As a compliance professional, conduct- ing investigations is an essential part of the job. We are tasked with pre-
venting and detecting wrongdoing, whether
it’s violations of laws, regulations, or internal
policies and procedures. Sometimes,
however, we come to the end of our
investigation and find that there was
no actual “violation” committed, but
there is a discernable culture problem
in the organization.
So what is the appropriate role
of the compliance professional when
investigations reveal significant cul-
ture problems? This is a difficult
question, because many leaders only want to
know if a law has been broken or some other
violation has occurred that jeopardizes the
organization. That is, after all, why they have
a compliance program and compliance profes-
sionals: to keep those things from happening.
Early warning signs
Culture can, however, be the precursor to com-
pliance problems, and an organization should
tend to those warning signs in order to pre-
vent escalation. The compliance professional
should be paying close attention to the types
of complaints that provide clues to a potential
organizational culture problem. A pattern
of complaints coming out of one particular
department, even if the complaints don’t all
specifically relate to the same issue, can be one
obvious warning sign. Widespread employee
visits to Compliance and Human Resources
(HR) with vague concerns or questions are
also red flags that should be looked at in more
detail. Compliance may not even hear of these
issues initially, because often employees will
first go to HR and complain about unfair
treatment, retaliation, or a hostile work envi-
ronment. HR will investigate the issue and
may find no actual “violation,” so the case
Another avenue for reporting in hospitals and large organizations is an event
tracking system. Problems with patient care
or other “events” are frequently reported
through those channels and may not be on
the compliance professional’s radar. Issues of
physician behavior or disruptions caused by
employees during patient care may be tracked
and managed without the awareness of the
by Susan Walberg
When culture is the issue
» Compliance investigations often serve to identify culture problems.
» If left unchecked, culture issues frequently escalate into actual compliance risks.
» Patterns of vague complaints may indicate a culture problem.
» Neutral parties, such as compliance professionals, are best suited to help resolve culture issues.
» Harassment, retaliation, or hostile work environment complaints are red flags.
Susan Walberg ( SWAL64@yahoo.com) is an Executive Health Care
Compliance Consultant-Independent in Laurel, MD. She is also the author of
the novel, Finding Maslow. /in/susanwalbergjd