Is the “new normal” helping or hurting compliance? Sabrina Serafin interviews Amii Barnard-Bahn, Executive Coach and former Fortune Global 50 executive, about the impact of COVID-19 on teams and how to overcome common issues.
About Amii Barnard-Bahn
- First Chief Compliance Officer at McKesson USPharmaceutical
- Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Coaching
- Contributor to Harvard Business Review and Fast Company
- Columnist at Compliance Week
- Forbes, “one of the top coaches for legal compliance executives”
Download Amii’s Promotability Index®: bit.ly/promotelegal
Read Amii’s Compliance Week article: https://www.complianceweek.com/opinion/five-ways-the-pandemic-has-changed-compliance-perhaps-permanently/29526.article
Read Amii’s Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2020/11/how-to-identify-and-fix-pay-inequality-at-your-company
Culture of Compliance was recently named #1 in “Top 25 Regulatory Compliance Podcasts You Must Follow in 2020” by Feedspot.
Culture of Compliance: COVID-19’s Impact on Compliance
This transcript was assembled by hand and may contain some errors.
It has been edited for readability.
Sabrina Serafin Welcome to Frazier & Deeter’s Culture of Compliance podcast series, where we discuss compliance as a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. I’m Sabrina Serafin, Partner and National Leader of Frazier & Deeter’s Process, Risk & Governance Practice. I’m excited to introduce Amii Barnard-Bahn as our guest today.
Amii is a former Fortune Global 50 executive and attorney who served as the first chief compliance officer at McKesson US Pharmaceutical, one of three corporate compliance and ethics programs she built from scratch. She’s been described by Forbes as one of the top coaches for legal and compliance executives and a fellow at the Harvard Institute of Coaching. Amii is a contributor to the Harvard Business Review and Fast Company, as well as a columnist at Compliance Week, so she truly is a voice for the compliance and governance community. Welcome, Amii.
Amii Barnard-Bahn Thank you for inviting me, Sabrina. I’m very happy to be here.
Sabrina Amii, I wanted to start off by asking you about your background and how you shifted from senior compliance roles to executive coaching.
Amii Sure, thank you. Well, after graduating from Georgetown Law, I started my career as an employment litigator in a law firm, and I found out after about three years that I was very unhappy, because when you’re a litigator, as you probably know, you’re stuck with the facts. I saw all these situations where I felt that with better management or better leadership or just better controls in place, the problems would have never happened in the first place and I wanted to be in that space. I wanted to be in the in the room where it happens before the issues happen.
So, I actually took a big career change to human resources and I worked at Allianz Fireman’s Fund for several years in many roles. Did some cross-functional implementations like code of conduct, centralized policies and then investigations and the SOX help line then I was asked to build the first compliance and ethics program through the legal department there. I built another program at Allianz Life in Minneapolis and then after the financial crisis in 2009, I decided to make a move to healthcare, and that was a big move for me. It was an incredible opportunity that I was offered to build the first compliance and ethics program at McKesson U.S. Pharmaceutical reporting directly to the president.
My first executive team and I built the first CIA program for their 90-billion-dollar business, that got me into Data Privacy and Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and government contracting, health care fraud and abuse and records management, a lot of which I’m sure a lot of your listeners rely on as well. I had two other executive roles – Chief Administrative Officer for the Dental Association of California, and then I was Chief Human Resources officer for a publicly traded bank. At that point, I decided it was really time to start my own business.
Since my executive role at McKesson, I had always hired executive coaches when I got a significant promotion or was hitting a really big change curve and wanted to be at my best and so I knew the gains that you get as a leader in hiring someone like this and I just loved the work. So, I founded my own firm. What I love about that now is it gives me a lot of flexibility. In addition to coaching fantastic executives at Adobe and The GAP and Bank of the West and working with their teams, I get to write and speak about how to create healthy workplace cultures, which is really what my life’s work has been about. I consider now that I work at the intersection of workplace culture, corporate governance and leadership effectiveness and as we have talked a little bit before, I’m also an advocate for corporate board diversity, and I am a strong believer in the incredible value of bringing corporate governance professionals on boards as part of healthy oversight for companies.
Sabrina Amii, given your perspective, I’m obviously delighted to have a chance to have you on the podcast. You recently published an article in Compliance Week that looked at the impact the pandemic is having on governance. Can you give us some background on the survey itself?
Amii Sure. Well, this was compliance week’s second annual survey. It’s called, “Inside the Mind of the Chief Compliance Officer”. It was a brilliant idea, I think, of our publisher where we are surveying 300 practitioners. We asked baseline questions from last year plus then some new ones related to the COVID-19 impact.
Sabrina Thank you. Once the survey results were published, you wrote about some of the major impact Chief Compliance Officers are feeling and we wanted to talk about these key impacts. The first one was, of course, changes to the risk environment. There’s been a lot of focus on cybersecurity, data privacy, but can you share with our listeners some of the other areas of elevated risk that you’ve discovered?
