This past week, I accomplished two milestones – I had my 40th birthday and, on Saturday, I completed my first marathon.  When I decided to start training for the marathon in January I could only go about 5 miles.  At that point I genuinely had no idea if I’d be able to finish the race.  But complete it I did, and during the process, it occurred to me that being successful at long and difficult compliance projects requires similar tools to completing 26.2 miles.  Here are four lessons I learned training for the marathon that apply equally to successfully completing an arduous compliance task. 

1.      Find Out How Others Have Done It, and Plan Accordingly

How did I go from 5 miles to 26?  Easy – I asked my friend, who’d finished the same marathon I was going to participate in, how she had trained, then used the training plan she had found online and followed it religiously.  How do you finish major projects in compliance?  Easy – there are many resources out there to help you with your compliance program planning.  Blogs, books, networking groups, conferences, mentors… use them to help you to develop your plan. 

Let’s say you need to update your Code of Conduct.  It sounds like an easy process, but, nearly every time I’ve seen it done, it has taken the better part of a year.  If you have significant outside help, it’ll probably still take six months from kick-off call to publication.  Plan accordingly, after finding out from others how they did it. 

Another example of things that take longer than you think they should?  Purchasing and implementing e-learning.  By the time you’ve tried out several courses, negotiated the contract, updated the materials to be personalized to your company, and gotten through the data privacy and IT contracting… it’ll be at least four months. 

You can’t train for a marathon overnight.  Nor can you complete a Code of Conduct overhaul, implement e-learning training, or do a proper risk assessment in a week.  Find out how long it will take, and plan accordingly.

2.      Find a Support Person or Team

Every weekend since May 1, I had escalating training sessions.  My husband did the marathon with me, and we went from 10 miles to 22 over the four month “official” training period.  Without him, I doubt I would have stuck to the program – especially when it was cold or raining.  With him, I felt responsible to another person, and I had someone to complain to when it was hard.

Compliance officers often feel like they’re on their own little deserted island, or in a playground where nobody wants to join them on the swing set.  It can be very lonely and frustrating to work in our profession, and that’s why you need a support team. Find a person or, better yet, a group of people who can support you.  Whether it’s a formal arrangement – like a company-sponsored mentor – or an informal arrangement – like the co-worker in HR who you get on with so well – find someone who can listen and support you emotionally. 

3.      Keep Going Even when You Don’t Want To

Did I mention that training involved going outside for 14 miles in the rain?  It was miserable.  I didn’t want to do it.  By August I was so tired of training, I almost didn’t go one weekend.  It would have been easy to let one weekend turn into two.  It would have been easy to stop or back off.    

But….it was worth it in the end to keep going.  Finishing the marathon was worth it.  Likewise, there will be times in your big compliance projects when you just want to quit.  It will sometimes feel easier to let yourself off the hook or to make excuses for why what you want to do can’t be done.  Don’t.  Take accountability, talk to your support person or team, and get on with it.  It’ll be worth it to hit your goals.

4.      Celebrate the Wins

The moment I completed the marathon, I began hearing the dreaded question, “So what are you going to do next?  Another marathon??”  Stop.  Take your moment to celebrate.  Publishing a new Code of Conduct is a huge achievement.  Sending out the e-learning course you’ve worked hard to personalize and load into the Learning Management System is a huge accomplishment.  Completing your risk assessment is a big moment.  Celebrate it. 

If you simply move from one task to the next without stopping to enjoy the moment, you’ll never feel like you’ve really completed anything.  Instead of immediately moving to the next task, take yourself out to lunch, set up a happy hour to celebrate, or take the afternoon off.  Be kind to yourself.  Whether anyone else celebrates the Code of Conduct launch or gives you a high-five for getting out the e-learning, you can always celebrate yourself. 

Finishing the marathon was daunting – but actually – starting the training and committing to it was harder than completing it.  Once you’ve committed to a task and laid out a plan, the only thing left is to complete it.  I’ll be waiting at the finish line to cheer you on!