Take the law out of compliance training

Compliance training is everyone’s favourite punching bag.

I deduce two main reasons for this:

  1. It’s usually drop-dead boring, and
  2. People don’t like being told what to do.

So we in the L&D department are put in the unenviable position of selling the unsellable to our colleagues. To do so, we typically resort to a couple of irreproachable messages:

  1. It’s the law (so we have to do it), and
  2. If we break the law, we could be fined, we could lose our licence to practise, and someone could even go to jail.

Both are valid reasons to do compliance training, but they shouldn’t be our primary drivers.

Confused? Let me explain by urging you to adopt a different perspective…

Figurines of a two police officers

Take the law out of it

Imagine for a moment there was no such thing as compliance legislation; no regulatory agencies scrutinising your every move; no auditors to appease; no obligation whatsoever to do any compliance training of any kind. Would you still support it?

If your answer is “no”, I am astounded.

I can only infer that you don’t really care about:

  • the health and safety of your employees
  • the fair and equitable treatment of your colleagues
  • the privacy and security of your customers

Even if you are devoid of ethics, another compelling argument exists in favour of compliance training…

Digital stock prices

It makes business sense

For example, what would happen if:

  • your star performer slips on spilt coffee in the kitchen and breaks his collarbone?
  • a perfectly qualified and experienced job applicant is rejected on the basis of her skin colour?
  • absenteeism goes through the roof because the young ladies in the office are avoiding a sleazy manager?
  • a fraudster in your admin team re-routes payments to his personal bank account?
  • your contact centre provides a customer’s new phone number to her abusive ex-husband?
  • a competitor finds a USB stick containing your company’s 5-year marketing plan?

I’ll tell you for free: your business will suffer.

So our gripe shouldn’t be about doing compliance training – it should be about doing it better.

Start by taking the law out of it. Then put it back in.

12 thoughts on “Take the law out of compliance training

  1. Here, here Ryan. It amazes me too – whether classroom training or ‘e’, people apologise for the boring subject matter. What’s more, although they may try to engage in the classroom, when it comes to the compliance e-training efforts seem to reduce further. I often hear attendees on my elearning courses apologise profusely as they shrink back in their chairs when sharing their project ideas for the workshop. But as they speak, already having lost their learners before they begin, what I’m seeing in my mind’s eye are exciting stories, situations and scenarios. I guess the only limitation is your imagination (my mantra these days).

  2. Quite right, Laura. I think the real problem here is poor instructional design. I see no reason why compliance training can’t be more engaging, scenario based, authentic – maybe even fun!

  3. Good stuff, Ryan! Most org’s take the wrong approach. Show people the value and impact to their lives and they’ll be willing to make the change. No one want to be forced to do anything. And Laura hit it on the head with ‘apologies’. If we’re apologizing for something, maybe there’s something wrong with it! Good stuff.

  4. Yes! Yes! Yes! Compliance training tends to be about performance that hinges on “care” more than “know”. If we can’t convey a connection to mission / bottom line, then how can we expect *other* people to care about it?

    The other area I think we typically neglect is measurement. We measure safety records, workplace violence events, sexual harassment cases but we *rarely* connect those things with the compliance chain that should / would have prevented them. We have this data but we tend not to use it.

    We treat these compliance events as something we *have* to do but don’t like to do. We do these things once to check the box and we forget about them until it’s time to do them again. That’s no way to build a cultural fabric of folks that care enough to do the right thing OR hold others to the same standard. Having high standards for values requires a campaign. And you really can’t get there unless you make the connection between the thing you want people to do and the positive or negative consequence of not doing it.

    Why do this thing? Because if you don’t you or one of your friends could lose a finger, an eye, or a life. Isn’t that important enough to care about?

  5. Thanks Steve. It is strange how our measures of success (or failure) are rarely connected to the so-called training. The exception, I suppose, is when something blows up the lawyers will check whether the right box was ticked.

    I think there’s scope out there for a comprehensive study that researches the link between compliance training and those measures you mentioned. A deeper study could also examine the nature of the training (e.g. MCQ vs scenario based) to see if that makes a significant difference.

  6. Just working on an update of a Fire safety course as we speak. We do it as we have to by law but one of the ways I’m taking the law out of it is by using real life examples of people from our organisation that have been involved in fires – makes realise why there’s a law in place for this and hopefully will just help people see it as something useful to them and not just a ‘tick in a box’.

  7. Spot On Ryan. I agree 100%, however (bizarrely) sometimes the organisation just wants the tick and flick, even when you do try to create something different

    For example I created a Work Health and Safety program to cover all of the changes in Australian Legislation as an espionage spy-thriller where the participant had to assist an elite team of WH&S experts to uncover all of the changes. The stakeholders were supportive of the idea through all of it’s iterations until it came to the final draft and then they got cold feet and decided that it was too far ‘outside the norm’ and they wanted to go back to the standard “click next, click next, do a quiz”. Their reason being that the organisation wouldn’t take it seriously and consider it too whimsical to be ‘serious legislative training.’ Frustrating and disapointing? Yes.

    As learning designers I think the further challenge is to educate our stakeholders that legislative e-learning doesn’t need to look like legislative e-learning. :)

  8. That reminds me of when I was working in publishing, an economics professor didn’t like our economics textbook because it was “too easy to read”.

    All too often, learning outcomes play second fiddle to other drivers, which IMHO ends up affecting performance.

  9. I’m glad you’ve raised the topic, and it’s a respectable position you take. The problem isn’t that the training is boring (there is plenty of non-compliance training that is equally boring), nor is our challenge to make it more engaging. The problem is that generally compliance training contradicts culture; and since culture is the more powerful influence the activity becomes disingenuous – and we make liars of people. To put it another way people see compliance training as something they must do for their organisation, not something their organisation is doing for them. Furthermore, it is often associated with passing the buck down the line, legally. Take a step back from the problem: if we were really trying to change behaviors business-wide, then getting people to read the rules wouldn’t be the best way to do it. Being aware of the rules is important, but should be part of a much bigger programme of cultural and process change if we are to get things right. In this light, compliance e-learning just looks like a cheap shot.

  10. Excellent comment, Nick, and I think we agree.

    Rather than throwing the rules at people and hope in vain that they stick, it makes more sense to adopt a values-based approach that aligns with the culture of the organisation (or at least the culture that the organisation is aspiring to). If an individual employee doesn’t identify with these values, then that waves a red flag: Are they the right fit? Are they conducting themselves professionally and ethically? Do we want this kind of person representing our brand?

    In regards to engagement, I’m not referring to fun in the Angry Birds sense. What I didn’t get into in this post is my fervent desire for compliance training (if not all training) to be scenario based. This, I think, would be more engaging and more likely to change behaviour. I love the Sussex Safer Roads commercial (http://youtu.be/h-8PBx7isoM) which uses family values to encourage people to wear a seat belt, rather than pointing out the fine for not doing so.

    Indeed – currently, typically, compliance e-learning *is* disingenuous. It *does* look like a cheap shot. It *is* about ticking boxes. Taking the law out of it breaks that mindest.

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