Make Compliance Training About More Than the Dos and Don’ts

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May 7, 2019

Have you ever read “The Ethicist” column in the New York Times Magazine? It’s a popular weekly column where readers send in their quandaries in hopes of getting clear answers on how to act ethically. It’s worth a read when you’re in the mood to think through an interesting yet hairy dilemma with no clear answer.

The popularity of “The Ethicist” highlights a point that often escapes people who create compliance training: people love ethics. We like to examine ambiguous situations and consider how to act ethically and morally. It can actually be enjoyable to think through handling those situations in the office.

When we search for the best compliance training for our organizations, however, we tend to settle for training that just covers the rules. We look at what compliance forces people to do instead of what it helps people achieve. So we may tell someone the laws they need to know about a topic like insider trading, but we don’t show them how those laws can make their businesses more ethical and trustworthy. And in the process, we miss out on the opportunity to provide a training that people will find engaging.

For many organizations, compliance training is a large, missed opportunity to motivate employees with discussions and skill-building exercises they’d truly enjoy. It doesn’t have to be that way though. Instead, more organizations can take the initiative to modernize their compliance training programs with more interactive, problem-solving elements.

More than just rules

Put simply, a modern compliance training program focuses not just on rules, but the underlying reasons and values behind the rules. Of course, it still needs to account for all the necessary information and be compliant. But the primary emphasis should be on the behaviors and attitudes that people need to adopt in order to successfully promote a culture of compliance.

To make that people-centric approach a reality, help people identify the things they don’t know. Starting with a foundation of unconscious bias training — giving employees the tools to reflect on their actions and mindsets — is the first step to creating a culture where people want to examine compliance. It can show employees how many compliance topics include the types of ethical dilemmas they might think about on their own time. When people understand their blind spots and are more willing to talk about them, they’ll be better at monitoring their own behavior.

Everyone an active bystander

Compliance for any organization takes effort from everyone; it can’t just be imposed from the top down. That’s why one of the most effective ways to curb unethical and non-compliant behaviors is to empower every employee to act as an active bystander – someone who acts when they see a conflict or unacceptable behavior.

Again, this is about teaching people what they can do rather than just telling them the minimum rules they need to follow. So if an employee sees something fishy, or knows something is not right, they won’t stay silent just because it’s not their responsibility. Instead they’ll be able to use frameworks like the Four Ds to intervene in the moment, follow up after the fact, offer assistance or find someone with the authority to do something. Modern compliance doesn’t just tell people what’s wrong; it empowers everyone to call out what they see and help each other do the right things.

Build psychological safety

The most productive and innovative teams are those where employees feel safe to take risks, make mistakes and disagree productively with their leaders and with each other. Those teams trust each other, and it shows in each employee’s willingness to speak up. Teams without trust, on the other hand, are more likely to silence dissent. They create an environment where people don’t feel empowered.

That’s why it’s crucial for modern compliance training to include lessons on building team culture and to help people create a sense of what Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson calls “psychological safety.” According to Edmondson, psychologically safe teams are ones where people feel safe taking risks and making mistakes. They know they won’t be punished for speaking up or sharing concerns. Compliance training that doesn’t focus on building that trust can lead to workplace cultures where individuals don’t feel they can contribute, and where compliance and ethics aren’t part of the norm.

Show value

One of the biggest mistakes people make is assuming that compliance training is inherently different from other types of training. While for typical job training we think about what knowledge, skills and attitudes employees need in order to succeed, we don’t apply that same level of scrutiny to compliance. We don’t dig into the underlying values and reasons for why compliance matters. A modern compliance training should encourage that extra level of examination, and consider the needs of all the employees who can benefit from and enjoy meaningful compliance training.

This article originally appeared on ReWork, a publication exploring the future of work.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay

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