Why Is Compliance A Dirty Word?

Have you ever had people crawl under their desks when they see you coming?  Yes, I have! I didn’t take it personally.  After all, I was coming to see the manager about a new compliance framework.   While the dive under the desk was done out of jest, and there were a few chuckles afterwards, the act of hiding does show how many people feel about compliance.

So, this got me wondering:

Why is compliance such a dirty word?  Why do people try and run away from it?

To delve deeper I asked an esteemed workshop panel in a workshop a few days ago and got a very interesting response.   In the panel members experience, as soon as practices are enshrined in legislation or regulation, all you get is compliance and not quality.

Hang on, the opposite of compliance is not quality.  Why are the two things seen as mutually exclusive?

To understand this even further let’s take a step back to the definitive work of Bob Tricker in 1994 and his explanation of the key governance roles of a board.

Here we begin to see the separation between the concepts of performance and conformance.  However, Tricker defined conformance not just in terms of making sure management were complying with the law, but it was also monitoring and supervising management to ensure they were meeting the needs of the community and stakeholders.

Over time, this last bit seems to have gotten lost somewhere, and all people focused on was the distinction between compliance and performance. Compliance and performance have begun to be seen as opposite sides of a coin.  But they were never meant to be portrayed to be in conflict with each other.  Tricker proposed compliance and performance activities were complementary, and both essential for good governance.

Given that today the focus of compliance is meeting legislative obligations, the next question then is why are certain practices or activities actually legislated in the first place?  And here was my aha moment….

When you look closely at the things people and organisations are being ‘forced’ to do through legislation, they are things that really do enshrine the needs of the community and fundamental good business practice.  These are things that the government believes are so important that they cannot be left to chance to be done out of goodwill.  These are practices that are so important that they need to make sure everyone is doing them.  That is why they are legislated in the first place.

And so the way I see it, the obligations imposed in legislation represent the minimum standards of performance expected of an organisation operating in that state or country.  Perhaps then, instead of using the word ‘compliance’ we should be using the term ‘minimum standards of performance.’ 

If this is the case, then maybe the focus is not just on whether you are doing what is required (whether you are ticking the box), but why you are doing the activity and how.  What mindset and intention are you bringing into these minimum standards of performance?

Read More and Learn More at Medium.com

If you would like to chat more about your compliance and performance challenges send us an email at contact@3rd-edge.com. We would love to hear from you!

[1] Kiel, G. and Nicholson, G., 2003. Boards That Work: A New Guide For Directors. McGraw-Hill.

[2] Trapp, R., 2020. Even Today, Having A Strategy Is More Important Than You Might Think. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/rogertrapp/2019/02/28/even-today-having-a-strategy-is-more-important-than-you-might-think/#330c1c99649f&gt; [Accessed 15 October 2020].


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