How to Regulate and Standardize Useful Compliance Methods

by Francine Breckenridge, Chief Compliance and Legal Officer at U.S. Money Reserve

Tackling continuous innovation can be challenging. Here’s how to make it part of your company’s compliance regulations and standardization.

Broken systems don’t last. At some point, they collapse and have to be rebuilt from the ground up. To prevent catastrophic failure, we must innovate, assess, and work to create standardized methods, especially in the world of business compliance.

In many ways, this process is cyclical and ongoing. Once you complete all the steps, you reenter the process to continue moving the company forward. After all, innovation never stops — and to keep up with continually changing rules, regulations, laws, and events that happen in business compliance, it’s necessary to continually evolve.

Here are five steps to regulate and standardize useful compliance methods for your business.

Understand the Process and Find the Gaps

Central to the process of compliance is constant innovation around processes, parameters, and security. Broken systems don’t fix themselves and often exacerbate business issues that are already present. To best tackle the standardization and regulation of the compliance process, you must know where the weak spots might be. To understand where the weak spots may be, you must first understand your business’s internal workings.

Some questions to consider while working to understand the overarching business process include:

  1. What is the cradle-to-grave process that makes our company work?
  2. What are the component parts that are vital to ensure the business stays on track?
  3. What regulations, rules, or processes do the company and business need to follow to ensure that we deliver our goods or services to our clients or customers?

Keeping a functional organization chart on hand is really helpful at this point. It can help you visualize the process from macro and micro levels to keep your understanding of the process organized. You can refer back to it as you work through understanding the way your business functions. It helps to bring in department heads and managers to give their input on the organization chart to ensure that you don’t miss something early in the process.

Once you’ve effectively mapped the business, the next step is to discover any potential gaps. Gaps appear in a variety of ways. They exist as disorganized and varied processes for managing third-party suppliers, or they might appear as out-of-date processes for tracking specific parts or processes. Be sure to examine the business carefully so that you don’t accidentally miss a potential gap.

Timing is also a valuable issue to consider. Does your company have specific times of the year when the stress on the business system is higher than it might be at other times? Do you have seasonal fluctuations? Gaps become exacerbated when the system is stressed. If a problem arises during a peak time, it’s crucial to stop the bleeding first. Then learn from the exposure and update the process afterward. Keep this in mind as you time your assessment of your compliance standardization. Do your best to time these kinds of audits when the company is a bit less busy and employees and managers can carefully consider what needs updating. While the timing is never going to be ideal for everyone in a large company, finding a time when the system is less stressed is critical.

Once you’ve considered timing, schedule check-ins with each business line regularly throughout the year. The goal of these check-ins is to find out how things are going and learn whether needs or compliance requirements require updating. Dipping in just once a year can have some value, but since business regulation and rules change so rapidly, your work will have a more significant impact if you make more frequent check-ins. At minimum, it’s best to check in with business processes at least once per year during your compliance audit. The more frequently you check in on your business processes, the more likely you are to find places where your current compliance program is falling down. As such, you are more likely to head off any potential problems that could result from gaps.

Assess the Opportunities for Improvement

The next step in standardizing useful compliance methods is to strategically identify the opportunities for improvements that need to be made to keep your business running. That means that once you identify where your processes are failing, you need to develop creative ways to tackle those opportunities for improvement.

In this process, it’s vital to gather information from department heads, the workers performing the specific task within that group, and those who are affected down the line by the output coming from each department. It’s like trying to untangle a ball of twine. You pull on one thread, and another is affected. It’s vital to consider the process holistically and realize that a change in one area could and likely will affect the processes or compliance methods in another area.

Rely on employees to show you where the problems might lie. They are the most valuable voices when it comes to innovation around business processes. Employees know where processes are chaotic, disorganized, and ineffective. Since they are the folks who interact with a business line daily, they know where things could be improved, and they frequently have ideas about how best to make things move more smoothly. Perhaps you might assemble a task force with representatives from each business line to work together to identify gaps in your processes and suggest improvements.

It’s also vital at this point to understand common missteps that might occur when addressing specific issues uncovered by the gap assessment. Is there a common mistake other businesses consistently make that you can learn from and innovate around? Is there a specific updated or changed regulation that should be applied to the business line you are improving? You want to ensure that you are strengthening your compliance methods, standardizing them, and regulating the processes. It is counterproductive to undo good work that you and your team may have done previously to become compliant. Be sure you have a good grasp of the rules of the road before you begin innovating. Strengthen — don’t weaken your already useful compliance methods.

Prioritize Solutions and Assign Execution

Once you and your team come up with innovative ways to tackle the gaps, it’s time to prioritize those solutions and assign the execution. It’s essential to keep in mind what a compliance failure looks like. Identifying what is at risk can help you prioritize the improvements and make the right employee assignments when it comes to execution.

The key in this process is to identify those actions that meet a variety of the company’s needs, including the size of the project and how vital it is to the company, its cost-effectiveness, its efficiency, and the required assets needed to complete the improvement. Projects should be attainable and measurable within set timelines.

At this time, you should assign employees as project managers and process improvement owners to execute on each solution. It’s always good to be clear on deliverables, timelines, and the parameters of the project so that each team can measure their progress toward the goals.

As you set parameters for projects, be sure you keep in mind the compliance goals for your company. A good approach is to focus on the items a compliance inspector might review if approaching your business during the execution of the solution.

Implement and Roll Out Compliance Methods to the Company

The final step in this process is to completely implement and roll out the compliance methods you choose to improve the rest of the company. This process can involve a variety of tools, including documentation, training, and sharing of new processes with all employees. It is often one of the most time-consuming portions of standardizing compliance methods.

It’s crucial to include other stakeholders — like human resources — to help manage the rollout of the new processes, standards, or methods. These stakeholders can help manage staff questions and make compliance aware of any issues that arise during the process.

It’s also essential to keep tabs on how well the new processes are performing versus how they were expected to perform. This informs the next round of innovation as you move forward with the process of standardizing useful compliance methods.

Assess the Outcomes and Continue to Innovate

The only way to know how successful a compliance program has been is to perform an assessment. You can use plenty of tools to figure out the impact that the company’s compliance and process changes are having. Everything from employee surveys to informally checking back in with program managers and employees to see how the changes are going can give you a good idea of how well the updates are working.

Some key questions to consider at this stage include:

  1. Did the updates have the desired outcomes? How do these updates and changes affect business outcomes?
  2. How readily and easily were the changes adopted? What feedback did we receive that could be used in future rounds of improvement?
  3. What unforeseen challenges appeared as the process moved forward? How can we address these in the future?
  4. How can we take what we learned from this round of innovations and implement an improved future process?

What happens if the updates that were implemented haven’t worked? What if you fall down on one of the metrics that you need the business to hit?

Never fear — that’s what this process is designed to address. If a process improvement doesn’t work or becomes out of date because of changes in the regulatory landscape, you can return to these steps to innovate again and continue to improve. After all, failures are just lessons to be learned.

If you stick to this process as a continually evolving work, you can be sure that outcomes will continue to improve and that you will be able to address any and all regulatory issues that might arise. By using this process to regulate and standardize useful compliance methods, you can ensure that the business will stay healthy and robust well into the future.

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