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Change Matters: Compliance & Change Management

Helen Langton (International Compliance Association) considers the role of the compliance officer in organisational change management.

by Helen Langton 3 min

    Change within an organisation, and how it should be managed, is an area that falls increasingly within a compliance officers’ remit. As the position evolves into being a strategic advisor to the business, so must the compliance officer learn new tools to be even more impactful. This article examines the current thinking around change management and highlights how change can be successful.

    Creating the right environment

    The classic approach to change for organisations incorporates old concepts and tools such as three-year plans, top-down controls, incessant emails and meetings, and rigid policies. How many times have we had to incorporate changes in what we do whilst maintaining business as usual? How do you integrate the new and the different with the old and the reliable? The answer lies in creating the right environment.

    Organisations that have already recognised this have started by changing their approach to change management itself. This starts with an appreciation of the importance of change management, accepting it as a discipline, a core competency. Some organisations have change management as a primary function within their structure with a dedicated focus to the same.

    Current thinking on change management is moving away from various versions of the five-step process to be followed when implementing change, towards advocating that organisations must transform their operating model in its entirety into one that constantly redesigns itself. Taking such an approach supports the drive towards even greater agility in an organisation. Meanwhile, deepening the understanding of the principles and rules about how to change will make change last.

    According to practitioners who specialise in this area, changing an organisation’s operating model requires a new mindset, new practices and a willingness to abandon what you know. I read a piece recently, as I researched this article, in which a comparison was made between businesses and the military. What lessons could the business world learn from the military in terms of change management?

    Lessons the business world could learn from the military in terms of change management

    On reading this, my first thought was that the military thrives on discipline and orders and therefore change would be achieved whatever the rationale or consequences. You do what you are told, or lives could be at stake. Surely this is not a sound basis for comparison and therefore what could be learnt would have limited transference to the business environment. But these were not the reasons given.

    The following were:

    1. Training

    If there is one thing the military do it is relentless training with a focus on readiness and preparedness for change. The take-away for businesses is that teams need to be ready for change, which involves changing mindset, which in turn involves, amongst other things, training. Staff are at the centre of successful changes whether they are informal or formal, and having teams with the right attitude can make the most significant impact.

    2. The ability to compartmentalise

    The military are disciplined to be able to stay focussed on both the short- and long-term mission. They will execute an order as part of a wider plan, focussing on the requirement of the immediate order without losing sight of the long-term plan. This translates quite nicely into business thinking as the importance of a single mission narrative cannot be underestimated. If a business knows where it is going, knows where it wants to be, and can communicate the same clearly and with relevance to all staff, then the route it takes towards that realisation, which may deviate, will enable teams to adapt to changes far more easily, making change management far more impactful.

    3. Communication strategies and trusting people with valuable information

    Clearly the military must be able to communicate effectively and to know that the information that is shared will be treated appropriately and that those in receipt of said information are empowered to make decisions based on it, leading a change through the ranks. Much has been written about the benefits to be derived from the empowerment of teams within business and the concept for most organisations is widely accepted and adopted. Similarly, businesses know that communication is key but there is still so much more that can be done to improve communication with teams. Communications need to be open and not one way. There are so many different channels available now for communication, which can only help an organisation with constant change.

    Compliance impact on change

    How can the compliance officer of today be impactful with change? The role is less about pushing through discrete change projects but rather about supporting and overseeing the organisation in a way that enables continuous adaptation to an ever-evolving environment. And if there is one thing we have learnt about governance, risk and compliance, it is that it is ever-evolving.

    And how does the compliance officer do this? Several related objectives need to be achieved:

    • There must be a culture of true collaboration. This culture of collaboration will emerge through other related activities, detailed below. There are several tools out there to support collaboration including Slack, Trello and Google Drive.
    • There must be empowerment of team members to receive information and act upon it. Decentralisation of decision making might be considered here, based on risk and the complexity of the decisions being made.
    • Senior management support is essential, including the articulation of a single repeated mission statement and the part the teams play in the realisation of the same.
    • There must be open, clear, transparent, constant communication, good and bad, across all channels. Information must be disseminated, and quickly. Teams must be trained and or positioned for lasting change and, when change has occurred, quick wins should be identified and celebrated.

    If the workplace can be designed along these lines, then the compliance officer overseeing changes within the organisation will find that change becomes less of something to be managed in, but rather will be taken in its stride as the organisation knows it is constantly adapting.

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    Helen Langton
    Helen Langton

    CEO – ICA | Helen Langton joined the International Compliance Association (ICA) over 12 years ago, joining them from her position of Commercial Director at the British Bankers’ Association, today known as UK Finance. A professional marketer by background, Helen also worked for another representative body when she was Commercial Director for the Federation of the Electronics Industry.

    The majority of Helen’s professional working life has been within or connected to the financial services sector. When she left university in 1989, Helen joined the Financial Times working in the advertising sales department. From there Helen worked for a firm of market makers, promoting investment in traded endowment policies and offshore funds specialising in this category of asset. She then joined a value investment management house, working with corporations who wished to invest in a wide range of unit trusts and OEICs containing assets from a broad stock portfolio.

    Helen was there at the very start of ICA’s history, working with the then CEO, Bill Howarth in obtaining the endorsement of UK Finance to the suite of compliance qualifications he was bringing to the market. Helen was appointed CEO in January 2019.