March Madness! What E&C Can Learn from The Big Dance

By ECI Connector posted Mar 16,2017 12:28

This article was originally published on LinkedIN.  ECI's CEO, Pat Harned, discusses her thoughts about "the Big Dance" and how it relates to ethics and compliance.

It’s that time again...the bracket is set and the teams are on their way to The Big Dance. It’s March Madness!

I must admit that for quite a while I didn’t really care about college basketball. But then I went to graduate school at Indiana University (IU), and I lived about 500 yards from the basketball stadium on campus. During the Bobby Knight years. Need I say more?

A lot of time has passed since grad school, but at this time each year, the start of the tournament musters my loyalty to the game. There’s something special about March Madness. The intensity of all the players still captures my attention; and even though I expect that my predictions will be wrong, it’s still fun to fill out my bracket because pretty much anything can and will happen. This year, not one of my alma maters made The Big Dance; nevertheless, I will follow along and root for a number of teams. 

In my opinion, there are some simple truths about March Madness that apply to the work we do in ethics & compliance. So in honor of the tournament, here are my thoughts:

  • Even the small and underfunded can win. Sure, the bracket is mostly comprised by teams from schools with large, well-funded programs; but some small schools operating on a shoe-string budget make it to the tournament as well. And every team has a chance to win. So it is with high quality E&C programs (HQPs). It certainly helps to have a big budget, but it’s not the fancy training platform or elaborate incident management system that ultimately inspires employees or drives compliance. It’s the everyday communication that ethics is important; the examples leaders set; and the support managers provide to their employees that matters. Those efforts don’t have to take thousands of dollars to implement. Some of the most impactive E&C programs have been ones with small budgets.
  • You need a good coach and a strong team. Show me a winning basketball team and I’ll show you a group of people who are cohesive and well led. Five individuals step onto the court, but they must work together to play the game. The center doesn’t step in and do the job of the point guard; instead, they have to coordinate and trust that every player is going to do their part. Winning coaches provide the team a strategy based on the opponent, the setting, and even the time period of the game. When the chips are down, the coach has guidance to offer to help the team manage the pressure and proceed. So it is with E&C. Show me a corporation with a high quality program (HQP), and I’ll show you a well led, cohesive group of employees with a shared commitment to integrity. HQP employees understand that they must work together to do their jobs, and they understand the impact of their decisions on others. Senior leaders drive strategy with E&C in mind, and their plan changes based on the risk, the environment, and even the timing of the business cycle. Every manager accepts their responsibility to promote organizational values, compliance standards, and to maintain accountability. It’s a combined effort.
  •  It takes hope and grit to succeed. When it comes to March Madness, players know that the stakes are high. It’s a single elimination tournament, and one play can be the difference between advancing to the next round or making an early trip home. Players must dig deep, encourage each other, and fight for a comeback if the early part of the game doesn’t go their way. Doesn’t that sound familiar as an E&C professional? It isn’t easy to speak truth to power. There’s a lot of pressure, and the stakes are high if the program fails. Every organization is just one decision away from upholding its standards or making an expedited trip to the Department of Justice. As E&C professionals, we must dig deep and fight for air time with the C-Suite and the board; push to get our content integrated into the business; and encourage each other when it’s difficult to win support. But with hope and grit, E&C can succeed.
  • Every moment counts. Remember the final seconds of the men’s championship game last year? It was Villanova against North Carolina. The score was tied and there were 4 seconds left on the clock. Just before time ran out, Villanova’s Kris Jenkins threw a buzzer-beater shot from the 3-point line, and he made it. It was epic. Jenkins took the chance because he knew that in basketball, every second is still an opportunity. So it is with E&C. Building and sustaining a strong culture is the result of an ongoing effort to make a set of values a priority, and it takes persistence. Culture is the sum of everyday decisions and actions. Anytime an employee asks, “What is the right thing to do?” it presents an opportunity to reinforce the importance of integrity. It’s the job of E&C to help managers recognize that situation, and to equip them to respond. When it comes to building culture, every moment counts.
  • Believe in Cinderella. My favorite thing about March Madness is the opportunity it gives to every team to beat the odds. Sometimes out of nowhere a team from a school that you’ve never heard of performs better than even they could have imagined. I love it when an underdog pulls a major upset and beats a powerhouse. Those teams become known as Cinderella teams because they managed to succeed at a level that was not anticipated. And in just the same way, there are many instances where an E&C function rises up and delivers a Cinderella moment in an organization. When the CECO becomes the trusted advisor to C-Suite executives, or the values of the organization override the temptation to skirt the rules…it’s a Cinderella moment for E&C. Every time an employee steps forward to raise a concern, it’s a Cinderella moment. It’s not just a “hoop dream”…encourage your team to stand up and believe that they can be the Cinderella in your organization. 

Part of the greatness of March Madness is that it forges champions, and not just among the players on the one team that wins the tournament. Every person who steps out on the basketball court has put in countless hours of practice, and pulled together with teammates to face great odds. Just making it The Big Dance builds character. So it is with our profession, too. An E&C professional endeavors daily to help good people understand their role and responsibility, and we build character in every employee in our organizations. In so doing, E&C professionals not only help their organizations win; they are champions themselves.