Christian Hunt: How mmhmm helps bring behavioral science to compliance

Ganda Suthivarakom

Jan 25, 2021

Big, embarrassing corporate errors often boil down to decisions made by individual people. That’s the theory behind Human Risk, a London-based compliance firm run by Christian Hunt. The former financial services regulator and compliance officer is passionate about helping companies encourage ethical, thoughtful behavior from their employees—even when they’re under duress.

But teaching people to do the right thing means getting them to pay attention to the dry details of regulation. That’s why Hunt loves introducing mmhmm to his clients. It breaks people out of the monotony of the slide deck and introduces the delight that keeps people engaged.

We talked to Hunt about how he moved his business to the digital world, and how he hopes to convey that while compliance is serious business, teaching it doesn’t have to be. 

How do you explain your company, Human Risk, to people?

We all intuitively understand the idea that human decision-making can lead to bad things happening. And that might be a decision to do something bad, or it might be a decision not to do something good. We often think about risk or making mistakes as doing something, but actually, inaction can be just as dangerous. I focus on human decision-making as a risk. We tend to think of people as the biggest asset and most organizations, but actually, they're also the largest single cause of risk, either causing problems in the first place or making them worse. And so what I do is help people whose job it is to influence that decision-making, to find ways to do that that engages better with people. 

Working in Compliance, my clients naturally think of themselves as being experts in regulation, which of course they are. But to fulfil their mandates, they're actually in the business of influencing human decision-making. So communication and persuasion skills we might traditionally associate more with sales roles are also key components of the 21st-century Compliance toolkit.

How has the pandemic impacted your business?

When I started this business last year, I had a business plan that involved physically being onsite with my clients, both in London where I'm based and across the globe. Digital delivery was my Plan B and was only going to be a small part of my business. When we could no longer travel, my Plan B became my Plan A, and I started to look at how I could engage with my clients virtually. That meant investing heavily in ensuring that I had the right setup and the skills to be effective in delivering my services remotely. 

The pandemic also impacted the nature of what my clients are doing. As they moved from being mostly office-based businesses to remote working, the challenges facing compliance officers also changed. Not only did they have to manage a different set of risks, but how they needed to engage with their target audience changed as well. Techniques that might have worked well in a physical environment might be wholly unsuited to a virtual one.

How does mmhmm help you keep people engaged?

If you look at the employees that you're trying to influence as a target audience, it is almost like a marketing campaign where you are trying to persuade them to behave in a certain way. When I'm trying to persuade people who work in compliance, human resources, or their C suite of companies that there is a better way that they could be doing compliance, I use the tool to get my message across to them. If I want to persuade them to engage an audience themselves, I've got to engage my own audience; I have to live the values. 

I can be platform agnostic when it comes to delivery. 

Given I'm presenting in a corporate environment, I'm often limited in both the format and software that I'm able to use. Mmhmm solves both problems. The fact that it’s a virtual camera means I can be platform agnostic when it comes to delivery. Equally, even when I'm asked to use a particular slide template, there's room for me to present my content in a creative and attention-grabbing manner. 

What's great is that we're showing them something they're unlikely to come across on their own—after all, unlike us, compliance & ethics officers don't spend their time researching and testing virtual presentation tools! We're also very familiar with the obstacles they might face in installing new software in a corporate environment, so we can help them to make the business case and navigate any compliance hurdles. Fortunately, the one obstacle they won't face is in actually using it. One of the reasons we love recommending it is that we know it is easy to use; our clients don't have the time to learn yet another piece of software.

What good do you see coming from the pandemic?

Being forced to adopt new ways of working can be quite stressful. But the crash course we've all received in digital working has highlighted how ineffective and inefficient some of the old ways of working were. Improving the way we interact with one another in a digital environment is not only beneficial for our virtual interactions, I think it will also make us far more appreciative of the value of face-to-face interactions. 

These dynamics have also allowed me to strengthen partnerships with others who work in similar fields. During the summer, I was in regular dialogue with Richard Bistrong, an ethics and anti-bribery specialist. We both recognized that the skills and expertise we'd had to develop for our businesses are also the things compliance & ethics officers need to be successful in their roles in the new environment. Being able to engage effectively with a virtual audience isn't something that they've ever been trained to do. So we've jointly developed the Compliance Communication Toolkit to help them bridge that gap.

Without COVID, I probably also wouldn't have been collaborating with Richard on the Toolkit. Given the positive response we've had from the ethics & compliance community, I think that would've been a real missed opportunity!