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Let’s Reset What’s Possible

Let’s Reset What’s Possible

The world has changed. Today’s corporate climate is being held to a higher standard than ever before, and it’s the people from within who are setting the bar.

What makes me most excited about leading Syntrio right now is our company ethos — why we do what we do. We are a compliance company, sure. But we aren’t here just to meet mandates or check shareholder boxes. Our mission is to create more positive, inclusive, and high-performing workplaces. Which is what I set out to do nearly 20 years ago.

In 2004 the business world witnessed a sea change around corporate accounting and compliance, primarily driven by some of the most notable examples of corporate fraud in American history. Companies like Enron, BP, and Siemens were determined to find holes in the laws that would allow them to exploit their markets, put the environment at risk, and undermine investor confidence in the institutions we once admired.

Sarbanes-Oxley was passed (also known as the “Public Company Accounting Reform and Investor Protection Act”), and the world began a slow but deliberate transformation to improve governance, deploy financial controls, and address cultural weaknesses that would restore balance and predictability in our global markets.

At this time, I joined Ethicspoint, a small company based out of Portland, Oregon, with a bold vision for the future. Our team felt sure we had to allow employees to be a part of the solution — a solution that would quickly identify “bad actors” and force broad-scale reform across companies and the leaders making these questionable choices.

When I left Ethicspoint in 2010, our reporting solution had become the industry standard. We had opened channels of communication focused on compliance reports and whistleblower controls for thousands of public and privately held companies.

We certainly got our fair share of high-value reports, and I know our customers benefited from a deeper understanding of where employee behavior was disconnected from leadership assumptions. But we also saw a lot of “noise,” and these reporting solutions were quickly filled with a never-ending amount of HR issues. Despite our best intentions to protect investors from fraud, we may have ultimately created the world’s most efficient complaint line.

Looking back on all the ideas and changes we enabled, I can’t help to feel both proud and conflicted. We built a great business, created hundreds of high-value jobs, AND helped to mainstream compliance as a corporate function. But did we make a difference?

In a post-Sarbanes world, it was transparent that those companies would invest in systems to meet the law’s mandates. But we have to ask, “has this model worked?” Does it produce the intended outcomes? Is it possible we can redefine the path forward and, in doing so, manifest the changes we all hoped for years ago?

The world has changed. Business outcomes are being redefined by employees demanding a new level of engagement. From my perspective, the shift forward has to focus on culture, continuous learning, and employee empowerment. We can deliver compliance and risk models that meet and maybe exceed the letter of the law. But we must focus on people first. Business management guru Peter Drucker noted that “culture will eat strategy for lunch.” Words I certainly would have smirked at in 2008, but today, absolutely ring true.

So what comes next?

This November, we are launching Engage, a wholly redesigned customer experience platform. This brings together our respective technologies and content libraries, allowing our 6000 customers to connect with their teams and meet this new world with strength and confidence. We remain committed to traditional compliance mandates but are moving business performance and employee engagement to the front of the line.

At Syntrio, we want to ensure our teams listen to their customers and solve the more significant challenges. Our high-value, easy-to-consume learning tracks focus on a positive, inclusive, “listen up” culture through fun, engaging, and impactful content. And with these principles behind us, our customers have the best of both worlds — a wildly aspirational partner committed to the team’s performance and an equally pragmatic approach to the realities of time and budgets.

It’s been several years since I have had this type of opportunity — to rethink and lead an organization committed to the impact that culture, inclusion, equity, training, and employee feedback can have on business acceleration and performance. Attitude reflects leadership. I care about our ability to transform the companies who partner with us, and together we can spark everything that matters.

Let’s reset what’s possible and celebrate every person, company, and culture we make better.

Tom O’Keefe

CEO, Syntrio

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