By Judy Fox, CIS Compliance Director
No doubt everyone is familiar with the annoyance of having a song stuck in your head all day long, regardless of whether you like the song or not. By now everyone has seen and heard the commercials with a stack of money with eyes that feature a remix of Rockwell’s song, “Somebody’s Watching Me” playing in the background. If the commercial hits just right, that song stays with you all day long. Welcome to my world. I hear that song playing in my head constantly, but not because of the commercial.
As an auditor, I am often called upon by a Compliance Officer to interact with Field Sales Representatives for various projects such as audits, investigative interviews, and ride-along assessments. More times than not, throughout the course of my interactions, I hear the same complaint from both representatives and their direct managers, “Why can’t I just be left alone to do my job?” This is the point when the song starts playing in my head.
In my role as a Compliance Consultant, I can usually tie that type of statement into a disconnect between the Compliance Office and the Field Sales Force when it comes to communicating and understanding the importance of the compliance program. To some extent, if you are a member of a Field Sales Force, it should feel like somebody is watching you. After all, activities in the field often end up being some of the riskiest areas of compliance. So how can the Compliance Office monitor a Field Sales Force, and make sure that they understand and respect the consequences of non-compliance?
It starts at the top. Executive management has to make it clear that compliance is taken seriously and that the Compliance Office has a responsibility to monitor activities. The various departments responsible for monitoring compliance, such as Sample Accountability, also have to be empowered to discipline and enforce the consequences of non-compliant activities. Discipline for repeat non-compliant behaviors by an individual or within a district should include reprimands for individuals and their managers. In my experience, knowing that there is shared accountability has always shaken Field Sales Managers out of a “look the other way” mentality.
It seems rather simple, doesn’t it? So why is there such a problem out there? Again, I can only speak from experience, but the problem usually starts with the involvement of the Sales Department in compliance decisions. For example, Sales doesn’t want Compliance to put a damper on a national sales meeting, so they may allow only a fraction of the agenda for compliance training, or they just ignore it during a meeting all together and the training takes place over a web based session. Not that web based training isn’t effective, it just doesn’t always send a strong enough message when it is the only place compliance is mentioned. Sometimes, Sales Managers don’t want to burden a top-producing representative with the stress of an audit, so they push for a postponement. The managers can’t be blamed – it is their job to get their team selling, but they are only players in the promotional game and, as with any game, there are rules. Just like a professional athlete, breaking the rules of a game can be costly. You can’t send a team out onto the field without them knowing the rules and the consequences for breaking the rules. While I am not what one would consider an avid sports fan, I have seen my share of pee-wee, high school, college and professional games and I have never seen a coach ignore a player who made a costly mistake caused by forgetting, ignoring or flaunting the rules.
A compliance program should work in the same way. Using Sample Accountability as an example again, the most compliant and successful programs track and trend non-compliant behaviors and, most importantly, hold representatives and their managers accountable for non-compliance by imposing significant disciplinary and, ultimately, financial consequences. When someone knows that they may not qualify for their bonus because of their actions or when a manager may not qualify for a bonus because of the behavior of a direct report, they tend to all remember the rules of the game.
In addition to empowering those responsible for various compliance-based roles, Executive Management has to have clearly defined roles and authority of both Sales Management and Compliance. Sales cannot be allowed to interfere with the work done by Compliance in any way. Sales has a job to do and everyone in the company can be affected if they don’t do it well, but the role of Compliance is to determine the rules regarding how the Field Sales Force can and cannot do its job. Everyone needs to understand that the rules are based on federal and state regulations, and Executive Management needs to emphatically endorse the fact that the rules are not negotiable. Ignoring the rules should never be an option.
One of the best ways that Compliance can make sure no one is breaking the rules is by watching everyone and making it clear that, “Somebody’s Watching You.”
Ha! See if you can get that song out of your head now!