Why change management skills are so important for compliance officers

June 3, 2014 Scott Lane and Jessy Wong

The work of a compliance officer never ends – either new legislations and regulations are coming up, the company is moving into new products, new ventures and opening offices in new geographical areas, or the compliance officer is doing a gap analysis on the current compliance programme to see how to close any gaps.

The officer will work out incremental requirements, think about their impacts, coordinate with the project manager and mobilise different departments, or look at any relaxations in regulations and how they can bring additional business opportunities.

No matter what the compliance officer does, it will bring change to the company, from the board of directors to the different departments – and, let’s face it, few people like change.

Therefore, compliance officers and project managers have to be adept at introducing change in a way that is acceptable to employees, and change-management skills are highly-prized competencies in applicants to those positions.

“These skills are highly valued in compliance specialists at present, due to the tightening regulations. Candidates who can demonstrate previous experience in adapting to changes in a fluid environment are highly sought,” says Jessy Wong, manager of recruiters Michael Page Financial Services.

Change usually starts at the top. Compliance officers need to get the full support of the board and top executives before they launch any new programme.

“The first thing that compliance officers need to do is to create a shared need. They need to get the executive commitment to the end state. The buy-in from senior management will generally be a reflection of ‘What is in it for me?’. This breaks down into showing both positive benefits, such as increased revenue and reduced costs, and the negative side of compliance such as fines, prosecutions and jail time,” says Scott Lane, Chief Executive of The Red Flag Group.

Introducing change also needs to rely on a cohesive company culture. Before launching any new programme, compliance officers have to ensure that trust is there. If the company’s previous attempts at change did not fulfil their promise, the best approach is to recognise and take responsibility for that, and explain why it will be different this time to get employees’ trust before moving on.

“At the end of the day, changing culture is about changing the behaviour of each and every person that contributes to the fabric of the company. Changing someone’s behaviour is done by understanding the reasons why the person acts in a certain way. Looking at people’s motivators and adjusting them through a series of incentives and disincentives will generally steer their behaviour in a certain direction. If you get enough people heading in that direction, a culture will develop,” Mr Lane says.

A good change agent has to be very flexible, have superior communication and, just as importantly, listening skills that help them pick out people’s real concerns and understand better the group dynamics.

Good communication starts with painting a vivid and detailed picture of how the changes will benefit all stakeholders. Sharing a road map will demonstrate clear guidelines, training and tools, so that staff can see how they will navigate the change process.

To avoid any misunderstanding and gauge employees’ concerns, compliance professionals should organise a Q and A session right after the direction is outlined in detail, with mission, vision and strategy to get there, and ensure all milestones to achieve are clearly outlined.

Resistance is normal and should be expected, according to Mr Lane. “The basic principle of dealing with resistance is to understand the reason for the resistance. Always look for the root cause of the resistance and deal with that. Consider different approaches to engaging change in different markets, regions or countries.”

Staff need to be reassured to feel safe in their jobs and secure in the knowledge that they can fulfil their business objectives. A good compliance officer needs to understand how each role in the company is motivated to achieve its goals, and appreciate that everybody is different; approach reassuring them in their roles with an open mind.

“They should be looking at things from a marketing director’s perspective and if the new branding guidelines are not being adapted, asking why this is so,” Mr Lane says.

Most often problems are caused when the end state is not described clearly, in observable and measurable terms, according to Mr Lane. The success of change largely depends on the change in behaviour of individual employees and there is also a need to give that more attention. Training and practical solutions offered to possible upcoming challenges will reassure employees that they will be capable of acting on the changes.

People are also creatures of habit. They may have well understood why the change is needed and are motivated to introduce the new ways of doing business but, with time, the first impressions fade. They may forget what exactly they need to do, or just give up after a few unsuccessful attempts. Therefore, follow-up is extremely important and can take different forms. It can rely on mentors and buddies, or key influencers who may have been with the company for a long time and are respected by their colleagues. Different types of coaching, such as training by the department head, one-on-one or in a group can also assist; coaching will keep the change process fresh until it finally becomes a generally-accepted habit.


Soft skills of a compliance officer as a change agent:

  1. Agile and flexible
  2. Appreciates differences in people and cultures
  3. Understands colleagues’ emotions
  4. Good negotiator with persuasive skills
  5. Looks at things from multiple perspectives
  6. Good communicator and listener
  7. Takes criticism well
  8. Personable and connects with the audience well
  9. Builds trust
  10. Compassionate enforcer and have tenacity.


Most common mistakes of a compliance programme:

  • No shared needs or visions communicated
  • Resistance silenced rather than persuaded
  • No involvement of early adopters and key influencers
  • Not enough focus on the behavioural side of change
  • No follow-up or monitoring.


Scott Lane is the Chief Executive Officer of The Red Flag Group.

Jessy Wong is Senior Manager at Michael Page

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