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4 minute read

Relationship-Building with E&C Leader Amii Barnard-Bahn

Compliance isn’t just about making sure your company follows the rules. It’s also about relationships: getting buy-in from your leadership, gaining the trust of your employees, and effectively managing your own team. 

Amii Barnard-Bahn, JD, PCC, CCEP, C-suite coach, and E&C leader extraordinaire, shares her knowledge on how to foster relationships with the folks at your org to elevate compliance’s—and by extension, your!—role in the company. Read on.  

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Yay teamwork!  | Source: DreamWorks Pictures

What are the top three tips you have for a compliance pro who’s new to an organization and wants to build good relationships?

  1. Listen to and spend time with each of your stakeholders (people who are key to your success). This enables you to research the “as is” state of your team and function and what others think about it. A first step in this direction is to draft about 10 questions and schedule 1:1 get-to-know-you meetings with each stakeholder. 

    Start with a few personal icebreaker questions (e.g., where are they from, how long have they been with the org), and then include several more to learn about the culture and obtain feedback to help inform your strategy going forward. For example, you can ask: 
    • What do you like best about your role?
    • How would you describe the culture?
    • What’s an unwritten company rule I should know about?
    • What do you see as the key purpose of (my/our) team?
    • What one shift would make working with my team easier?
    • What personal qualities lead to success and recognition around here?

You can go off-script, but if you ask several people the same questions, you’ll begin to derive common themes and a sense of the system you are operating in.

  1. Craft an “[insert your name] 101” about you for your team, sharing a few key points about how you prefer to work and how to most effectively work with you. Share this in your one-on-ones with your team. Ask your boss and stakeholders for the same information and take note of how your working preferences differ or how you may need to adjust. It is much easier to get ahead of potential personality clashes now than it is to deal with them when they occur.
  2. It's tempting to make big changes when you start, but wherever possible, it’s better to build relationships first. Go slowly and seek the quick wins before picking big battles to fight. Stay in a learner mindset as long as reasonably possible prior to weighing in. Ask questions of others; tap into your natural curiosity to uncover information, opinions, and priorities you may not be aware of that could inform your actions and uncover potential landmines.

    🤯⬇️

    You have a window of opportunity in your first 90 days to establish yourself and your reputation. At about six months, the window begins to close and perceptions become fixed. Connect with your boss, your peers, and your team to establish good habits and a strong foundation. 

In some organizations there’s a perception that compliance is a necessary evil or a check-the-box exercise. How do you recommend compliance pros help to change that mindset?

  1. Build quality relationships. 🌟 Reach out and get to know each of your key stakeholders as soon as you take a compliance role. Ask about their challenges, goals, and how you can help. Find their pain points and help alleviate those wherever reasonably possible. Seek alliances and invest heavily in stakeholders that are good compliance allies. 
  2. Be a strategic business partner. 💰 Align compliance priorities to the business strategy, and when doing so use the business’ language. Make it easy for the business to give you feedback so you have honest dialogues and healthy conflicts over the issues of concern. Make the business case for your key compliance initiatives and how they enable the organization to achieve its goals. Learn the business and treat it as if it’s your own. 
  3. Choose the right company. 🏆 Work for an organization whose CEO and executive leadership team believe compliance and ethics is essential to business success. This last point is ultimately how you manage the risks of a check-the-box mentality. 

You've talked about how a "consensus culture" can negatively impact the kind of good tension leaders need to make solid decisions. Those kinds of conversations require a great deal of trust. How would you coach a CCO in developing that level of trust with their colleagues in leadership?

Trust starts at the top with the most senior leader in your organization. Everything flows from them. Trust requires me to believe that you are acting and speaking in the organization’s best interest without a personal agenda. Ideally, the CEO and executive team set the tone for trust and drive these expectations throughout the organization.

When you have a foundation of trust, you can then move to a place where it is safe to have productive conflict. Productive conflict means everyone puts their cards on the table and shares openly. This allows for thorough vetting, decision-making, and commitment to a decision. Even though not everyone will agree with the decision, they’ll know why it has been made, because everyone would have been heard. This exercise in sharing openly enables commitment.

Achieving this level of comfort doesn’t come naturally to most teams and requires deep teamwork.

In your experience, what's the one thing holding back most mid-level compliance managers?

Strategic thinking: maintaining a balanced business perspective outside of the compliance vertical. When you are a mid-level manager, compliance is often your whole world. It can be easy to lose perspective. 

As one CEO said to me, “Compliance is 10% of my job.” To effectively influence leaders, we need to anticipate objections and be able to articulate how our proposals and projects fit into the big organizational puzzle. If we can’t effectively do that, we need to consider whether what we are proposing is truly a priority.


Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us, Amii! 

A former Fortune 5 executive, Amii Barnard-Bahn is a Partner at Kaplan & Walker LLP, which specializes in corporate compliance and ethics. As the Founder of Barnard-Bahn Coaching and Consulting, she has been recognized by Forbes as one of the world’s leading coaches for compliance and legal professionals.  Clients include Adobe, The Gap, Bank of the West, and The Nature Conservancy. A contributor to Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, and Compliance Week, Amii is a Member of the Harvard Institute of Coaching and a guest lecturer at Stanford and UCBerkeley. Download her free Promotability Index® career assessment at http://bit.ly/AskAmii. You can find Amii at www.barnardbahn.com and on LinkedIn at  https://www.linkedin.com/in/amiibarnardbahn/