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Yes, you should give your employees compliance checklists. Here's why.

November 15, 2018 7:29:02 AM CST / by Ricardo Pellafone

If you’ve been doing compliance for a while, you’ve probably had someone from your business ask you for a compliance checklist or flowchart that makes it easier for them to comply.

And that request might have made you uncomfortable.

Even if you understand the behavioral elements behind checklists, and you rationally get why you should use them, they might make you uncomfortable.

If so, that's natural: "don't check the box" is repeated so much in this field that it's practically the eighth element of a compliance program. 

As a result, the idea of giving someone a compliance checklist can feel like the last thing you should do. It can feel like your employees are just trying to do the bare minimum, because they're literally asking to check a bunch of boxes.

But in this context, that's the wrong way to think about it. 

They're not trying to do the bare minimum. They're flagging that they want to do the right thing but need help knowing what it is.

And that's normal: the reality is that we all use things like checklists and flowcharts all the time. And it's not because we're lazy: it's because we want to do the right thing, but we’re not sure how to do it.

That is, a compliance checklist isn't for a lazy person who wants to do the bare minimum; it's for someone who wants to be ethical and compliant, but recognizes they can't be an expert in everything.

That is, someone like you and me. Because you and I do this too.

Here’s an analogy to explain.

 

You want to pay your taxes, but you’re not a tax expert.

You probably want to pay your fair share in taxes. Not too much or too little, but the right amount.

At the same time, you are not a tax expert; you specialize in trade compliance or anti-corruption or training or investigations or whatever.

And moreover, you don’t want to be a tax expert; you want to pay the right amount, but you have another job. You can’t keep up on your actual compliance job and at the same time master the entire tax code or parse the IRS circulars.

And so, you don’t do that. You hire someone, or you use an app.

You fill out all of the information they ask for—essentially a checklist—and you do whatever they tell you to do, so you can get back to your compliance job. 

Now, does relying on that, instead of figuring out the right amount from scratch, make you less ethical? Does it mean you care less about paying your fair share?

No, of course not.

It just recognizes that you can’t do everything, and that sometimes wanting to do the right thing means using a tool that helps you understand what it is.

And that’s the same reason employees crave compliance checklists. Not because they're lazy, but because they're realistic and know they can't be mini-compliance officers on top of being salespeople and engineers and whatever, so they need help.

 

Checklists are for good, busy people.

Put simply, a checklist is not a tool for a lazy person who doesn't care; a checklist is a tool for a good, busy person who wants to do the right thing and is realistic about their capabilities.

If your employees didn't care about being compliant and ethical, they wouldn't ask you for a checklist or some other type of job aid. They'd just politely sit through your training, certify to your Code, and then ignore all that and do whatever they want. 

If you are being asked to make things easier for employees, your employees are telling you that they want to do the right thing, but they don’t have the capacity to know what it is given everything else that's on their plate—and they need help. 

They are asking "I want to do the right thing...in this context, what is it?" 

That's the question that explains why compliance teams exist in the first place: not to be experts in the law or ethics (outside counsel and academics do that), but to act as translators between the law and ethics and what people actually do at the company. 

And moreover, the employees who ask that question are the type of good, reachable employees that compliance teams can actually help.

So, help them, and give them what they want.

Ricardo Pellafone

Written by

Ricardo Pellafone

Ricardo used to be in-house compliance, leading investigations for a sovereign wealth company in Abu Dhabi and a Fortune 500 tech company in California. He has degrees in psychology and law.