The Leaders of Tech4Good: Meet Nick Gallo
We discuss authenticity, tenacity, and servanthood in times of crisis and after it with the leader of ComplianceLine
This article is the third one in “The Leaders of Tech4Good” series. Previously, we had interviews with Jillian Kowalchuk — the founder of Safe & The City — and Tamara Antonchyk — Project Coordinator at Let Kids Move.
Today, we will tell you about our third guest — the co-founder of ComplianceLine and, as he introduces himself on LinkedIn, Chief Servant, Captain Culture, and Ethics Evangelist. Dear readers, please, meet Nick Gallo!
Who is Nick Gallo?
Nick Gallo is an entrepreneur, business consultant, and ComplianceLine co-founder. Together with his brother, they established a company, which aimed to help their clients ensure compliance with ethical regulations and nurture a healthy atmosphere in the team. Nick is an amazing storyteller and an avid podcast host — he happily shares his experiences, views, and values. Nonetheless, he claims that his main job is being a father.
What is ComplianceLine? What part does technology play in it?
ComplianceLine is a platform for issue intake, case management, exclusion, and license checking. We serve companies who care about their employees and want to establish a compliance-powered corporate culture. There are numerous tools we offer, and the main one is an issue intake tool for business or, in simpler terms, a hotline. Usually, a hotline works like “I’m going to ask you 5 questions, please, answer them briefly”. Meanwhile, we try to incorporate a lot of empathy into those calls that are coming in — we want to give people an opportunity to blow their whistle if they were abused or sexually harassed, if they keep working everyday with a nut in their stomach. We want to make these people feel like somebody cares about them. After all, if the company uses us — they care. We also offer periphery tools for exit interviews, disclosures, license screening, liability transfer, business investigation. To get a better understanding of what ComplianceLine is, you need to see each individual tool.
So, not only you provide a software tool, but also you offer guidance on how to make the most of it?
Yes, it is a really smart way to put it. Software, essentially, is two-dimensional — it is on the screen. Our solution is three-dimensional because we have that human element with it. It’s not just a piece of software, it’s also a service that goes with it. We consider ourselves as a tech-enabled service company rather than a straight tech company. As we become an extension of our client’s team, that human element becomes more important than just a SaaS product. We offer a modern, post-Weinstein era compliance training, and the magnitude of this course is much higher than the industry standards are. It is based on putting our client experience and their employees’ experience first. Nobody wants to watch a sitcom from the 90s. This is a lot more interactive and based on behavioral psychology studies. We incorporate findings on adult learning, interaction, cognition into our platform, and it really helps to change behavior.
At the same time, we do not impose solutions on people — they always decide for themselves. But we can and want to be collaborative. We have experience of working with thousands different companies, so we can advise on which solution will be the best for a company of a certain size, budget, and timelines. We are advisors, who help people come up with the best solutions for themselves.
What are your plans and achievements at ComplianceLine?
Our plan is to make the world a better place. It is not just about the clients, I will be happy to help others who do not employ our company. I feel good walking around and planting seeds, knowing that in ten years or so, these seeds will grow into a forest. Me and my brother, we believe in the universal principle of reaping and sowing. You do not plant a bunch of corn and get oranges growing. What you plant is what you get. So we want to take that long-term view and pour it out into the market, trying to equip people who are in ethics, compliance, or HR business. Whether they are our clients or not, we give them tools to elevate what we believe in. If we do that, I think we can extend our reach beyond the six million people that we are serving right now. We want to turn these six million into fifty million, we want the world to be a better place. Before we get chewed and spit out by this world, we want to have a positive impact on it. And we are lucky to be in a business, where we can affect the quality of workplaces — places where most of us spend most of their days, working to pay rent and secure our families. You have to make this time purposeful, dignified, and pleasant.
Corporate cultures can sometimes seem fake and tyrannical if implemented aggressively. How do you avoid this? How do you crack these hard nuts?
It’s a really strong and nuanced question. Every organization has a mission page or a values page on their website. They all say “integrity”, “people”, “empathy”, and all that. At some level, it is all fake. It’s just words.
