As the compliance lead for George Weston Limited, the owner of Weston Foods and majority shareholder of Loblaw Companies Limited and Choice Properties REIT, Erin Legge must tackle the challenge of communicating and fostering awareness of compliance across a large and complex organization. Ethisphere Magazine editor Tyler Lawrence got a chance to chat with her about creating partnerships with business leaders, identifying risk areas, and ensuring compliance is seen as a value-add for the whole company.
Tyler Lawrence: Can you please provide an overview of your role and current focus area at George Weston?
Erin Legge: I’ve been with the Weston Group of Companies for 17 years. I’m a Chartered Professional Accountant, and I’ve worked in various finance, compliance, and operations roles. My current role is Vice President, Compliance for George Weston Limited. My team is responsible for ensuring that we keep compliance top of mind and ensuring that we have effective compliance programs at the company.
TL: How can compliance professionals support their business leaders and vice versa? Do you have any advice or thoughts on how to create consistent two-way communication and working relationships?
EL: It is essential that you have regular touchpoints with each of the business leaders. This helps you, as a compliance professional, stay abreast of what is happening in the business, and it also helps you build credibility with the business leaders. It is important to be seen as a business partner while recognizing the independent nature of the compliance function.
TL: How do you go about building those regular touchpoints? Is that something that you have systematically implemented with each business leader or does it depend on your relationship with the business?
EL: I recommend scheduling touchpoints throughout the year on a regular cadence that works for you and the business leader. The regular meeting cadence helps to ensure that you’re staying abreast of what’s going on in the business as well.
TL: How do you recommend that compliance professionals work with the business leaders to prompt or support them in ensuring compliance stays front of mind with their employees?
EL: An ongoing communications and awareness plan is essential to keep compliance top of mind with employees. For example, on an annual basis, a compliance professional could work with their business leaders to identify the key compliance topics for their business in the coming year. After that framework is established, it is important to engage the stakeholders about the cadence set out in the communications plan and the mediums used for employee engagement.
I also think tailoring the message and the vehicle of communication to the various audiences within your business is fundamental to ensuring that you are providing a message that resonates with and impacts the employees. Ultimately, it is about ensuring everyone is aware of their role and responsibilities for compliance. Everyone has a role to play.
TL: Do you have your own communications professionals as part of your compliance team or are you working with the internal communications group at the company?
EL: We primarily handle those types of communications internally.
TL: Do you have any advice, lessons, or experiences around how you communicate compliance as a value-add to support the business, and how not to be seen only as a cost center or burden?
EL: Good question. Compliance should not be seen as a “policing” role. While one aspect of compliance is definitely a challenge function, another aspect is working with the business to ensure the various regulatory compliance risks are being mitigated to an acceptable level determined by the business.
And when you look at each regulatory compliance risk area, it should not be with a one-size-fits-all approach. Each risk area has a different impact on the business, and therefore, what you do to mitigate that risk area should be based on the risks posed to the business. This is where you add value and help to embed compliance into the day-to-day.
TL: In terms of the identification of those risk areas, who else are you talking to as you’re making those assessments? Is that a conversation that you’re having just between you and the CEO? Who’s part of that conversation?
EL: It will vary based on the business, but my recommendation is to have discussions with a broad group of business leaders. It’s not just one individual, because you need to have the perspective of all areas of the business. So you would be engaging the whole management team to understand what risks are posed to their business.
TL: When you put a new control or policy in place, how do you ensure it’s rolled out as efficiently as possible?
EL: Here, it is important to work with your business when determining the right control or policy and its implementation. The business ultimately owns the control and thus has to be involved to ensure it fits within the business’s process, otherwise the control will never operate effectively.
TL: How do you think compliance professionals and their respective business leaders should measure success in this area?
EL: Measuring the performance of compliance is very important. One way to do this is through an employee survey that has specific compliance-related questions. Embedding this within the company’s existing engagement survey or employee survey helps to emphasize that compliance isn’t a standalone concept. It is part of the culture of the business.
TL: Any final thoughts that you’d like to share?
EL: For me, embedding compliance into the day-to-day of a business is the most important thing to do, from a compliance perspective. Since compliance is about how employees in the business act to comply with laws and company policies, it is a choice. Employees choose to act one way over another. The simpler we can make it to be compliant, ensuring controls are embedded into existing processes, compliance then becomes a well-used muscle. The better off the organization will be.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of Erin Legge only. Interview from October 2019.
About the Expert:
Erin Legge is Vice President, Compliance at George Weston Limited. She’s been part of the Weston group of companies for more than 16 years, serving in a variety of increasingly more senior roles across its businesses. Throughout her career, whether in Finance, Operations, or Compliance, Erin has demonstrated her passion for continuous improvement by refining processes, enhancing policies and controls, streamlining operations, and managing and mitigating risk. She implemented the Internal Control Compliance program at GWL and the Business Continuity Management initiative and the Crisis Management protocol for Weston Foods, and most recently, she spearheaded the effort to secure third-party assurance that one of the company’s compliance programs met ISO 19600 guidelines.
Before becoming a Chartered Professional Accountant, Erin spent eight years enjoying the slopes in Whistler, B.C., eventually moving into the finance department with Whistler Blackcomb Mountain Resorts. Erin has a Bachelor of Physical Education from McMaster University and received her Chartered Accountant designation from the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia.