compliance programs.
Share Your Thoughts with Us
How does your company balance sustainable selling, an emphasis on lawful, ethical behavior and performance bonuses for salespeople? What steps does your company take to keep sales ethics front of mind? You can join the conversation by commenting on the blog, messaging us on JDSupra or messaging me directly on LinkedIn.
For More Information About Anti Bribery Compliance, Check Out These Resources:
- On-Demand Webcast | Corruption Risks in Brazil – FCPA & BCCA Compliance
- Blog Post | 3 Reasons to Re-Evaluate Your Ethics and Compliance Program for India
- Whitepaper | Eliminating Bribery and Corruption
EVENT | Anti Corruption Compliance Discussion Panel 2015
Join us on July 23rd for a complimentary, half-day event for a limited audience in the New York area, where you will have the chance to hear from and network with ethics and compliance experts Richard Bistrong of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC and Robert Appleton of Day Pitney. In a “Catch Me If You Can” like panel, a former US and UN prosecutor and former FCPA violator/turned cooperator discuss the realities of corporate anti bribery compliance.