How to design compliance training that resonates with employees
Compliance training may be more important today than ever before. From workers' willingness to vent on social media to an employee base emboldened by the #MeToo movement, it's key that this training hit its mark.
And employers appear to understand this. In a recent survey, EverFi found that addressing harassment and discrimination is a top priority for businesses, at 83% of those surveyed. But efforts can't end with a one-time training; efforts must be ongoing and ingrained in company culture, experts say. That's where the real challenge is: providing training that resonates with employees, changing minds and behaviors to create a workplace where employees adhere to your conduct standards.
One major driver behind successful compliance — whether you're asking workers to adhere to your recordkeeping rules or to refrain from sexually harassing coworkers — is culture.
And while a culture change has to start internally and at the top of an organization, external forces have been jump-starting those efforts. Recent media coverage of workplace issues is having an immediate trickle-down effect, according to Preston Clark, president of EverFi. This is especially true when it comes to the #MeToo movement.
“If speaking up is dangerous, silence is the employee’s only option.”
vice president and senior product manager at NAVEXEngage
But for it to stick, it must be done well, Ingrid Fredeen, vice president and senior product manager at NAVEXEngage, said. Training is a huge portion of HR spend, so employers can't afford for it to be a waste of money and time. “For training to succeed,” she told HR Dive, “it has to be made available to employees in a culture that supports the messaging. If culture fails, then training fails.”
The next step is goal-setting, according to Fredeen. Evaluate your goals ahead of time and use training to serve that purpose, she said. If you’re simply looking for a legal defense, having employees sign off on a paper after training is easy. But changing behavior and addressing implicit bias is more difficult.
“Having employees recognize biases,” she said, “is not something you’ll get in a 30-minute training product.” As the workplace evolves to place a larger emphasis on hiring from a diverse talent pool, “new biases and assumptions will come to the surface.” Therefore, “training has to be relevant, consistent and persistent.”
When employers believe this training should be "command and control" — rules that employees have to follow to avoid breaking the law — they may be setting themselves up to fail, says Todd Haugh, assistant professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University Kelley School of Business. “[T]hat's too simplistic and can often be ineffective,” he told HR Dive. “Companies need to consider all of compliance, training included, as 'behavioral compliance' tools and practices that best influence ethical employee behavior and decision making.”
Once you're ready to start designing your program, there are a few "best practices" to keep in mind. Haugh recommends that employers keep the desired behavioral result from of mind. “[R]everse engineer the tools and trainings to get there,” he said. And the key to that may well be a focus on ethical decision-making, he said; companies should design training that focuses on that aspect of employee life.
The ability to do this goes back to culture. You need to be operating in an environment that supports ethical decision-making, Fredeen noted. There must be a willingness to be open about an issue and an atmosphere that allows workers to report what they perceive as problems without fear of pre-judgment or retaliation. “If speaking up is dangerous,” she said, “silence is the employee’s only option.”
Content and delivery method matter, too. Content must be current, relevant and challenging with practical behavioral tips on solving problems. It should cover genuine problems employees are facing with steps and solutions they can reasonably take.
Content dovetails with a culture that encourages reporting, too. After all, employees can't be expected to speak up if they don't know what you want them to speak up about. “What’s interesting was with the #MeToo sentiment, everyone knew things were happening but employees weren’t aware of what rose to the level of something that was reportable and actionable," Clark said. "They didn’t feel empowered or didn’t know when or how to report or what constituted sexual harassment.”
And content must be provided in a digestible manner. Much of the compliance training employees receive is quite legal. They tune out or forget everything before they get back to their desk. Fredeen says employees often learn better when employers provide a safe space to consider these issues. They should be allowed to think about the issue and even see themselves in the roles being demonstrated. “You want them to think 'what would I do? How would I handle this?'" she said.
Both content and delivery should be personalized, too. You don't need to reinvent the wheel, but consider what your workforce needs. If you outsource this training to a vendor, find one that knows your industry or the specific problem you're facing. Training is much more likely to resonate with workers when they can see how it fits into their everyday duties.
Beware the trap of measuring inputs, rather than outputs, says Haugh. He believes employee surveys and benchmarking don’t necessarily prove that a compliance program is effective. Many of the metrics they analyze don’t measure ethical decision making, for example.
He recommends taking a scientific approach: measure a task with compliance risk, he suggests. For example, look at expense reporting. Start with a baseline of violations then provide a compliance tool aimed specifically to that risk, like reminding employees of their ethical obligations to complete expense reports accurately. Then measure again. “If there is a reduction of violations, and therefore remediation costs, the company is on to something,” Haugh said.
Post-training assessments that measure knowledge can help as well, Clark says. Even simple questions, like "Where do you report harassment concerns?" should be asked of people who complete the training. Basing measurements on completion rates isn't sufficient, he says. You'll want to focus on what workers are learning, not what you're teaching.
Behavioral science is rapidly taking businesses to a place where the compliance practices of old are going to be viewed as severely antiquated, according to Haugh. And it's more than a matter of avoiding legal pitfalls.
“Companies that embrace this new future will have an edge in ethics and compliance,” he said, “and therefore an edge in performance too.”
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