The sheer mention of the word comply suggests a mentality of doing the bare minimum. You know, just enough of whatever to stay out of hot water. Engagement, on the other hand, carries with it an air of exuberance and delight. The actual opportunity to work. The two couldn’t be further apart if they tried. Right? My trick knee tells me there is more to it than these superficial views.

06In a globalized world that has ethical, and often legal, violations taking place all-to-regularly, compliance has become a critical component to being a successful and sustainable company. Legislation that is industry specific, as well as labor issues, create a need to do more than just the right thing. It can require a bit more effort to tick all the boxes and satisfy various regulatory requirements. Most of these have a zero tolerance vibe to them, so compliance is a big deal.

Employees have to do certain things to make sure the organization is in compliance. Because of the desire to mitigate risk, policies are written and usually someone’s job is on the line regarding compliance issues. This kind of bureaucratic assertion of compliance has become the standard “best practice” (that phrase is a pet hate of mine…another post). This approach is a way to CYA in a way that seems to make the most sense.

The challenge with this approach is it ignores the impact of employee engagement. Enter Truth #1

The bureaucratic assertion of compliance ignores and diminishes engagement.

If the standard approach to compliance is “I have to”, where does engagement get a chance to play ball? Few, if any, of the drivers of engagement are triggered through compliance. No sense of contributing to something bigger, nothing about self-development, little to no autonomy and – unless you’re are a very rare breed – no real outlet for expressing your passion.

Engagement is an emotional response to culture and culture is developed out of the context created by leadership. When leadership has an awkward relationship with compliance, it creates problems. Truth #2

Compliance is neutral. It is the relationship leaders have with compliance that is problematic.

If leaders hate and endure compliance because they have to, then so will employees. If it is done begrudgingly by leadership, employees will do the same. If it is a source of fear and anxiety for leaders, you can bet it will be the same emotional dynamic with employees. The problem isn’t in the compliance, but rather the leader’s response to it that makes it awkward.

Engaged people tend to do their jobs with gusto. They get something out of the process as much as the end result. The tasks required to get to the end result aren’t as important as the engagement they experience. Thus, Truth #3

Highly engaged people will be more inclined to be compliant because of their engagement.

If engagement is done well, and compliance is simply another task in their overall job, then the issue isn’t such a big deal. It still carries the same importance and gravitas; however, the relationship with that task is different. It isn’t one of fear and loathing. It isn’t something done with ire and reluctant complicity. It is part of the process of enjoying the emotional payoff of engagement.

You can force people to do things, but only for a set amount of time. That amount of time is different for everyone and they will only do what you tell them and nothing more. This points out Truth #4

High compliance from bureaucratic assertion results in high employee turnover and low productivity.

People will do what you say in order to keep their jobs. If there is little to no engagement and their compliance is the main thing that keeps them doing their job, they are already looking around for something else. The idea of taking initiative will be nothing more than a pipe dream cooked up by leadership over a nice single malt at some retreat. The cost that comes from attrition and low productivity is a downward spiral and it is highly influenced by Truth #2.

When people are engaged in their work, they are much more likely to do what needs to be done – and then some. Truth #5

High compliance from engagement results in low employee turnover and improved productivity.

Engagement is one of the best things to happen to your bottom line. Engaged employees help drive cost out of the system by adding value to it. Compliance is merely a task that needs to be done in order to make themselves AND the organization successful. It isn’t a burden to carry or something that devolves into the bane of their existence in the workplace. They may derive less enjoyment out of doing that task than other ones, but engagement levels out the lows much better than mere compliance ever will.

Keep these 5 Truths in mind when you’re taking into consideration compliance issues. Employee engagement is massively influential, whether it has become your best friend or you view it as your nemesis. The quality of your compliance hangs in the balance.