Why Compliance is Like a Game of Hot Potato 

jenny o'brien why compliance is like a game of hot potato

Did you ever play “Hot Potato” as a kid? It was one of my favorite games back in the day, and my classmates and I always used to play at recess.  

For those not familiar, Hot Potato is a game or term that dates back to the mid-1800s and involves tossing a hot potato around a circle at a furious pace. If you drop it, you’re out of the game – and the last one standing wins.  

Nowadays, it often comes to mind as a useful way of thinking about challenging issues that come up in compliance work. Similar to literally tossing a hot potato around a circle, we often toss complicated problems around our organizations as we look for practical and quick solutions. And just as Hot Potato requires quick reactions, great hand/eye coordination, and the ability to handle the heat if you want to stay in the game, we also need these skills to be effective and successful in our compliance role. 

Among your business partners and colleagues, you may notice many of the same personalities that you might have seen on the playground. Some of them might look to pass the hot potato onto the compliance team and think their work is done. Fortunately for most of us, this type of conduct is the exception.  

In most instances, we see the best intentions and behaviors come out when we pull our circles of cross-functional leaders together to strategize and solve complex compliance issues. In my experience, when we identify all the key stakeholders, ensure they’re at the table, and clarify their roles in remediating issues, the collective quickly focuses on figuring out how NOT to drop the hot potato. Instead, collaborative teamwork, innovation, creativity, an alignment of goals and priorities, and faster resolution of issues emerge. 

As you continue the great work you do to prevent, detect, and correct issues on non-compliance for your organization, keep embracing and catching the hot potatoes that come your way. After all, that’s a sign that we’ve already accomplished one key step: supporting our employees in raising issues and getting them into the right hands. There is nobody better than us to support our business partners in navigating through challenging issues! 

Jenny O’Brien, JD, MS, CHC serves on the advisory board for YouCompli. She is also president and principal at BlackBridge Advisors. She has been the chief compliance officer (CCO) at multiple companies, including UnitedHealthcare, as well as a state assistant attorney general and a partner at a law firm. She is a past president and board member of HCCA/SCCE, serves on the boards of Bon Secours Mercy Health System and St. Charles Health System, and the advisory board of Stellar Health. 

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