Training is an investment, and it is natural for any company to ask what kind of return its investment brings. It’s just good business sense. But when it comes to compliance, attention to effectiveness also reflects the priorities expressed by legal enforcement agencies. According to recent guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice, a “hallmark of a well-designed compliance program is appropriately tailored training and communications.” The agency advises effective measurement and evaluation of the training’s impact on employee behavior.

The Challenges of Compliance Training

The aim of any compliance training program is to ensure that learners have both the knowledge and the resolve to follow the rules. At the same time, compliance isn’t always easy to measure directly. For the most part, the values you want to cultivate — integrity, ethics, respect — don’t readily fit into a spreadsheet or a checklist. But there are effective ways to tailor training programs to promote employee commitment and drive tangible improvements in behavior.

The challenges learning and development (L&D) professionals face in compliance training are complicated by the extraordinary strains on employee time and corporate budgets many companies are presently coping with. Even under more normal circumstances, it can be difficult to capture people’s attention with compliance concerns that may seem remote from their  day-to-day responsibilities and expectations. Under intensified pressure, companies may be more likely to deprioritize these investments, which are already difficult to quantify.

Encouraging Buy-in by Instilling Ownership

But quantification isn’t the only tool at hand. What if, instead of thinking of training as an investment in employees, we thought of it as the process by which our employees became invested in the principles of compliance? A sense of ownership in a project or process can be a powerful motivator, particularly when times are tough. How can training help encourage that sense and personal level of adoption?

Simple timing can make a difference. While it’s prudent to have employees periodically repeat or refresh their compliance training, make sure it doesn’t come across as just another chore — something to be rushed through in order to return to the “real” work. When scheduling rollouts and setting deadlines, it’s consider what else might be on people’s minds at particular points of the year, such as a holiday season, the end of a reporting period or a summer slowdown.

This process can be something of a balancing act: Certain occasions might warrant heightened attention to related issues (i.e., gift-giving restrictions during the holidays), but they may be the very moments when employees’ focus is elsewhere. Finding the right seasonal rhythm means conveying each message at a time when it will be meaningful and its audience receptive — but not so late that it seems like an afterthought.

Training is also more likely to be effective when it is thoughtfully matched to the real-life challenges employees are facing. To understand those challenges, training professionals should make a point of proactively coordinating with the broader business team. Familiarity with the company’s business plan and goals can be invaluable in tailoring and targeting messaging around compliance. More than that, training professionals’ involvement in strategic planning efforts can help bring a concrete perspective on compliance risks, focusing attention on positive measures the company can undertake to make sure its personnel are prepared.

The Importance of Listening

Of course, the best way to know whether those measures are successful is to listen. People are more likely to be invested in a process when their voices are part of the conversation. Employees need to have a clear avenue for asking questions that might arise from the training process, and management needs a way to verify that they have understood the essential principles. Incorporating real employee experiences into training is also an effective way to foster deeper engagement, driving home the message that their concerns are yours as well.

Investment in training isn’t just about money, time or resources. It’s about having a stake in the enterprise and its outcomes and aligning efforts with the greater cause. When a company tailors its compliance training to the rhythms, goals and concerns of its workforce, it becomes easier for employees to assume ownership of the relevant standards and ideals. That sense of ownership is what will ultimately yield the best returns.