Amii Yes, Sabrina. Employee relations is an area and at many companies, those have either skyrocketed or they’ve gone underground. Help line reporting, in some companies, some of the compliance officer clients I have are very concerned about that because they feel that there’s a lack of visibility. In addition, we have relied on interpersonal norms of work life separation that have pretty much almost been eliminated right now. Those types of professional boundaries can help with preventing favoritism and other types of claims.
That level of control and balance has eroded in the pandemic. Another one that’s I’m sure obvious to everyone listening on this call is employee well-being and mental health, that’s universally been a concern. For people who are reporting to work, they’re concerned for their health and safety and have all kinds of academic related issues for people who are in industries that have been able to go remote. Being on nonstop video calls can really sap energy a lot more than running between conference rooms ever did. Zoom fatigue is real.
Then, compassion fatigue for those of us who may have kids at home or be taking care of parents that we might not even be able to see or visit. It’s tough and I think we miss the breaks. I read a really interesting article the other day about how some people have actually manufactured a fake commute for themselves, getting in the car, driving around for a bit, coming home and starting their workday because they realize they need a little bit of separation.
Sabrina Is that right?
Amii Yes, isn’t that incredible? I thought that was a great one. For me, I meditate. I have kind of a morning routine, but I do miss my commute when I had it. There were breaks and it was different. We did have some downtime to process and think or maybe call our mom or something. So, I do miss that. The other thing that that I’m sure your audience will relate to is vendor risk, there’s a lack of visibility and transparency. That’s a concern, especially if you’re working with a new vendor. Maybe if it was a long-standing relationship, you’ve got good controls in place, your trust but for new people having to buy a lot of new stuff, right? And rely on a lot of from IT and data privacy. I mean, we could just go on and on. So, that’s a supply chain that’s been a challenge. Then the last one I’ll mention, this isn’t complete by any means, there are many more, I’m sure, but the other one is the liability around reopening.
Amii Yes, there’s a liability around reopening. There are so many conflicting federal, state and local government return to work policies and procedures right now, and they’re changing all the time. So, I think we’re headed back to purple in some areas, we’re in red in some, my kids have been yanked in and out of school several times. Several of my clients, CEOs, never expected to be Chief Public Health officer for their company and they feel very unqualified to do it. They’re genuinely concerned about should we bring people back? Some people say they want to come back because they don’t have a good place at home to work.
For some people, working from home is a privilege and it’s something they’ve been wanting for years and they’re finally getting it. For others it’s not, they do better in an office and they can’t focus without it and they need the breaks. So, everybody’s a little bit different. But bottom line, companies have to keep everybody healthy and safe and worry about contagion and if they bring people back what kind of screens they need to put up, what kind of pathways, one way in and out, highways, all kinds of stuff.
Sabrina Great points. So, truly expanding risk in every direction. One of the other areas you touched on was culture, and since this is the Culture of Compliance podcast, I wanted to ask you to talk about the cultural issues we’re facing today.
Amii It’s fascinating right now I think in terms of organizational culture the decreased interpersonal contact has really shined a light on effective teamwork, and there was a recent study by INSEAD that showed that the pandemic has tended to have done one of two things. One, is it’s either brought teams closer together and that’s about a third of teams actually feel closer, which is great. Or the bad news is that half of teams feel like they’re farther apart. The study found that the key in the difference between those teams that feel closer versus feeling farther apart in terms of effective teamwork is, number one, the quality of their interactions.
Number two, psychological safety, which again, I think will really resonate with this audience. People, your team feeling comfortable coming to you with an issue or raising a concern or being under tremendous stress with personal and professional balance. What hasn’t changed with teamwork is that you still need to have the five basic elements of an effective team, and those are trust, managing conflict well, cultivating commitment, ensuring accountability and driving towards results. Those five things haven’t changed, but how we do them in a virtual environment does change, I’ve been doing a lot of workshops around that.
The other thing I would say is with onboarding, you know, people have needed to hire, which is which is great because some people are out of jobs, there I do see a pretty active job market and setting expectations when you’re onboarding people can be a little harder virtually. You need to have a really clear written and verbal communications, find out how people learn, set expectations, do the best job you can and onboarding around your culture. I would also say have some healthy personal and professional boundaries, really being if you’re a leader, being clear around when emails can stop and giving people a break and not expecting people to be on 24/7. That was always an issue since we had Blackberries, but it’s even worse now when everybody’s office is their home.
Then, another one that’s so important for all of us in control roles or corporate governance roles is less visibility for compliance. I hear this a lot, so this is some of what I write about quite a bit. Influencing is always important, but influencing right now is absolutely critical. I had written an article because I was getting so many requests on how to influence virtually and I can give you some tips here, but number one is to really be proactive and reach out because you want to make sure that no one person or the organization is left with a regulatory crisis after the pandemic is under control.
