September 26, 2022 | What's Hot | 8 min read

If you’ve been shopping lately, you’ve probably noticed that retail chain stores are already starting to roll out their holiday decorations – even before the first days of autumn. But in our rush to get to the next “big” holiday, we don’t want to forget a lesser known but arguably way more important celebration: National Compliance Officer Day.

National Compliance Officer Day, which originated in the United States, is celebrated annually on September 26 by die-hard compliance professionals and those that appreciate them. It is meant to honor the work of all compliance officers who strive to achieve an ethical and safe environment at their respective organizations.

In honor of the occasion, the Skillsoft team wanted to recognize our own compliance officer, Stephen Martin, senior vice president, Legal Compliance who recently joined the company. Stephen has been working with us in various capacities for quite some time, and we’re so pleased that we snagged him for good.

Happy National Compliance Officer Day, Stephen!

A Day in the Life of a Compliance Officer

Compliance officers have many roles and responsibilities. They are often tasked with solving problems that organizations didn’t realize were problems in the first place. So, we were curious to learn more about how Stephen spends his time. Here’s the inside scoop, in his own words.

Skillsoft: What is your role at Skillsoft?

Stephen: My role as SVP Legal Compliance at Skillsoft is to oversee the company’s compliance program – making sure that it helps to reduce risk and maximize performance. I provide support to Skillsoft employees, and the business as a whole, on all things compliance-related. Specific examples of what I’ve been working on lately include:

  • Helping to oversee the company’s data protection and privacy initiatives alongside the information security team
  • Working on the enhancement of the company’s compliance program to ensure the program meets government expectations for a publicly traded company and is practical for our employees in helping us maintain an effective compliance and risk framework
  • Working on a steering committee responsible for designing, implementing, and monitoring Skillsoft’s Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) program and related processes

Honestly, one of the biggest challenges that you’ll find in many organizations is that their compliance officer is siloed – working only on policies or code of conduct. Since joining Skillsoft, I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a lot of different areas in the Skillsoft’s business – working with different business units and teaming with various functions such as human resources, procurement, internal audit, and information security.

Skillsoft understands that ethical business practices and compliance is a critical part of everything we do as an organization, and that makes it easier for us to proactively address potential risks and issues. Creating a forward-thinking compliance program that is tailored to the risks specific to your organization is the best way to help your executive team understand and reduce risk in the business and in strategic initiatives – from entries into new markets, to launching new products and services, and more.

As your business grows, compliance officers should be thinking: What does this mean from compliance standpoint?

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Skillsoft: What did you want to be when you “grew up”?

Stephen: I have always loved sports; I even played baseball in college. It would have been cool to be professional baseball player!

But seriously, I love compliance because every day is different.

On any given day I could be working on a third-party diligence issue, a potential acquisition, data protection policies in Germany, an internal investigation and/or addressing employment law in Brazil – just to name a few. Every “inning” is different, and I need to keep my head in the game as compliance officers often get curveballs thrown at them.

Skillsoft: What kind of education/training should compliance officers undertake?

Stephen: Most compliance officers are lawyers by trade, which can be a very helpful background as they navigate the wide array of issues they are faced with every day.

After I became compliance officer, my first in-house jobs were to help troubled companies handle significant government investigations and recover from significant points of compliance failure. It was in roles that I decided to pursue an MBA in addition to my legal background to better understand the issues these companies were facing from a finance and accounting perspective, helping me to be a more effective compliance officer. At Skillsoft, it is great to be at a company where I am supported in building a practical and effective ethics and compliance program, get to work proactively on compliance issues with senior management and Board, as well as interact with our customers in the compliance training market.

Of course, I also think it is important for compliance officers to continue growing their skills as they advance their career – and this applies to everyone from entry-level to leadership. I’m currently taking a leadership coaching course from Percipio, “Executive Coaching for Transformational Leaders at Skillsoft,” which is helping me to enhance my own leadership skills.

Skillsoft: What does a typical day look like for you?

Stephen: I’m typically up early with my kids and getting them off to school! How and when I start the workday truly depends on what or when issues come up and from what part of the world. You never quite know what any day will be like as a compliance officer. Most of my day involves addressing a variety of issues, ranging from our code of conduct to risk management concerns to advice on data protection agreements as an example. I strive to be responsive to the business as issues arise as you never know what will come up each day. I also work to learn as much about the business as possible to better understand Skillsoft’s risk profile and how our control functions are working.

Skillsoft: What are some of the biggest challenges for compliance officers?

Stephen: For many compliance officers, getting up to speed on the company you’ve joined and its business practices is a challenge. The more you know about your organization, the better equipped you are to come up with a clear plan of action for your compliance program – one that touches on all potential risk areas and how to be more efficient and effective as a compliance officer.

Norm Ford, Skillsoft’s VP of Compliance, wrote a great blog post on how compliance officers can start to improve their organization’s compliance program within the first 30 days of joining the company. He mentioned that compliance officers should:

  • Get to know the existing compliance program, including any perceived gaps
  • Look at all the data you can; learn the business
  • Pivot or make changes as necessary
  • Set achievable goals

My recommendation is to make it clear to your colleagues that you are a trusted advisor – and not the resident “no person” at your organization. Being a trusted advisor means understanding the company, working with the team to find an effective path forward when faced with any problems, and just being generally available.

Skillsoft: What is the best part of your job?

Stephen: Every day, I come to work with a clear purpose. I know that I am here to help all employees and stakeholders make Skillsoft as successful as possible. I know that I am helping to build something special at Skillsoft and to me that makes my job fun, interesting, and exciting.

Skillsoft: What do you wish you had known about compliance before starting the job?

Stephen: I’ve been in compliance for more than 20 years, and I’d say my biggest takeaway is that your reputation and career is all you have. Make sure you are doing things the right way. If you need to stand up to an executive leader who might choose to do something unethical, you have to be comfortable doing it. I think that advice is applicable to everyone – even those in non-compliance roles. Always protect your reputation and do the right thing. Stand up and say something if you see unethical or illegal behavior.

Secondarily, it is so important to understand the issues you are addressing everyday so you can explain them in plain language to everyone from the CEO of your company to the new sales person. That type of practical advice and support can really help move people forward in their jobs.

Skillsoft: Do you have any career advice for other compliance officers or aspiring compliance officers?

Stephen: Be curious. Compliance officers need to figure out a lot of issues they do not have specific expertise in. You must be comfortable figuring things out in a fast-paced environment with competing business needs. If you don’t understand something, figure it out.

And finally, be proactive. Too many compliance officers are just focused on the compliance program “elements” or reactive when issues pop up; yet, the best way to manage risk and help your organization be successful is by envisioning issues and having a practical plan to address them before they happen.

Wish your Compliance Officer A Happy Day!

The team at Skillsoft is thrilled to work with Stephen every day. If you appreciate your compliance officer’s efforts, feel free to download and customize this digital greeting card to help share their story with your community – today, or every day.