Chapter 3What Is “Compliance”?

“Control leads to compliance, autonomy leads to engagement.”

—Daniel H. Pink

The term compliance is derived from the verb “to comply.” In its turn comply is understood as “to obey, to conform, or to act in accordance with.” It is the ability to act according to a set of rules and regulations. But given the myriad changes in the socioeconomic dynamic since the first known use of the word in the seventeenth century, the term certainly merits a review.

A search for the definition and meaning of compliance in the various dictionaries throws up some very interesting perspectives. In its noun form, per Oxford dictionary, it is “the action or fact of complying with a wish or command”; “a disposition or tendency to yield to the will of others”; “the state or fact of according with or meeting rules or standards.” The first two are nearest to how the term has been used and largely understood in a general sense. They, in some form, imply subservience to authority. The third definition more broadly defines compliance from an organizational perspective of “meeting rules or standards.” I particularly like the part of meeting “standards.” This definition is a fair attempt at liberating compliance from mere “obedience to wish or command” to “conformance to standards.” Standards is an expansive, multilayered term, and at an abstract level can encompass a wide spectrum of expectations from different stakeholders.

Looking at the definition of the same term from the ...

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