"Wot's compliance ever done for us?" 


I was running a workshop last weekend, and listened carefully to a Food Hygeine Inspector, working for the relevant Government agency.  This is a man in his forties, who has worked in this area ever since he graduated from University.  Well qualified, and with bags of experience under his belt.  Amusingly, the acronym for his own agency was, until 2013, exactly the same as our own Regulator.

He spoke, briefly, about the ways in which his role had changed over the years, within the FSA.  There was a time when his own professionalism was an intrinsic part of his role as a food inspector.  The role required expertise, insight, observational capacities, and the exercise of careful, forensic and diagnostic skills.  That is no longer the case.

Now, it is about checklists.  They are long checklists, and every few months, they become a bit longer still.  His role no longer involves the exercise of his professional judgement, indeed the time and space available for such a capacity is now increasingly excluded by the emphasis on completing the checklist.  It is an interesting conundrum when an organisation recruits highly-qualified graduates for responsible roles, and then redefines that role so that a jerbil could handle it.  OK, a jerbil with good hand-eye coordination.

This is the implicit quality of compliance.  Anyone can actually do it.  You don't actually need to understand very much at all, in order to 'do' compliance.  If you are a food hygeine inspector, you don't need to understand how bacteria are transmitted, or the likely strains of bacteria and their relative infective properties: you merely need to tick the relevant box which indicates that a risk is present or a rule has been breached.  The same kind of principle is largely true of our own profession:  compliance spots a breach in relation to a checklist of requirements, whereas professionalism knows why a given requirement may not, in a given case, be relevant to what is going on, or if that requirement may in fact be nuanced by some other highly relevant consideration.

The nature of compliance inherently denigrates professionalism.  It doesn't encourage ethical behaviour, merely a good eye for box-ticking.  In fact it switches the focus of the professional adviser - instead of operating in a way which emphasises, depends on, and develops our professional expertise, and focuses on the client and his or her needs, we end up obsessing about something else.  Compliance allows Social Workers to ignore the needs of their clients, whilst closely following due process.  Compliance allows patients to languish unnecessarily in hospital whilst medics cluster anxiously around their computer screens.  Compliance allows the bureaucrat to claim that they have done something whereas nothing of any real significance or substance has been delivered to the end user.  Compliance is an ever-inflating black-hole, devoid of real talent, vision and genuine empathy.

This is why we have the 'Best Practice' adviser framework on Clarity, our back-office system.  'Best Practice' is about having a professional advice proposition which delivers the very best outcomes to your clients.  'Best Practice' refocuses the adviser on the client.  It supplies a broad framework to facilitate the professional adviser - and providing it is followed, the adviser will discover that he or she has actually been compliant, all along.
 

Kevin Moss, 29/01/2016