Book Review: ‘How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer’

We haven’t had a book review here yet, so let’s turn to one book fresh off the presses and written by one of the compliance community’s own: How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer, written by Kristy Grant-Hart.

Kristy (I have known her for years and refuse to call her “Grant-Hart”) has spent 10 years working in corporate compliance, first as a lawyer at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, and then as an in-house compliance officer first at Carlson Wagonlit Travel and most recently at United International Pictures. She left UIP earlier this year to start her own compliance consulting business, and this book is her opening salvo in that battle. You may also have seen Kristy at any number of compliance events; she seems to be everywhere.

How to Be Wildly Effective is more about how you can succeed personally in your job as a compliance officer, rather than how to master compliance as a discipline. To a certain extent, its fundamental lessons apply just as well to any executive role. Kristy frames those lessons in practical examples relevant to compliance officers, but make no mistake that this book is about power politics: how to find the right levers of power within your organization, and then pull them in the right sequence to achieve what you want. Want to know about regulation specifically? Take a training course or call your law firm. Want to do well at your job and perhaps even enjoy it? Read this book.

Kristy starts with the premise that compliance is about motivating people (correct) and people have four primary motivators: fear for self; fear for the business; noble cause; and competitive edge. As you spend time pushing compliance goals through the organization—which really is about getting people to take compliance seriously—you need to discern which of the four motivators is relevant to the audience in front of you. Then you use that motivator wisely to convince the audience (a training group, a board, a CEO, a business unit manager, and so forth) that embracing compliance is in their best interests.

Effective-CoverKristy dissects each of those motivators and walks through how you can demonstrate relevance to the many constituencies compliance officers have. She also walks through the various skills compliance officers need: listening, speaking, writing, relating to audiences, promoting yourself within an organization and—eventually, if you truly do want to be a wildly effective compliance officer—promoting yourself in the field as a whole. How to Be Wildly Effective clocks in at 152 pages, in sections easy to read and easy to take out of order if you have some particular challenge you want to consider immediately.

Kristy’s writing is clear and simple, a refreshing break from the jargon you’re likely to encounter elsewhere reading legal bulletins or best practices guides so crammed with buzzwords that they float away from making an actual point. She also includes plenty of helpful details (“Deliberately look people in the eye during training when you talk to them about the potential of imprisonment”) and peppers the text with simple tips in call-out boxes (“Memorize this question: ‘For lunch tomorrow, would you take me to your local favorite place to eat’?”).

Compliance officers will also appreciate Chapter 10, “Dealing With the Hard Stuff.” The guts of that chapter are actually best captured in the sub-title, “Feeling defeated, blamed, misunderstood, unappreciated, and bored.” We don’t talk about those drawbacks to the job too often, but we all encounter them. Some of Kristy’s tips are the same you’d find anywhere (“take a vacation,” for example), but the truth is that to be a wildly effective compliance officer, you must be at least a passably effective person; knowing how and when to lay down those burdens is a big part of that.

Will How to Be a Wildly Effective Compliance Officer transfigure your professional life? Probably not. It will, however, be an enjoyable, useful, and very worthwhile reminder of how to succeed as a compliance officer—and the secret to it, as often happens, is about the people around you rather than the books and papers on your desk.

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