When you plan a learning and training strategy for your team or organization, odds are that one category of training stands out from the rest: compliance. The average organization planned to spend over three million dollars on mandatory compliance training in 2019, while some companies in highly regulated industries could actually spend tens of millions of dollars on compliance. It makes sense. Companies know how much money fraud and sexual harassment can hurt them, so they invest money in compliance training to prevent those losses.
But the thing is, a lot of compliance training isn't really working. According to a 2016 Global Fraud Report, the average case of fraud costs an organization around three million dollars in annual revenue. And for other types of abuse, like sexual harassment, we know that many compliance training programs have not resulted in any improvement in workplace behavior since the 1980s.
In a 2018 article in Harvard Business Review, Hui Chen and Eugene Soltes laid out the problem well: "Compliance policies serve important legal functions, but forcing them into legal frameworks may limit their ability to positively influence employee behavior." Too often compliance programs focus primarily on a company's legal liability, but do nothing to address the actual underlying causes of fraud or abuse. Many compliance programs simply aren't designed to correct behavior. Instead, they're designed to exist as a legal defense.
Compliance training doesn't have to be this way. We've been working on a more comprehensive and modern approach to compliance that targets the root causes of fraud and abuse, helps teams build inclusive and ethical cultures, and actually prevents the behaviors that compliance training is supposed to target. Here's a three-step guide for designing an effective modern compliance training program that can cover all of your compliance needs in a way that will resonate with employees:
1) Start With the Foundations: Unconscious Bias
Before you can suggest specific behaviors for your employees to exhibit (or to avoid), it's helpful to give your employees the tools to understand what leads to exclusionary or unethical behavior in the first place. Unconscious Bias training helps employees locate their blind spots—the implicit, potentially harmful associations they make based on their background or experiences, often without realizing it. Rolling out Unconscious Bias training as your first compliance topic enables your employees to reflect on their current practices before they learn new specific behaviors.
2) Next Up: Proactive Inclusion and Anti-Harassment & Discrimination
After setting the foundation on a personal level with unconscious bias, it's time to target the overall culture of your workplace. True compliance—whether it's maintaining a workplace free from sexual harassment and discrimination, or making sure no one engages in financial crimes like insider trading—takes an entire organization.
Strong Sexual Harassment Prevention and Anti-Discrimination training focuses on building inclusive cultures where people feel empowered to act when they see something wrong. They teach employees to take responsibility as bystanders and speak up when necessary, which helps build trust amongst the team so that everyone feels safe to be their best selves at work.
3) Target Your Organization's Needs From a Perspective of Trust and Empowerment
Now that you've given your employees the tools they need to build a safe and productive environment at work, you'll have them primed for more complex forms of learning. Depending on your organization's priorities, this could be a good place to slot in topics like LGBTQ Inclusion or Working on Multi-Generational Teams.
Now, instead of making these into lists of rules to follow, you can situate them as part of a larger theme of acting ethically and building trust as an organization. Consider also offering learning around topics such as Mental Health at Work or Balancing Work as a Parent to dive further into specific ways every individual can make your workplace a high-functioning and safe environment for everyone. The idea here is to get specific based on your organization's needs, drawing on the foundations you've set up already to address compliance needs from an inclusive and action-oriented angle.
Modernize Your Compliance
With the legal ramifications that surround compliance training topics, it's easy to lose sight of a simple truth: if you're going to teach employees compliance topics, you actually need to give them an opportunity to learn. You can't just provide a bunch of rules and expect people to know how to follow them. Successful compliance training takes employees on a journey, setting them up with foundations that will help those employees activate what they've learned when the time comes to put their knowledge into action. When done right, compliance training doesn't just reduce legal liability. It actually helps people and organizations perform at the top of their game.
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