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You won't find Heather Bussing's definition of compliance in a dictionary. An attorney with over 30 years of experience representing employers, unions and workers in every aspect of employment and labor law, Bussing sees compliance not as an end goal but as a symptom of a richer, more thought-out corporate culture of inclusion, wellness and performance management.

For example, says Bussing, you should approach pay equity and Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) compliance not as something that has to be done, but as an integral part of a much larger diversity and inclusion strategy that ensures all employees are treated fairly.

We sat down with Bussing, ahead of her upcoming compliance webinar for Cornerstone OnDemand, to share her insight on why compliance needs to be integrated into broader business and HR strategy, what HR can do to turn compliance from a reactive to a proactive process and how she hopes to see it evolve in the future.

Why should leaders integrate compliance into their larger business strategy?

Compliance is key to creating a great company culture. It touches every single thing that an employee does, including how they adhere to the policies of the organization, and how they interact with their fellow employees, managers and work environment.

Leadership often views culture initiatives as optional or something be cut when budgets are tight but, in reality, great culture is foundational to getting work done. Focusing on compliance as an integral part of bigger strategy helps leadership shift their mindset and see its significance for all areas of business.

How can HR get more proactive about identifying non-compliance?

Talk to employees on a regular basis and keep a line of communication open with employees at all times not just when things go wrong. Approach employees in a way that is open, curious, compassionate and caring to establish a level of comfort and trust. Know that people may tell you things that you may not want to hear, and that they might be uncomfortable sharing because they're scared. Still, it's so much better to know what's going on at your organization than to manage by risk aversion.

Alternatively, you can use a pulse survey to get insight into employee engagement (lack of engagement can be a sign of an impending compliance issue) and dig in to see where problems exist. If your overall engagement scores are great, you should should look at each population segment (department, age group, etc) individually. What does engagement look like for women or people of color, or the guy who's working for the tough boss in Michigan?

Pro Tip: Don't just ask what you want to hear. Give people a chance to share what they think is important using open ended questions.

Why do you think that compliance complaints are often symptoms of bigger issues in the workplace?

People tend to frame their complaints as compliance issues because they know it's a sure-fire way to get leadership's attention. For example, if I am being harassed, I might frame it as discrimination by a manager because that is something I know the company will want to address. But there is almost always a bigger, cultural issue behind every complaint.

You should never look at complaints as standalone issues—you should always ask questions and dig deeper to determine whether non-compliance is truly to blame, or if there's a personal or cultural issue at play. Once you understand the larger context of individual complaints, you can figure out what you can control and what resources are available to address the underlying issues, as well as the immediate complaint.

How do you hope to see the way organizations use compliance evolve?

I want people to focus on using compliance as a tool and a justification for accomplishing bigger initiatives. For example, a lot of companies have realized that when you focus on eliminating discrimination, it causes people to outline specific behaviors in order to manage the risk associated with them. But, this doesn't address the bigger issues that are likely causing the problem: perhaps there is a "bro culture," or there's a senior leader who feels comfortable doing inappropriate things.

If you're just trying to manage the claims as they come through and not address the power dynamics or the culture, you have much bigger problems than compliance, and it's probably affecting other areas of business like your retention rate, your performance management capability and even your profitability. People who are dealing with toxic work cultures spend a lot of time trying to manage them and not nearly as much time doing productive work.

Want to learn more about why it's essential to see compliance as a culture issue? Register here for our compliance webinar with Heather Bussing and Mike Bollinger, Global VP Cornerstone OnDemand, taking place on February 7th.

Photo: Creative Commons