I Got the Compliance Job! Now What? 

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(EDITOR’S NOTE: Jenny O’Brien is one of YouCompli’s Titans of Compliance. As part of her “Next Jen” series, she contributes posts that help the next generation of compliance leaders learn skills, attributes and other characteristics to succeed in their careers. It’s all part of her commitment to developing both the compliance profession and individual compliance professionals. For more posts by Jenny O’Brien, visit the YouCompli Blog.) 

When I interviewed for my first compliance role 20+ years ago, I have to admit I really didn’t understand what the job involved. I was coming from the lens of a practicing attorney, which I’m sure many of you understand can be somewhat narrow! Like many of you, in preparing for that interview, my research included the “seven elements” and other more technical aspects of the role.   

I soon learned the role of a compliance professional was much broader. It was more about working in the business with operations teams to support implementing regulations than reading and interpreting regulations. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to partner with business leaders across all functions, as we shared the goal of finding strategic and innovative solutions to challenging issues and preventing issues upstream. Suddenly, the role was much more interesting, and it also made me realize there were skillsets I needed to develop to become more effective. 

Maybe you’re transitioning into a Compliance role from legal, quality or some other operations role. Or maybe you’re fortunate enough to be hired into an entry level compliance role. Either way, here are a few tips and tricks to help you bring value and be relevant to your new team.  

  1. Understand the Role of Compliance vs. Legal 

The question about the difference between legal and compliance is common. It’s important that you understand your role and be able to articulate how compliance and legal roles are separate and distinct functions. Here’s the difference: 

  • Legal: This function is accountable for interpreting laws and regulations and providing legal advice which the compliance team then uses to work with the business to “operationalize.” In addition to other legal work, such as contract review and transactions, the legal team focuses on managing litigation and generally protecting the organization’s interests. 
  • Compliance: This function ensures the organization has processes in place to adhere to laws, regulations, and internal policies. Compliance is accountable for developing a strategy to prevent, detect, and correct issues and supporting accountable business leaders in implementing that strategy.  

Another way of thinking about it: legal is accountable and focused on “doing what’s legal,” and compliance can help by ensuring discussions gets escalated to “doing what’s right.” That being said, a strong partnership exists between the two teams, and they are often closely aligned, coordinated and working together on various initiatives.  

  1. Become a Compliance Expert 

There are many tools and resources to support you in developing your “Compliance IQ.”  This effort never ends, and is one I continue to invest in through being involved with the HCCA (Health Care Compliance Association) and from networking, mentoring, compliance certification courses, and overall best practices and benchmarking. No matter how experienced you are in compliance, the recently released General Compliance Program Guidance from the Office of Inspector General (OIG) is a great starting point and excellent roadmap for compliance professionals. 

  1. Develop Your Soft Skills 

If you enjoy rolling up your sleeves and solving problems, you chose the right job. A day in the life of a compliance professional, whether you’re entry-level or running the compliance team, is about developing relationships with operations leaders and their teams across all areas of the organization. It’s also about helping them solve problems and implement solutions that fix identified issues. As you continue to build your hard skills and compliance expertise, it is also important to develop your soft skills. 

During that first interview of mine, the interviewer told me, “I need someone who can build relationships, is strategic and innovative, and can influence up, down, and across the organization.”  I never forgot that, and used that as my roadmap in building my skillset to be a more effective compliance professional. It’s still my guide as I continue to find new ways to grow in my role today. I challenge you to test yourself and do the same! 

Jenny O’Brien, JD, MS, CHC is 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 boards of Stellar Health and YouCompli. 

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