Ask a Compliance Officer Series: Richard Eschle of Taiho Oncology discusses Compliance lessons learned from COVID-19
By Timothy P. Glynn
We're continuing our series where Seton Hall Law School’s Center for Health & Pharmaceutical Law sits down with a life sciences compliance officer to find out what is top-of-mind for him or her right now. Here is the next installment in this series, a conversation with Richard Eschle.
How has the disruption caused by COVID-19 altered the relationship that Compliance has with senior management? How did you lay the early groundwork for Compliance's current role in guiding the company through such a new and challenging environment?
I’m not sure that our relationships have been altered, because I am fortunate to have a really good working relationship with my business partners/clients; but the current situation has afforded an opportunity for us to strengthen those relationships by working together to address the challenges the COVID-19 situation presents. This has been true across the board, whether partnering with senior management to adapt business practices or working with individuals to address specific situations.
I think maybe the distinction between “altered” and “strengthened” warrants a little further thought, and that discussion ties nicely to the next question, regarding “early groundwork.” The relationship between Compliance and business partners has to be based on a few fundamental principles, among which are mutual respect, assuming good intentions, and a genuine desire to understand and contribute to the achievement of business goals. Your partners have to see you as an engaged and interested partner who brings value to the relationship; a partner who explains the environment, provides alternatives, and empowers them to gauge risk and make decisions. Your partners have to appreciate the compliance obligations attendant to their roles; you have to let them own it. And when they do, they’re just as successful managing that aspect of their work as any other.
Going forward, as the business slowly returns to its previous day-to-day operating environment, what are some lessons you expect will have been learned from current experiences?
Lesson 1: In-person interactions are invaluable, and largely taken for granted. Not having the ability to go and see someone highlighted for me the limitations and inadequacy of other means of communication to replicate that experience. Value the ability to sit with someone and have a discussion. Make time for it, be patient, wait for it if you have to.
Lesson 2: What happens when the processes we’ve worked so hard to develop don’t fit the situation with which we’re faced? We have to go back to the principles that the processes are designed to affect. Don’t get caught up in a process just because it exists. Don’t limit your ability to respond to a new situation because you’re trying to make it fit into an existing process. Go back to the principles you're trying to affect. Use good faith reasoning, and either analogize or distinguish the current situation from the former, the usual, or the ideal, and then see if you can’t adapt your processes to meet the need. But don’t do it alone: bring your business partners along with you. Share your reasoning, share your analysis, educate them. Ideally, let them find (or lead them to) a solution with your guidance.
Lesson 3: The current situation and our return to a more “normal” state is an opportunity to either reinforce strong and effective relationships or rebuild or renew those that are less than optimal. You can control how your colleagues and business partners view their relationship with you. But, that takes as much work, or maybe even more, as writing policies and reviewing business plans. Situations like we’re experiencing now stress all of us, our resources, our patience, and our relationships. They also allow us to get a glimpse at the strength and quality of those relationships. If interactions and communications have been successful during this period, don’t forget to reinforce that—write a memo to the Compliance Committee highlighting and praising successes, as well as identifying areas for improvement. If you wish that things had gone better, identify those areas too, but include a plan of action to build stronger relationships and then use this situation to make those changes.
Timothy Glynn is the Senior Associate Dean and Andrea J. Catania Endowed Professor of Law. His scholarship focuses on the areas of employment and corporate law, including compliance. He also supervises the Law School's Healthcare Compliance Certificate Programs held in the U.S., Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America. Professor Glynn's biography and publications are available online.