Taking the Pain Out of Compliance Training

Mark Twain said,

“Never let formal education get in the way of learning,”

but this is exactly what most corporate compliance training does. It leaves corporate training casualties in its wake—employees suffering through monotonous e-learning courses, forgetting everything they learned in their mandatory training the minute they complete the courses. In fact, they often have no idea how to apply what they learned to their jobs—not because the courses failed to cover the necessary regulatory content but because they failed to engage employees and deliver behavior change. Adults resist mandates and obligations but that’s exactly what mandatory compliance training does—it delivers heavy-handed directives that employees are supposed to follow. Or else!

The unfortunate result is e-learning dread. Admit it: we’ve all felt it.

What makes traditional compliance training so deadly boring?

It’s not just the endless march of procedures outlining dos and don’ts. Or the multiple-choice quizzes that you must pass to satisfy the compliance officers and the regulatory agencies. Or the fact that it sometimes preaches, shames, and threatens. It’s that you may have to click through the module twice and double your efforts if you don’t pass the assessment the first time. It’s also that you are asking: what does this have to do with me? And why must I be pulled away from my pressing work deadlines for this monotony? It’s tedious at best and punishing at worst. To make matters worse, compliance training isn’t working all that well. Global companies continue to rack up massive fines and penalties for their compliance failures.

In a 2016 Compliance Effectiveness Survey conducted by the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics, 69 percent of respondents from larger organizations indicated that compliance audits had revealed wrongdoing at least some of the time.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

Compliance training is like death and taxes—a rare certainty in a world of constant change. Why? Its benefits are undeniable if done well. It can prevent penalties, lawsuits, lost customers, and bankruptcy. When it comes to safety training, complying with safety procedures can prevent injury or even death. Compliance training will also safeguard your reputation—a very worthwhile investment.

According to Warren Buffet, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

But let’s face it: compliance policies and procedures may excite legal types but they make the rest of us catatonic. The challenge is translating snoozer legalese into “compliance-tainment”. How can you make rules and regs sexy while at the same time influencing employee behavior and protecting your company’s reputation and profits? Turning dry legal content into real-life examples is the first challenge. Compliance training should not stop at presenting the laws but it should answer the questions: Why should I care? And why should I comply?

Most employees aren’t going to care or comply if their companies don’t practice the compliance policies they preach. In other words, “do as I say, not as I do” won’t work any better than it did when your parents tried it.

Rosalind Brewer, COO of Starbucks advises, “Lead by example. Don’t ask your folks to do something that you aren’t willing to do.”

E-learning compliance courses should be just one of the many strategies employed in an organization-wide strategic initiative. That way, they reinforce the company’s initiative and they’re not the only compliance touchpoint. The goal of successful compliance initiatives and e-learning courses is to build an ethical culture that reduces the occurrence of incidents. They need to ask the difficult questions, even if they’re uncomfortable, and encourage employees to reflect, challenge their biases and behaviors, and illustrate the upsides of making the right decisions.

Your e-learning courses should ditch the monotonous drone of slides packed with lifeless bullet points and instead use multimedia components like games, animations, video, and audio. Surprise, delight, and present employees with unexpected learning moments to boost engagement and retention. Engage their hearts and minds by giving them stories or real-world scenario-based problems to solve. Present characters in a world of trouble to infuse employees with a sense of urgency and give them tools to help those characters get out of trouble. That way, they participate in risk-free actions that illustrate the risks and dangers of non-compliance. And finally show compliance in action to motivate behavior change.

Keep your training modules short and sweet to fit into your employees’ demanding schedules. If you have lots of content to cover, present e-learning or mobile learning bursts that employees can complete in ten minutes. Micro-learning is self-directed learning that delivers content in short just-in-time segments. And to test employees’ knowledge, give them the opportunity to apply well-honed critical thinking skills to scenarios. Don’t be afraid to make the cases nuanced and complex. Who doesn’t love an intellectual challenge?

It’s time to rethink compliance training and stop smothering employees with laws, regulations, standards, and policies like a shaming headmaster reprimanding a naughty student. Instead, delight, entertain and engage with learning that challenges employees to think critically about issues that affect their organization and the people in it. If you take the pain out of compliance training, you’ll get what you pay for: employees embracing a culture of ethical behavior and enjoying themselves while they’re at it.

For more information contact mdorosz@interactiveservices.com

By Mark Dorosz (VP Compliance Learning Interactive Services) and Ann Tinkham (Interactive Services)

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