Mark Your Calendars

This is by no means the first time it has happened, but it never ceases to surprise me how when there’s a specific topic, one that deals with emotional aspects, that I want to write about, I manage to be too busy to write and yet, so much of the time, I have all the time in the world to screw around and play games and write blog posts while at work.

Today is no different.  I’ve been quite busy as I’m putting the finishing touches on a survey that a team of people I “lead” and I have been working on.  Before I knew it, it was 4:00 in the afternoon and I hadn’t even thought about, or started a blog post.  I knew this subject was going to take more than a few minutes to write about and clearly today was not the day.  Maybe tomorrow, but with another round of fire drills in the morning, I make no promises.


I do have a totally different story to tell you however.

Yesterday, while we were conducting the first half of our semi-annual fire drills and I made my worthless 18 block trek to the other end of the world, K, our Department Secretary, was out of the office presumably sick.  I don’t know or care.  I just know she wasn’t in the office, which means that while Bertha, the other front office worker was gone to lunch, it fell on me, yet again, to cover the phones and the front office.

At one point I had to go into K’s cubicle at the front of the suite to help a customer and while I was there, I noticed a poster and packet of flyers that were left for her to have posted.  The poster was advertising the “2010 Compliance and Ethics Week” for my company.

I have no doubt that, in the age of Enron and WorldCom and the Sarbanes Oxley act, most larger companies have a Compliance department whose purpose for existing is to ensure that the company and its employees are, well, complying with policies and regulations.  My company is no different.  In fact we’re so concerned about making sure that our employees are being compliant with any number of rules that we have fourteen different Compliance groups.  I was going to say that “fourteen” is a joke, but honestly, there are probably a lot more than that.    There are entire departments that have a sub-group dedicated strictly to compliance.  There are multiple legs of this organization and within each one there is a compliance department and then as if that weren’t sufficient enough, there is a specific department whose soul purpose is to promote and enforce compliance within the entire company.

I suppose to some extent I can understand the need for such a group.  The Sarbanes Oxley act (SOX) is somewhat confusing and some people may need help understanding what it says and how it applies to them.  Oh but wait, we have a SOX department dedicated to that task.

Certainly there is a need for a small group of people to investigate allegations of non-compliance but I can’t understand why there would be that many allegations or the need for too many people.  But a “Compliance and Ethics Week”?  Really?  I mean what purpose is this supposed to serve?  I guess it just struck me as somewhat amusing that we have a single week in which Compliance and Ethics matter and the other fifty-one weeks just don’t matter and we can do whatever the hell we want.

I find the whole thing disturbing and somewhat offensive as it’s something that’s come up more than few times recently for me.  I believe myself to be a mostly compliant and ethical person.  I know that may sound a little hypocritical coming from the guy who routinely writes his blog posts at work and makes no secret of it.  But the thing is, I do put work first.  A big part of the reason I do these things at work is because I don’t have enough to do most of the time.

Aside from that I’m a very ethical person.  I don’t cheat on my taxes.  I don’t steal.  If a cashier undercharges me for something or gives me too much change back, I tell them and have them correct it.  I don’t even jay walk unless it’s raining and then I make an exception because I’m getting wet and no one gets hurt, because even when it’s raining, I don’t cross if there are cars around.  I believe in doing the right thing, following the rules and complying with policies, no matter how stupid I may believe them to be.  So the idea that there is a department whose job it is to remind me to be a good, ethical person offends me, especially since I’m routinely told, though not in so many words, that I need to be more flexible and break more rules, BY MY BOSS.

I won’t go too far into the details but I’ve been experiencing a conflict lately with a woman in the building who has a chip on her shoulder toward me.  I’ve been asking her to provide me with approved volunteer agreements for the people on her floor who want to be part of the Building Emergency Response Team, for which I am the coordinator.  She has responded that she’s already provided the documents.  I’ve had this conversation with a number of people in the building.  I don’t doubt that they’ve already provided the documents but I just took the program over in the latter part of 2009 and I can’t account for what happened before that.  They may have submitted the documents but the fact remains I don’t have them and I need them in order for the individuals to participate in the program.  Most people simply acknowledge my statement and provide the forms, but this woman has flat out refused to provide them.  Finally she went to my manager, John, because I wasn’t updating my records with the names she had provided via e-mail but has not submitted the volunteer agreements.  I wasn’t privy to this conversation or even the fact that it was happening until after the fact and I have no idea if, or to what extent, my manager supported me, but I can guess: NOT MUCH.

The next day I received an e-mail from her.  I was actually cc’d on the e-mail that was addressed to my manager.  She said:

“Thanks for meeting with Chris and I [sic] today and glad we could all be solution focused.  We’re excited to continue with our efforts in the BERT Program.

“Here is our current list of 16 floor[sic] BERT MEMBERS.  I will commit to getting Kevin the volunteer agreements for our newest members Jeff and Jenny.  The others were submitted last year.”

After a heated discussion with my boss in which he told me I was wrong for an insignificant detail and disregarded all the rest of the issue, I sent her a reply:

“I apologize for any confusion surrounding this issue.  However, as the roster I gave you during the Floor Warden Meeting showed, I only have/had volunteer agreements for you, Chris, Alan and Andrea.  I now know that Alan and Andrea are no longer part of your team and I have removed them from the roster, however, I still do not have Volunteer Agreements for any of the rest of your team as you have them listed below.  I must have those in order to validate their management approval for them to participate in the program.

“While you are submitting the volunteer agreements for Jeff and Jenny, please submit the remaining five agreements as well.”

Simple, polite and straight forward, right?  I apologized, even though at this point I have nothing to apologize for and then explained why it’s necessary for me to be a pain in the ass about this issue.  Then I asked her to please comply with the requirements.

Here’s her response:

“There’s no confusion on our part regarding this issue.  Per the discussion Chris and I had with John yesterday, we’ve submitted forms for these folks two and three times since last October of 2009 and the roster remains outdated.  We’re not going to spend anymore time filling out forms for them to only be lost or misplaced.  Per Johns verbal agreement with Chris and I, you can use this e-mail as approval for those folks you don’t have a form for.

“I will submit the other two forms for the new members shortly.”

Naturally, John says he never made that agreement, but it wouldn’t matter if he had.  Neither John, nor this woman are the immediate supervisor of the employees in question, therefore, neither of them has the authority to authorize the employees participation and I will not include them in the program until I have the appropriate documents.

Honestly?  I can understand her frustration if she feels like she’s submitted the documents before and nothing has come of it, but there are other, better ways to handle this.  She could get the documents completed and approved and hand deliver them to me so that she knows I have them.  She could recognize that this is the first that I am asking for them and do as I ask with the hope that I will handle it better than my predecessor did.  But most importantly, she could get the chip off her shoulder and recognize that all I’m doing is trying to be conscientious at my job I detest and follow the policies and procedures that I have laid out before me.  Trying to be compliant.

It really doesn’t take much in this life to just live right, and do the right thing.  Obey rules and laws.  Respect authority.  Just be courteous for crying out loud.  If you believe a rule or a law is wrong, do your part to get it changed, but until it does, continue to follow it.  That’s what makes people successful.  That’s what makes companies thrive.  It’s what theoretically makes Government work and people, in general, satisfied with it.  Nothing and no one is ever perfect, but if we all made an effort to be more cooperative and compliant with the rules and policies in life, we’d all be better off.

By the way, the woman in my story?  She works for the Compliance and Ethics department.

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