You want to think about how your message is reading at the top to make sure that you have the influence that you need. So, collaboration, cross-functional collaboration with other key stakeholders is key to make sure that people aren’t pushing for profit at the expense of ethical behavior.
Sabrina Amii, how are compliance teams adapting processes to the remote work environment?
Amii Less contact can mean less reporting, and many compliance officers are concerned about lower reporting rates on helplines because that’s how we find out about our biggest issues is anonymous reporting. The other thing that’s not happening, of course, is those drive byes – the desk, where people just have a concern, they see you there and you never know, they may have been looking for you and trying to find an opening. Often, when I was doing investigations, my best conversations and most meaningful tips came from people who did drive byes and we don’t have that same thing quite as much anymore.
I would say that in terms of processes, corporate governance professionals need to reach out more, should have a regular strategy. I would say a schedule of listening conversations, just 15 minutes, virtual coffee with your key stakeholders. I would be looking at creating a strategy plan for your top three to five stakeholders that you use to get a lot of information from, maybe think through how much information you’re getting from them now. If there’s a big gap, you need to be reaching out more to them.
Sabrina Great perspective, Amii. Many of our listeners, we have a large audience of internal audit professionals whose teams have likely been impacted during COVID, as you mentioned, performing certain activities, we’ve had to change how we audit. What do you see as some of the challenges and opportunities for these teams?
Amii I would say going back to the basic five and making sure that you have those elements on your teams, usually there’s some opportunity to do better. Figuring out which of the five you need more; the baseline is trust. Does your team trust each other? Do they go to each other with issues? Are they willing to ask for help? Do they share information? Is there anything that you can do as a leader to help? Create a more cohesive trust environment.
The second would be do they handle productive conflict well? Teams that didn’t handle conflict well before the pandemic may not be handling it better at this time. When it’s remote, it tends to go underground. Giving people skills around how to have a healthy dialogue and disagree respectfully, particularly in the environment we’ve been in, I would say at a macro level is really important for a team functioning remotely and really feeling like they have each other’s back. Being committed, really being all into the goals, knowing what the goals are, leaders being very clear. I appreciate that that can be tough right now because they can change month to month depending on the business strategy. If you’re going through a divestiture or merger acquisition, shifting your client base, whether you’re an essential function or not, those have all been strategic considerations that have affected culture and risk and then the work that you’re doing. Staying in touch and communicating the priorities to your team is critical.
Then, I would say holding people accountable. There’s a challenging balance right now for caring leaders to balance holding people accountable for their performance and being empathetic to the extra challenges and mental load that a lot of us are carrying right now, particularly working parents or people who have elder care or people who are living alone and might be incredibly isolated. It is important to balance approachability with assertiveness as a leader in terms of taking care of your people and driving accountability. Last, is a push for results, and that has special meaning for those of us in corporate governance.
Again, we need to help keep a strategic mind set, a business mindset around our function so that we can be a partner at the table when business strategy is being discussed and cuts are being made so that we can make sure that to the extent we need to cut back and a lot of companies are needing to cut across the board. But, you want to be at the table seen as a stakeholder who gets it, that you may not be able to conduct as many audits this year or you may unfortunately have to cut staff. Other people are doing it, so it’s not unusual to ask everyone to kind of join in but what I would say is be very strategic and negotiate.
I have one client that I helped negotiate deferring a really important compliance implementation in recognition of the pandemic and they had a furlough and everyone that was in their C suite was looking at where can we cut to make sure that we have a company in three or four years and that everyone can keep their job. This person stepped up and said, “Hey, we really need this compliance system, but let’s defer it to 2021”, and they gained tremendous appreciation by stepping up and proactively offering that instead of waiting to be asked or dragging their feet. I’d say there’s an opportunity here to be a part of the team and to make sacrifices in the right way. But you want to be strategic about what those are, of course.
Sabrina Of course. Amii, I want to thank you again for joining us today. Do you have any closing thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?
Amii Thank you, it’s been such a pleasure being on. My closing thoughts would be for everyone on the call to make sure you’re being strategic in actively managing and investing in your own career. I read another article recently that said that hard skills are now being outdated in about over a four to six-year timeline, which is quite short. The rate at which hard skills get outdated has sped up. With COVID, it’s really brought to the forefront that we need to be adaptable and thoughtful about our leadership and technical skills and how they stack up to what’s needed three to five years from now.
Sabrina Thank you, Amii. To our listeners, thank you for listening to Frazier & Deeter’s Culture of Compliance podcast. Please join us for our next episode as we continue to discuss transforming compliance requirements into investments in your business. You can connect with Amii on LinkedIn, her website at barnardbahn.com. You can also download your free copy of Amii’s Promotability Index assessment by texting, “Promote me” to 44-222 and see where you stack up against the five elements of promotability. All of this information is available in the podcast notes.