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Anti Bribery Compliance Tactics Learned Behind Bars | 6 Ways to Protect Your Front-Line Employees from Temptation (Part 2)

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Anti Bribery Compliance Tactics Learned Behind Bars | 6 Ways to Protect Your Front-Line Employees from Temptation (Part 2)

You’re unlikely to take advice about running a marathon from someone who has never participated. Sure, he can tell you that you need to drink a lot of water and eat a banana to avoid dehydration and cramping, but if he hasn’t passed out at Mile 22 from a much-too-painful charley horse and couldn’t finish the race, the threat seems less imminent to you.

Similarly, you can read our blog every day and download all of our checklists, but until you’ve heard how to minimize the temptations salespeople face, particularly those related to bribery, from someone who worked on the front-lines of international business for a decade and then spent time in prison for corruption, you may not have given weight to the suggestions.

Lucky for us, Richard Bistrong can give us tips and tricks for running 26.2 miles as well as keeping front-line employees from interpreting business directions dangerously.

Richard took some time out of his busy week of consulting with global corporations about anti bribery compliance to share his experience and what he gleaned from the questions asked by a virtual audience in a webcast a couple of months ago.

If you had a chance to read Part 1 in this series, you’ve read the first two ways that Richard suggests your company can prevent your front-line employees from justifying corrupt practices imposed by a perceived “sell first, ask later” corporate atmosphere, and how to prevent that perception in the first place.

Here are two more ways your compliance function can take action to address outside pressures from impacting your company’s profit and your front-line deal-makers’ motivation.

3. Identify Patterns

It’s a twist on the classic psychological adage that the best predictor of future behavior is not talking about today’s bad behavior. Richard pointed out that if bad behavior is not openly discussed, we can expect the continuation of habits.

At the beginning of the webcast, Richard admitted that he knew his behavior was illegal when he was participating. However, not “getting caught” or corrected by the corporation’s compliance officers increased what is often referred to as “bias optimism.” As Richard shared with us, “The more time that went by that I didn’t get caught, the more I thought that I would never get caught.” What results is a crescendo of harm to the corporate culture as the conduct continues, until federal investigators enter the picture to do the disciplining instead.

Furthermore, “getting away with it” can become such a habit, that those conducting business involving bribery will forget that there are any negative outcomes to a “sweetened deal.”

At the front line, there is often an ethical unawareness of the harm which corruption causes to societies and individuals. Instead, it is looked at as a ‘win-win’ at the field level. When thinking about a corrupt transaction, this is where I asked myself, ‘Who is getting hurt?’ While my thinking of bribery as victimless was but an illusion, it is a dangerous one often embraced by business teams.

Richard Bistrong, FCPA & Anti-Bribery Compliance Consultant
Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC

The only way to keep these patterns from forming is to work from the top-down by changing the company culture to reflect ethical values.

Develop Good Habits

Bad habits can by broken by developing and practicing good behavior in a “tone from the top” manner. Yes, the effort is extraordinary; it isn’t easy to overhaul an entire corporate culture. But with targeted ethics and compliance awareness campaigns and grass roots efforts to reprogram those bad habits, you will begin rebuilding your culture to one built upon good habits.

Compliance departments that examine what patterns their front-line employees are falling into because of outside pressures have a chance of re-routing and re-training before employees are forever lost to the “social cocoon of corruption.”

Also, as Richard reminds us, when thinking of tone at the top, remember the far distance between the C-Suite and the remote offices, often unsupervised, where international business teams operate. While tone at the top might start out well-amplified, if, as Richard says, “a regional manager calls his sales team at quarter end and focuses only on how numbers are shaping up with no attention to ethics and compliance, then the tone at the top gets drowned out by ‘make your forecast, understood?’”

While a huge mission to accept, success is possible. One of our other blog contributors, Pia Adolphsen, wrote a post about Coca-Cola’s Anti-Bribery Training in which she relayed important lessons she learned from Coca-Cola about bribery, corruption and responsibly entering underdeveloped markets. A company with many locations across the globe, Coca-Cola could be subject to a variety of different risks, but since they have focused on getting a clear-eyed view of which risks front-line personnel face, employees are prepared. The corporate culture has successfully infiltrated the ideals of employees on the bottom of the pyramid and they constantly practice just saying, “No.”

4. Have Regular Conversations

Most compliance breaches occur in very stable institutions that employ well-trained, well-compensated professionals. This mindset of being comfortable with pressure combined with the need for high performance breeds a sort of “Win Big, Lose Big” mentality that presents great front-line risk, especially in regions where public procurements are large, yet few and far between. Salespeople operating in this environment are more likely to be susceptible to corruption in the field, because the lines seem blurred at the point of sale. As Richard shared with us, this environment is one that can lead front-line personnel to ponder, “What does management really want, compliance or sales?”

But how can the headquarters-based compliance officer know what those people are facing on the battlefield? There’s no way to be able to tell if employees’ incentives are distorting their decision-making, if they are pressured by making quotas or if they work day-to-day in societies that are indisputably corrupt. There are emotional ties to bribery and risk that the compliance officer has no way of understanding without a simple interview.

As Richard has shared with us, “sometimes when confronted with corruption, far from the home office, in isolated environments with few present, I thought, ‘This is only a red flag if I disclose it.’” Therein lies so much of the compliance dilemma. How can compliance personnel or their organizations create an environment where the default behavior, no matter how small the corruption might seem, is on “auto-disclose?”

Coffee Compliance

Having regular open conversations with front-line personnel is essential in getting timely and effective feedback about the pressure these employees could be facing. In fact, the majority of webcast viewers responded that they rarely or only sometimes have these conversations.


Without a standing coffee date, one stands the chance of missing out on those important comments about risks the front line could be facing, and therefore have no opportunity to give these employees the right set of tools to help them be able to do their work and simultaneously operate ethically.

If you can get field level employees to talk about what they’re realistically facing, you can take start taking action now and provide compliance tools which are calibrated to the real-world risk that your field personnel encounter in their work.

Richard Bistrong, FCPA & Anti-Bribery Compliance Consultant
Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC

Communication is the best weapon in your compliance arsenal to mitigate proactively, and start cultivating good habits from a positive “tone from the top” corporate culture.

Next Steps

You can read about Richard’s experience in more detail in his whitepaper, Behind the Bribe: What Compliance Officers Can Learn From A First Hand Account Of The Dark Side Of International Business and listen to the Behind the Bribe Webcast in its entirety before Part 3 of this series posts.

In the meantime, consider joining us in New York on July 23rd when Richard Bistrong will speak at a complimentary half-day event with the former US/UN Prosecutor who launched the investigation into his case, Robert Appleton.

Share Your Thoughts with Us

When was the last time your front-line team had the opportunity to air the stresses and pressures they may be facing on behalf of your company, that could potentially lead them to commit bribery? You can join the conversation by commenting on the blog, messaging us on JDSupra or messaging me directly on LinkedIn.

Richard Bistrong is CEO of Front-Line Anti-Bribery LLC. He consults, writes and speaks about compliance issues from his experience as an international sales VP and conviction for violating the FCPA, where he pleaded guilty and served fourteen and a half months in prison. He can be reached via his website, Twitter and e-mail.

For More Information About Anti Bribery Compliance, Check Out These Resources:

About the Author

Paige Pulaski, Marketing Programs Coordinator. Paige assists with the coordination, communication and execution of all company campaigns and events at The Network. Aside from contributing content, Paige cares for cross-stitching, craft brews, cooking and cats.

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