The CEO is what I consider an accidental entrepreneur. She has a great work ethic, knows her industry, and has innovative services of great value to her clients. But she never prepared to run and grow a business. As with many leaders of small and midsize businesses, knowing how to do something can be very different from knowing how to run a business that does that thing.
As my team worked on software projects, we noticed a number of clear HIPAA compliance issues unrelated to our work. I suggested to the CEO that we could provide a HIPAA assessment and action plan to address issues in a cost-effective manner. She admitted the company had issues it needed to address, but she sighed and said she had to focus all of her resources on revenue generation. She wanted to address these issues, but said they would simply have to wait.
As an entrepreneur and investor in start-up companies, I get it: starting and growing a business can be a bit sloppy at times. I even consider this to be normal. Young companies often have too few staff doing too many different jobs. Too little is documented, and deferring expenses can be critical just to survive.
So what is such a struggling or growing company to do? I believe it starts with leadership. A business culture of proper, measured risk management leads to the foundation successful businesses can build on. Compliance cannot be treated as an add-on to work. It must be a normal fact of life, addressed in each new process and with each new employee. And it must be continually supported and reinforced.
This approach does not have to be expensive. In fact, when thoughtful leaders build their companies with a focus on the future, they ingrain their work processes and work culture with the tools that inherently reduce risk and naturally build compliant systems. In the long run, this is less expensive, too.
Even businesses (or departments) without such a foundation can implement a plan that methodically builds a new foundation. But it takes discipline, focus, and leadership. That leadership ideally comes from the CEO or COO, but it can also come from thoughtful leaders within departments who add business value through culture and execution.
Times are tough for many business organizations. But I contend that by using compliance requirements as a guide, even gradually, many businesses can become stronger and more valuable without breaking the bank (or themselves).
Glenn S. Phillips, the president of Forte' Incorporated, works with business leaders who want to leverage technology and understand risks within. He is the author of the book Nerd-to-English and you can find him on twitter at @NerdToEnglish.