Welcome to the Jungle: Compliance Training Under Attack

In the latest in a long line of articles criticizing the effectiveness of online compliance training, Slate associate editor L.V. Anderson recently penned Ethics Trainings are Dumber Than You Think. Anderson’s article makes a number of interesting points about where the online training industry is, and where companies are going with it. The general thesis is that compliance courses are boring, merely aim to “check-the-box,” and have no real impact on preventing employees from “taking a bribe, harassing an underling, or discriminating against a job candidate.”

Anderson’s LinkedIn bio credits a significant number of food related articles, and her Slate credits include a variety of creative pop-culture related articles about the viral “Chewbacca mask” video and Facebook rejecting an ad for a “fat-acceptance” event. Anderson is not a lawyer, and she is not a compliance professional. I point this out not to attack her credibility in writing the article. To the contrary I do so to bolster it, as people like Anderson are not the sales-target of the online compliance training industry, rather she a voice of a growing population of end-users dissatisfied with the compliance training products they are receiving.

Compliance Training Needs Innovation, with the User in Mind

You might expect the Senior Counsel for an online compliance training company to dismiss Anderson’s opinions, insult her intelligence, and provide an avalanche of legal and statistical arguments why she is wrong and the industry is right. After all, Chapter 8 of the Federal Sentencing Guidelines lists compliance training as a remedial measure for the commission of white-collar organizational crimes. Not so. If basic “check-the-box” online training programs are not resonating with the intended user, then the industry has not been providing those users with the education they need.

I am a firm believer that online compliance training, done effectively, can reduce incidents of workplace harassment, discrimination, and other statutory and regulatory violations. But on an island, I agree with Anderson that boring, formulaic online training is not enough. Innovation is necessary, and engagement is king. Many of the issues that Anderson points out such as a lack of engaging scenarios and “no wrong answer” plague the vast number of product samples I have seen in the marketplace and taken while working for law firms.

Compliance is a Marathon, Not a Sprint 

Syntrio has recently developed a three-step model for online compliance training. Step one includes a series of short video snippets entitled Compliance Moments that whet the appetite for compliance training. Although users like L.V. Anderson may scoff at the idea of any appetite for compliance training at all, our research has shown that compliance training needs to take a holistic approach much like training for a marathon. When a user is thrown into a “check-the-box” training course full of PowerPoint slides and no engagement, he or she rightfully is turned off, tunes out, and is bored by the program in a matter of minutes.

Step two of Syntrio’s training model involves utilizing a full-scale approach to an engaging training course wherein one piece builds upon the next, leaving the user engaged in the material and educated through scenarios that actually resonate, rather than merely illustrate the over-arching concept. Simply put, the user is “stretched out” to think about compliance as a cultural necessity rather than just something to keep the company out of the courtroom.

The final step includes a return to Compliance Moments to refresh the user’s mind in a manner similar to the tapered approach to marathon training. Before the user goes off on their own to implement the concepts illustrated in the training material he or she is re-immersed in the entertaining world of conceptual learning. We believe such an experiential mode of learning retains interest and keeps the user thinking about the end goal of overall compliance.

The Slate article (and its many counterparts) correctly point out that significant costs are exhausted on compliance training. Anderson argues that in addition to the “hundreds of thousands of dollars” (an extremely liberal estimate – as it can be done far more economically) spent by multinational corporations on online training that there are hundreds of thousands of hours of lost productivity associated with taking training.

Resources Expended on Compliance Training Will Pay Off

While there is a cost associated with producing and providing online training, a recent study conducted by the EEOC shows that in just the employment law compliance arena those employers who provide dedicated compliance programs show a reduction in unnecessary days taken off, increased productivity, less turnover rate and less charges of discrimination or harassment. Contrary to Anderson’s assertion that “there’s very little evidence that [training works],” it does, when done in the proper context and with the proper formula.

Syntrio views compliance training program as analogous to training for a marathon. We believe that simply going out taking a two-hour training course (like running 26.2 miles in four hours with no preparation) is a bad way to get prepared. In order to create a holistic approach to training, companies need to start slow, i.e. internally educate employees on their policies and code of conduct before moving on to a short “treadmill style” Compliance Moments video program designed to leave the user wanting more. Then the bulk of the program comes via an engaging, hard-hitting interactive program that builds from the fundamentals to real-life scenarios challenging the user to question his or her own ethical and legal responsibilities before returning to the “treadmill” video program to refresh the mind.

The critical point that Anderson’s article makes is “[i]f executives focused on culture... we would reduce corporate malfeasance and waste a lot less time on simplistic ethical dilemmas of fictional characters. This poignant statement is fundamentally correct, in that the purpose of compliance training should not be to “check-the-box,” rather to change the corporate culture. However, until employees are educated and engaged in the culture of compliance they still need the education to deal with situations that are they are going to face at some point in their career. Until then, employees will continue filing lawsuits, the government will continue regulatory investigations, and competitors will still try and gain the upper hand.

Welcome to the Jungle. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Syntrio is committed to helping businesses avoid costly incidents associated with legal and ethical violations in the workplace. We are also able to custom-tailor our courses to fit the needs of your business. Contact www.syntrio.com for more information about our ethics and code of conduct online courses for employees and management and remember to follow us on Twitter, Google Plus and LinkedIn for daily updates on compliance that impact your company!


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