I view a leader as a root of the tree, not the top. Everything really starts with the leader — so you should start with leadership to try to change the culture. We had a client, a pretty decent size organization, and there was a new CEO who came in. This person really tried to change the culture, so we helped to create some tools, new reporting mechanisms, new idea lines. We gave voice to the people, and this voice echoed with what he stated should be changed about the culture.
Another point is, people need to feel safe — they should be able to say what they think, they should trust their leaders and each other, they should feel authenticity. People can see through inauthenticity better than they have been able to through recent history. We are engaged with a lot of marketing and advertising in our lives, and we are now conditioned to see through that stuff better than ever. The level of transparency in our lives and organizations is higher than it’s ever been.
So, to build a strong corporate culture, you as a leader have to get back to the foundation of trust and reestablish it in an authentic way. A leader, in my mind, is someone who can do the right thing and be an example for those around them. You don’t have to be a CEO to be a leader. If your CEO is old-fashioned and views his people as assets, labor units, are you going to be able to light up a light bulb above his head? I don’t know. But what you can do is control people you can touch, those people you interact with on a day-to-day basis. And if you can be a leader to these people, be a leader, and model your behavior accordingly. You can start pulling a cultural change even in a small team of five people. Once more and more people feel “wow, I can do this”, “wow, I feel at home here”, “wow, I can be my authentic self”, these feeling will spread and you will eventually bring an important change to the culture.
To build a strong corporate culture, you as a leader have to get back to the foundation of trust and reestablish it in an authentic way.
I do understand why large enterprises would need your services — people inside them could have lost a personal touch. But do small and medium businesses need help with ensuring compliance?
If you think about it this way: at what point is a small organization a big organization? At first, you have one or two people, and then you have six, and then you have twenty, and they have fifty, and then you have a hundred twenty. Is it big at a hundred twenty or a hundred twenty-one? You don’t know where is the line.
So, my point is, if you put these tools in place early, they will become a natural piece of your company as it keeps growing. These don’t have to be crazy tools, you don’t have to spend 8 percent of your budget on compliance tools. But people need to have these tools from day one. “Are you not comfortable coming and talking to me? Here is a way to report this online!”. If you introduce these tools early, you will not be caught off guard when your company grows. You cannot be sure that your corporate culture is a hundred percent healthy and trustful even if you are at ten people, let alone when you reach a hundred or more. People might not want to step out, to jeopardize their paycheck, to see how deep that ice of trust goes. Turning on a reactionary mode — “oh, we have a thousand people, and the culture is flawed” — will not work, you have to be proactive and introduce compliance tools when you are at fewer people and have no cultural issues.
If you put compliance tools in place early, they will become a natural piece of your company as it keeps growing.
What part do values play in your work? If you work with a company, do you try to evaluate or affect their actual values?
Nobody has corporate values that are not good things. Nobody has like “we take advantage of the poor”, “we want to dump chemicals into the ocean” — no one is declaring that. No organization will say “we are profits over people’ even if that is what they actually feel and believe in. Whatever a company says their values are, 99 percent of the time, I will say “those resonate with me, those are good things”.
At ComplianceLine, we are a culture-first company, a value-based organization, but we can control only what we can control. Our sphere of influence is giving advice to folks but not controlling their organization or impacting their culture directly. What I can do is give them a tool to impact their culture. I also can set the tone inside my own organization. I can make sure that the words we put on the wall and the deeds our employees see coincide. After all, if our employees love our company, so will our clients, and this love will inspire them to drive a change inside their organizations.
Another thing is, some company could have had three CEOs in the last decade — they come and go. Meanwhile, there are employees, a small office of people, who worked through all these years and changes. These very people, not another CEO, are the ones who know the true values of an organization. And we have to work with this small office to understand what the company is truly about and what foundations it rests upon. By giving voice to these employees, we help to develop an understanding of values inside the company.
What ethical values do you believe are the most important in today’s world?
The most important value anybody can have is servanthood. That’s a focus on others, that’s the opposite of selfishness. Focusing on others is the most important value ever, and if you can do it in a right way, if you can treat others the way you want to be treated, a lot of other specific values kind of take care of themselves. Eventually, empathy, integrity, respect, and many others — all these boil down to servanthood.
The other important value, which really resonated with me and my company, is accountability — doing the things that we say we are going to do. This, in turn, translates in transparency, care, and honesty.
