Let’s face it, communication on a compliance engagement is usually a damn mess. Messages are coming at you on a dozen different channels from 30 different people. Everything seems like a last-minute or crisis-moment communication. External parties go radio silent for weeks at a time. You’re continually hounding people in your organization for the same thing, over and over again.
As a result, stress is high, you’re moving in multiple directions at once, and tempers are short. Despite your constant communication and frenetic energy, progress is creeping forward at a snail’s pace.
Haphazard communication practices aren’t just frustrating. They interfere with your ability to do your work efficiently. It’s like grit in your gears.
How Important Is Team Communication in Compliance Management?
If you ever thought it was just your people that had a communication problem, you’re not alone. Most compliance teams aren’t communicating well — with each other, or with external sources.
Part of the problem is that communication just isn’t prioritized. You’re focused on just trying to get their arms around the certification requirements. On the top-ten list of important things that you need to take seriously, communication comes in around 98.
I see it all the time. But for the clients I’ve worked with for three-plus years, communication issues are dramatically mitigated. And it’s not a coincidence that by that time, they’ve cut their total compliance man-hours by as much as 65 percent.
These organizations are able to eliminate communication problems and streamline their workflows, because we help them implement specific best practices that they must adhere to as long as they’re working with the TCT consulting team. There’s usually resistance at first, but by the end of the engagement they’re committed and refuse to go back to their old ways.
Here are the best practices for improving team communication — and streamlining your compliance management workflow.
Set the Stage with Your Team
The foundation of good team communication is to appropriately stage your engagement. How you start your engagement will determine how the rest of it will go.
Resist the urge to build the plane as you’re taking off. Yes, there’s a lot of pressure to get moving fast and to go flying out of the gate. The ready-shoot-aim approach will only add chaos and make compliance management suck even more.
Instead, take time to get a lay of the land before setting out on the trail. Your people need to know several things right off the bat:
- What is the scope of the engagement?
- What are the first things we’re doing?
- Who’s responsible for them?
It’s essential to have a synergy between everyone involved in compliance management — within the team, and with the Assessor. Get everyone on the same page and nodding their heads like toads in a hailstorm.
The success of everything you’re about to do is dependent on having those details solidified, as that’s the key starting point.
Communicate Through One Channel
Train everyone to communicate through one single channel. Literally, one channel. If it’s your compliance management system, then no email, no texting. No phone calls. No quick hallway conversations.
I know how draconian this sounds, and I get a lot of pushback from clients at first. But think about what happens when you have communication coming across 12 different channels, from 30 or 40 people. It turns into an absolute nightmare very quickly, because you have to track it all manually.
Before you know it, you’re spending valuable hours every week trying to find files and messages that personnel sent to you. Was it on Slack? No. Maybe a text message? Nope. Oh, crap — it was a phone conversation, I forgot just what they said and now you have to request a recap in writing.
When you have one single channel of communication, you know exactly where to find messages and documents that you received (and sent). Time searching for information is eliminated.
Keep Your Team Accountable
Set expectations for accountability on Day One. Team members will be held accountable — not because they aren’t trusted, but because we’re all human and life happens.
Don’t nag, don’t micromanage, but do keep your people accountable. Automate task reminders on a weekly or daily basis, so that each team member is kept apprised of their upcoming, due, and overdue tasks.
In status meetings, ask about due and overdue tasks.
- Is there an issue that needs to be resolved?
- Does the team member need help or clarification on anything?
- What can you do to support them better?
Interruptions and slowdowns are going to happen. The key is to work together to make sure problems get corrected.
Here’s where I get really unpopular with new compliance engagements. Good communication during a compliance engagement means having meetings. Frequently. Like, weekly and sometimes daily.
But here’s the thing. People don’t hate meetings, they hate pointless meetings. And if you’re using good communication practices, none of your meetings will be pointless. They’ll even be quicker than you expect.
Not everyone will need to be in every meeting, but you will need to communicate regularly with three primary groups.
Touch base with your internal compliance team at least once a week — and probably more frequently as you get closer to the finish line. Use your meetings to check in on each person’s progress.
If you’re using TCT Portal, you can see the project status at a glance. Filter out overdue items and discuss those first. Next, discuss any specific issues that need to be addressed — questions, concerns, difficulties that people may need to talk through or keep people updated on.
With a compliance management tool like TCT Portal, the entire meeting can be over in about 15 minutes. Not a bad way to run meetings.
You’ll also need to communicate with your Assessor and vendors from time to time. Don’t waste their time by dragging them into your regular meetings if you only need to connect with them once in a while. They’re your vendors, but you don’t own them — their time is valuable too.
Keep your executive leadership team updated on your progress on a monthly basis. Focus on the big picture and major milestones, and avoid the granular details. Your executives are interested in compliance as it affects the health of the business — they trust you to handle the minutiae.
If you’re consistent and they see that you know what you’re doing, they’ll be supportive if you run into problems.
But they won’t be supportive if they don’t hear anything for weeks or months, then out of the blue you drop a note that the project is backed up by 60 days. That’ll make them lose their sh*t, and you’ll be living with a black mark on your name for a while.
Give It Time
Even if you follow these best practices, you won’t master them in your first year. It will certainly go smoother than not using them! But it takes some practice to realize the full return on your communication investment. Year Two will be better, but it will also have some new challenges that you didn’t see the first time around.
By your third time through an operational compliance engagement, your communication issues could be virtually non-existent. By now you’ve seen it all and you know what to expect. You’ve developed a communication consistency that’s now ingrained in your compliance engagement players. Compliance management is now humming along at peak efficiency.
Invest in Your Team Communication
Team communication is one of the most underrated aspects of compliance management. It’s also one of the most critical elements of a successful engagement. Don’t let the pressures of compliance prevent you from setting the stage for solid team communication. It’ll take a little extra planning and preparation, but the result is unquestionably worth it.
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