Q&A With Nichole Pitts (Ethintegrity)

Interactive compliance trainingpresents:
Q&A with Nichole Pitts Founder & CEO, Ethintegrity

Ethintegrity is a boutique consulting firm focusing on a culture-based approach to ethics and compliance to help companies implement sustainable compliance programs. Prior to this, Nichole was VP, Compliance & Ethics Officer at Louis Berger. Her career as a senior leader for an international business, gives her a unique understanding of the challenges facing compliance departments and organizations.
Q1. In your opinion, what makes an effective compliance training program?

I believe that to have an effective compliance training program, you need to connect with your employees in a personal way. This means being aware of how to personalize training based on culture, region, job role & responsibilities, and challenges the employees face. Traditional training methods have limited long-term effectiveness in a constantly changing environment. There needs to be an innovative method marrying the educational piece (teaching employees about the law & company policies) with facilitating discussions on how it applies to their day-to-day job responsibilities. The facilitation piece is key because having a dialogue where staff take part in identifying and mitigating risks will help them understand the types of issues they could face and also assist leadership in understanding potential issues “on the ground”.

Many trainings, which rely heavily on PowerPoint, lectures, or maybe even traditional training videos, can only be retained in the short-term or working memory, only to be forgotten. If you think back to the last training session you attended, do you remember all of the key points? Did it make a significant impact on how you do your job? When we learn something using a non-traditional method, it forces our brains to actively engage in figuring out the problem. This allows the employee to be the explorer, discovering and learning information through doing. The insights and new knowledge that participants gain in “active participation” workshops/trainings are hardwired and accessible when they need it.

Q2. What communications strategy do you use to help launch mandatory training efforts?

Typically, I find that notification emails from a generic department account (i.e. compliance@companyname.com) are ignored or overlooked. A clever “ad” or video communications campaign that features leadership and peers not only reinforces the importance of the training but can “draw” them into wanting to actively engage. People are more likely to actively engage if they know the “why”, and mandatory training courses are made fun.

Q3. On average, how much time every year do you think staff spend on mandatory training and should that time be protected?

I have found that employees spend an average of 3 hours per year on mandatory training depending on the company program and role. All employees are generally required to complete Code of Conduct training (which can last from 30 mins to 1 hour). Employees with roles that involve certain risk factors (i.e. interactions with government officials; handling of sensitive information/intellectual property; etc.) will require additional subject matter specific training. Companies should ensure that employees understand that the time required for training is not something to be done on “off hours” but is valued by the company and therefore should be completed during the workday.

Q4. How important is it customize your training and what sort of customization do you do?

It is imperative that training be customized for staff by role and geography. A “one size fits all” training dilutes the message as staff can feel that the training doesn’t relate to them or their actual role. That is when people stop being engaged and “check out”. By customizing the training to the role & region, you can use scenarios that they encounter on a regular basis which make it easier to relate to and spark a dialogue on how to handle issues as they arise.

Q5. What’s the biggest challenge you face every year when it comes to compliance training?

The biggest challenge each year is to develop an innovative training session that is fun & informative — something that employees want to attend. Time is our most valuable asset and you want to ensure that the time you and your audience spend on these courses is worthwhile. It has been discovered that traditional methods to solve complex business problems, to facilitate, or to train people, just don’t work. The world of work has evolved and we must ensure that our training changes along with it.

Q6. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever got on putting together your compliance training program?

The best piece of advice I received was to keep it simple and customize based on audience. Especially when you are talking about complex topics (i.e. anti-bribery, privacy, etc.). Giving learners a rundown on the company rules and regulations will be of no value to your employees. Use practical examples from the type of work that each department engages in and this will promote active participation from your audience.

Q7. What are your training pet hates?

I really dislike “canned” and “one size fits all” training. Especially when it comes to training on complex ethical issues. There are so many factors that come into play when trying to ensure that your workforce understands the rules, regulations and policies they must abide by. If you have a set training script that you use for all departments and roles, you lose your audience from the beginning because they will question the value the training provides to them.

Q8. What’s been your biggest success and why?

My biggest success was creating an innovative training program for my Compliance Champions where each month, the training would use new methods. One month would use movie trailers to discuss compliance issues (my favorite was Captain America: Civil War); using infographics for a visual learning tool; having the Compliance Champions present on compliance risk for their region/department; using short, funny videos and whiteboards, etc. In trying new methods each month, it also helped others become comfortable with “change” and learning in new ways.

Q9. What innovations are you seeing in current training and do you think there is anything missing currently?

I am currently really excited about LEGO® Serious Play® method and materials. It can be used for training with individuals, groups / teams / boards, and organizations to encourage them to perform at the highest level through an innovative thinking process and systematic creativity. This training method only requires sticky notes, markers, large sheets of paper, LEGO® bricks, and other low tech tools. This process encourages people to use analytical ways of solving messy problems by engaging in complex conversations.

LEGO® Serious Play® engages minds at a deeper thinking level using highly visual, tactile, and auditory methods that create emotional responses within an experiential framework. This process allows the brain to discover new information and then store this information into long-term memory, where it can be recalled for use in a real-time work situation.

When using 3D models with the LEGO® bricks, the participants create models that hold large amounts of information, freeing up the working memory for idea generation and innovative thinking. You are literally giving your brain a hand. This is a great tool to use when training on ethical scenarios as it allows for a nuanced discussion of very complex issues that individuals can encounter.

Q10. If you could give one piece of advice to anyone thinking of training their employees, what would it be?

Be open to trying new training methods. Always be willing to innovate and change. You can always “pilot” a new training method with a small audience. Reach out to your peers at other companies and knowledge share. There are so many great ideas out there. Create a “toolbox” of different training ideas. Also, understand that not all ideas fit every environment so something that may be perceived as a “failure” at Company A could be a big success at Company B due to it being a different environment, industry, region, etc.

Always be willing to innovate and change.