There was a time, not so long ago, when the world was not at our fingertips. Doing research required a trip to the library to rummage through card catalogs and track down Dewey decimals, and information came to us on photocopied pieces of paper. There was a sense of distance between a company’s headquarters and its global field offices, and communication between the two was costly enough to warrant heightened attention.
Things move faster now. The volume of data available to us is nearly infinite, with access times measured in milliseconds. Streaming video and teleconferencing allow us to be virtually present almost anywhere, even as the reach of global commerce extends past previous economic and political barriers. We all end up with more on our plates, more to consume and more to digest. These conditions create novel opportunities and challenges for compliance training.
A Mental Exercise Routine
It has never been easier to spread the word about company policies and procedures, but it is more difficult to ensure that the message really comes through. Employees’ time and attention are overtaxed by a deluge of information and, often, competing interests. The demands of multitasking and “need it yesterday” requests make prioritization difficult. How can a compliance training program adapt to these conditions? Maybe we can take a lesson from the exercise industry.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently advised that it is possible to expend a full week’s worth of moderate-intensity activity in the form of short bursts of physical exertion and that it is not necessary to engage in extended workout sessions to improve your health. We can say the same with respect to the mental exercise involved in employee training: Repeated exposure to principles and instructions can be equally or more effective than a single extended training session.
If physical repetition is the way to develop muscle memory, then regular review and discussion of real-world and hypothetical scenarios may be the best way to get your message to stick.
This integrated approach is not a replacement for regular training. You can easily track the administration of online course modules, and the periodic reminders they provide can supply a steady reiteration of expectations and understanding across an entire organization. But it is also important to ensure there is a critical mass of individuals who will take the lead in championing those principles and that they are empowered to do so.
3 Keys to Effective Compliance Training in the Information Age
What does this mean in practice? First, pay attention not only to the messages you’re delivering but also to responsive behavioral changes in employees. These changes are not always easy to identify; an increased volume of reports made to an in-house hotline could mean there are more incidents happening, but it could also signal that employees are learning what is and is not acceptable and the channels available to report incidents.
Second, take a holistic view of how your teams talk about the subject matter of the training. For example, is the annual anti-corruption training the only time the issue is mentioned, or does the question of how to conduct business ethically arise naturally as part of internal conversations? This type of assessment is often easier now than in previous decades, thanks to the global interconnectedness of relevant company information.
Finally, recognize that the compliance training you provide is only part of the overall message you send. No matter how well-intentioned the communication, if your organization doesn’t back it up with other signs of managerial commitment to the principles it’s conveying, the training will ring hollow. The last thing you want is for your compliance training program to be understood as nothing more than an inconvenient obligation, putting your message at risk of being lost among the sea of competing pressures, information and outlooks.
When people compare the mind to a muscle, they usually mean that it needs to be exercised to stay in shape. But it’s also true that the mind needs the right kind of nutrition to maintain its tone and responsiveness. With all the information available to us, we need to make sure the compliance training we provide our organizations is appetizing, easily digestible and healthy. By integrating the message of compliance into the daily fabric of our work, we can help build the “muscle memory” of the organization’s mind so it can react quickly and appropriately to ever-changing circumstances .