The third value is tenacity. If there is an impediment in your way, you have to find a way to go over, around, under, or through it. Tenacity is all about working hard and not giving up. It is about excellence, hard work, grip. If I had two people to pick from: a full-blown genius and an average-IQ but the most hardworking person, I would pick the second guy a hundred percent of the time. If you see a guy like Elon Musk, who is very-very smart, — believe me, he did not just got there, he worked incredibly hard.
So, tenacity and accountability served on the plate of servanthood — this combination will evolve into many more values that the other people want to see in us.
What advice can you give other companies?
I would advise two things.
One, have a good idea of what you can and cannot control. We all have this sphere around us of what we can influence, and we spend a lot of time trying to control things beyond this sphere. It brings a lot of wasted energy, a lot of wasted emotions, a lot of chaos. So, you have to understand where is that sphere of control.
Two, zoom out a little from this myopic dollar focus to a longer-term perspective. It will give you a lot more room to do those right things, which will generate the results that you pursue. I see a lot of leaders, who are focused on the wrong things. They are focused on the output, which is always a byproduct of the system, instead of focusing on how to make the system right. So, if you want your computer system to speed out a lot of widgets, you have to make sure that the machine is running well. That is the independent variable. The dependent variable is how many widgets are speeding out, so you have to make sure that the machine is well-maintained, shut down properly, and secured — that’s what matters. Once again, the output is just a byproduct.
One, have a good idea of what you can and cannot control. Two, zoom out a little from the myopic dollar focus to a longer-term perspective.
Translating it onto our business world today, the greatest asset is people. This is not 1902, not the Industrial Revolution years, where the greatest assets in organizations are all these massive machines. The greatest assets in our organizations are the people. Being able to zoom out, to understand that each person is on a different path, being able to empower people, to meet them where they’re at, give them opportunities to voice their concerns is what matters. This 20th-century view of industrial organizations needs to evolve along with our economy.
So, you have to understand, that all the things you pursue — profits, popularity, brand name — all these are the outputs of the system, and you have to work on the system to get them. If you focus too much on the outputs, the system will deteriorate, and you will not get anything you want.
So, do you think that the Tech4Good movement has a future? Do you think that the global community is ready for it?
There is a generational shift that is going to happen in the near future. The people of our generation, we are the biggest single generational group in the global workforce of today. In the United States by 2030, our generation will have comprised 75 percent of the workers. By 2030, all this stuff about people being the center of the company, not an asset, will be in place. People like us, people from our generation want to be the center of organizations and are ready to put these policies in place.
But before it happens, we will see a vast separation between organizations who are stuck in the old way and cannot wrap their head around what we’re talking about today and those who get the light bulb turned on and say “here is what we gonna do, not just to earn profits but to separate ourselves from our dinosaur competitors, who are still stuck in this 20th-century mentality”.
All these pyramid-style organizations, age-based pay, “if I need your opinion, I will let you know” — all these will be gone soon. We’re living in a very interesting time, the time of transition, when we have two massive generational groups in the workforce. We have baby boomers and Generation X on the one hand and Millennials and Generation Z on the other hand. As of now, we exist in organizational structures built for baby boomers. I do not want to throw stones at them, they are not worse, they are different. The world itself is a different thing — there is 9/11, student debt, pandemic, financial crisis, and a lot more. So, the new generation is wired differently and values different things, and now we are becoming a bigger and bigger proportion of the workforce. MBA-style thinking will be left in the previous century because the young people of today can see through ROIs and profits and understand what truly matters. They will see the opportunity to separate and knock all these walls between external branding and internal employee branding down. They will build authentic and truly homogenous organizations from the perspective of values.
MBA-style thinking will be left in the previous century because the young people of today can see through ROIs and profits and understand what truly matters.
There are still will be lots of companies who will fake it like they are faking it now. But these will fall away as the separation will take place. They will be looking at themselves and their neighbor competitor and scratch their head: “How can this company across the street, who is just like me, be outperforming us? We have the same economics, the same labor force, how can they outperform in such an incredible way?”.
So, when the younger generation comes to power, do you think that the culture of work, such as 40-hours week, will change?
Hasn’t it already changed? I think it will change a different way.
