Bringing Liveliness to Legal

Assistant General Counsel Nicole Williams’s successful restructuring of ADS’s compliance program centers on an unlikely ingredient: joy

When Nicole Williams was tasked with restructuring ADS’s compliance program, she decided to take a new approach. Of course, first, she checked the necessary boxes: analyze the business, reorganize the process to make it applicable to the business’s needs, and create a system that encourages longevity by frequently updating people on new policies and procedures. She explains, “I did a big-picture review with fresh eyes and considered everything from our line of business, our size, location, and the regulatory landscape that affected us. Then I did an analysis of the biggest risks to us and prioritized the initial focus on that.”

To complete the project, Williams used the Department of Justice’s newest evaluation of corporate compliance programs memo as a roadmap to determine best practices when it came to putting together the program, auditing processes, and adhering to compliance. With the help of her fellow assistant general counsel, Williams restructured the program to continually support the unique demands of ADS.

Nicole Williams
Nicole Williams, Assistant General Counsel and Director of Compliance, ADSPhoto: Sami Roy Photography

She says that since the program has been implemented, ADS has seen more of an interdepartmental union. “Oftentimes, in other organizations, legal is seen as a roadblock or black hole,” Williams explains. “My main goal is to make sure that our legal department is viewed as something that is here to help other departments accomplish their goals and not shut them down. Since I’ve been here, I’ve seen more and more people come to ask questions about how to structure or think about a deal, and it’s been great to see everyone work hand in hand with legal.”

Once the more formal process was in place, Williams’s next step took an approach seemingly impossible for a compliance program: having fun.

To support her mission of ensuring the program was long-lasting, Williams created the First Friday program—a strategic way to encourage employees to participate in ongoing training sessions without feeling burdened or bored by the material. “‘Training’ is not a word that most people like to hear,” she says. “We wanted our First Friday program to create a habit of ongoing learning through defining repeating intervals in a microformat, which makes the material easier to retain and quicker to digest.”

Each training session takes less than five minutes and is laced with small elements of humor—a reference to a comedic movie, funny memes, or even games. A training session that came out around Easter, for example, included a mini Easter egg hunt, prompting employees to find the egg in the training for the chance to win a prize. Williams says, “We’ve definitely seen a decrease in the quarterly audits. Now, we can see which areas we need to retrain or focus on, and people are more willing to ask questions for clarification on processes as they see fit.”

Williams says the best part of her job is knowing she is helping make a difference for members of the military and first responders. Both inside and outside the office, Williams takes any opportunity to exercise this passion for fostering positive change, especially through her involvement with the ADS Mission Give Back Foundation, a nonprofit that helps support military families and first responders.

“My main goal is to make sure that our legal department is viewed as something that is here to help other departments . . . not shut them down.”

As executive director for the program, Williams organizes fundraising events that raise money to support military, first responders, and their families and heads the scholarship program, which awards scholarships to high school students who are dependents of military or first responders injured or killed in action. Growing up a military child herself, Williams believes this program supports those who give their all to make a difference in the world. She has witnessed many such people throughout her life.

“My husband is a first responder, and my father is a retired Air Force pilot,” she says. “Their service to our country, along with all other men and women who have served and continue to serve, is inspiring. I’ve seen their sacrifices and how it impacts them and their families. Being able to give back to them is especially satisfying for me.”

Regardless of the task, whether it’s creating a new program or organizing a fundraising event, Williams welcomes the opportunity to learn, to embrace change, and most of all, to have fun while doing it.

Wiley Rein LLP:

“Nikki is a tremendous addition to the ADS legal team. She has introduced innovative ways to enhance the company’s ethics and compliance program and roll those innovations out to company employees.”

—Kara M. Sacilotto, Partner