How Board Service Can Make You a Better CECO

September 22, 2020
Ben DiPietro

We often talk about the need for boards to recognize the skillsets of chief ethics and compliance officers, how those skills can be an asset to a board’s work in mitigating risk, and protecting reputation, and why that makes CECOs ideal director candidates.

While that was part of a discussion I moderated at the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics virtual conference last week with my panelists, AARP’s Ellen Hunt, and LRN’s David Greenberg, we also talked about how serving on a board can improve the way a CECO does their job.

Before he came to LRN, and before he was named to a corporate board, Greenberg was a CECO for Altria. He said when he reported to the board, he only had a snapshot of what boards actually do. Knowing what he does now, having a full understanding of board priorities, board culture, how everything fits together, has helped him--and the handful of other CECOs who serve on boards--in their roles as CECOs, or in other executive roles. 

“They are crisper and better prepared to know what their boards will ask, they’re better able to position their work in the context of other board and company priorities,” said Greenberg.

Having been a board member, Greenberg said if he were now to return to a CECO role, he would “totally revamp” how he thought about board reporting and metrics. 

“I’d work really hard to establish offline relationships with board members and the oversight chair; I’d work even more closely with legal, audit, and HR; and I’d focus as much attention and priority as I could on how what and I and the ethics function can do to impact culture and outcomes,” he said.

 

What boards are interested in are outcomes. Reporting to the board that focuses on activities leaves boards “kind of bored” compared to the other issues with which they are contending, said Greenberg.

 

“We as CECOs are missing a real opportunity to being able to talk about our impact on the culture, and the impact on filling the gap between what we are promising to the world and what we’re delivering,” he said. 

CECOs have a huge opportunity to show they are strategic thinkers, and that they make important contributions to the organization’s culture, said Hunt. And it doesn’t matter where you are in the organization, you need to build offline relationships with directors.

“The more you know what’s relevant and important to your board members, a better executive you will be, no matter what your level is in the organization,” said Hunt. 

Connecting the dots of what you are doing, and working with HR, legal, and audit to show how it all goes together, is key. “Your board members don’t really want to see siloed reports that have nothing to do with the organization being successful,” said Hunt. “Impact and outcomes. ... Why does it matter?”

About the Author

Ben DiPietro

Joined LRN in October 2018 after 30 years as a journalist, including seven years at The Wall Street Journal, including Risk & Compliance Journal and was a creator of the WSJ Crisis of the Week column. In 2015 was named one of the 100 most influential people in business ethics by Ethisphere Institute. Spent 14 years as a reporter in Hawaii, 11 with The Associated Press.

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