Our generation, we all have smartphones, we have emails on smartphones, and the line between work and home is now less clear than it used to be. My grandfather would go to work with his briefcase and his hat. When he came home, he would hang his hat on a hook and put down his briefcase, and then — he is home. This does not work for us.
The culture of work will change, but it will not turn from an 8-hours workday to a 6-hours workday. There will be no rigid line, there will be more freedom. It will be more about “just get done what you need to get done”. Obviously, for certain jobs, it is not possible. If you are a doctor, you have to be at the hospital during certain hours. But talking about the labor market in general, this pandemic has forced a lot of these traditional organizational structures to be questioned. Those who would say “we cannot work from home because people do not get their things done” — they now see that it was not true.
The culture of work will change — there will be no rigid line, there will be more freedom. It will be more about “just get done what you need to get done”.
So I think that the culture of work will be more fluent, which will nurture organizational harmony instead of rules and balance.
What advice can you give to entrepreneurs like yourself?
The advice I would give myself is to get a haircut before the pandemic started.
The advice I would give others is to recognize that you need to take risks and that the downside is less than you think. Everyone is scared to stand on the edge of a twenty-story building because that fall from twenty stories will kill you. But nobody is scared to stay on a curb because that fall is not even a fall — you will just step off of it. I would say, that all entrepreneurs are scared of risks because they think it is a twenty-story building, while it is really closer to a curb.
I saw an interview with somebody — somebody as cool as Elon Musk, somebody I look up to and thought “wow, this person is an uberentrepreneur, this guy has figured it all out!”. And this guy was talking and said, “You know, I have no idea what I’m doing, and I had no idea what I was doing — I just try to figure it out as I go”. To me, that thought was super freeing. That was so empowering to hear because, guess what, I have no idea what I’m doing either!
Our value as of entrepreneurs is not a plan and not our ability to plan. Our value is our ability to respond dynamically to the things that change. After all, everyone has had a sales plan for this year. All these sales plans are now in tatters. Everyone had an ethics and compliance plan for this year — these can be thrown out of the window. This pandemic proved that you cannot know what’s around the corner and that the only thing you can control is your attitude and response to what was thrown at you.
So, I am saying that, if you have a tingling feeling “I want to do it”, there are chances you will encounter somebody who will help you. And if you bring your authentic self to it, you have much higher chances to succeed.
What would you recommend to your younger self?
Throughout my life, I worried a lot about what people think of me. I think I would tell myself that, not only you should not care about what people think about you, nobody is thinking about you anyways. So just do it! Put yourself out there sooner and just move quicker. Shed that fear quicker.
The other piece of advice I would give my younger self is to lead with my heart sooner. All the meaningful connections that I have in my life — these are heart connections. All the beauty in life comes from those authentic interactions that you have with people.
It is difficult to talk about it, but do you think that the current crisis will be for good at the end of the day?
I do. There’s going to be a separation between companies that care and companies that don’t. There’s going to be a separation between the ones who will respond to this thing right and the ones who won’t. That’s a positive consequence. It will filter out the unimportant. Clearly, a lot of these things we believed were essential — are not essential. Apparently, it is not crucial for everyone to come to an office! In my family, we would spend the weekends running around the house and doing different things — we do not do that anymore. It’s a slower pace, there’s more connection. Even those Zoom meetings, it forces you to be more present. We believe that a lot of teams will go out of this crisis stronger than they were before because now they spend more time meeting and actually listening to each other. Now, it is easier for us to empathize with each other because we are all going through the same problem. The fabric in the tapestry of our culture and relationship can become stronger because the threads of our mutual experiences and conversations are now stronger. I am an optimistic guy — I am the guy who will always say “well, it could be worse”. And I think, there is a lot of beauty in what’s going on. Obviously, people dying is a horrible tragedy, people losing their jobs is not beautiful either. But there should be a lot of good when we come out of it. And I hope that we can learn good lessons from it without hiding our head in the sand and saying “there is nothing tragic about it”.
The fabric in the tapestry of our culture and relationship can become stronger because the threads of our mutual experiences and conversations are now stronger.
To Wrap Up
Nick Gallo reassures that being authentic and hardworking is how you achieve success. We hope that his forecasts about the post-pandemic era turn out to be true. But once the crisis is still here, we all have to do what we have to do: work hard, stay home, and wash hands often.