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3 Common Pitfalls in Compliance Training

What You Should Avoid In Compliance Training

Compliance training rarely works as planned, yet organizations keep doing it. According to the Harvard Business Review, “At many companies, strengthening compliance has become synonymous with hiring more compliance managers, buying more-sophisticated software, and creating more policies, even when those moves are redundant and wasteful or just don’t deliver results.”

When training is ineffective, getting more of it doesn’t help. Instead, organizations should fundamentally change their approaches by avoiding common pitfalls often seen in custom corporate compliance training.

Avoid Framing Compliance Around Legal Issues

Don’t present the compliance training as a legal safety net. You’ll surely want to mention the legal side of things, but it shouldn’t be your focus.

If you’re thinking, “But if we don’t present compliance from a legal aspect, no one will take the training seriously!” consider the last time you actually read the iTunes terms and conditions. On an intellectual level, you know that if you don’t thoroughly examine this lite contract, you could end up signing away your firstborn child. In reality, though, you skim the legalese and select “I Agree”. You digest none of the language or the dire warnings, and you certainly don’t change your behavior because of them.

Similarly, the Harvard Business Review notes that fulfilling all legal requirements for sexual harassment “does not demonstrate that an employee has converted knowledge about policies into everyday work practices”. Rather, compliance training is more like a check-the-box-to-jump-through-the-hoop experience. It’s the iTunes terms and conditions of training.

To move away from the deadweight legalities synonymous with compliance, focus on the personal and professional impact of compliance violations on the learner and their colleagues. Emphasize the human side of compliance, and why being compliant is beneficial.

Avoid Unrealistic Examples

When you decide to use scenarios and other example-based activities in your training, that’s good. However, if those examples end up being a little too textbook-perfect, well, that’s bad.

While you generally don’t want training scenarios to be the most difficult scenario you can dig up, you don’t want them to be artificially easy, either. You want the “antagonist” scenario characters to be sympathetic rather than being the cigar-smoking, puppy-killing epitome of cartoon villainy. Otherwise, the learners won’t see themselves in those characters and won’t identify with their mistakes. Likewise, the dialogue needs to be believable. For example, harassment doesn’t usually happen like this:

Lorena gets a new manager, Dave. When he is introduced to Lorena, he says, “Hi there, lovey pie. Forget about working for me. How would you like to be my girlfriend instead?”.

In most workplaces, it’s more likely to happen something like this:

Lorena sometimes feels uncomfortable around her manager, Dave. Dave advocates Lorena’s work to his bosses, and she knows she is a valued member of his team. However, Dave constantly makes offhand comments about Lorena’s appearance and dating life. Once he even said, “Your boyfriend must feel so lucky to date someone as stunning as you!”.

That scenario is the kind of thing someone might run into, whether it’s foisted on them or unintentionally perpetrated by them. It shows where the lines may get a little blurry and helps them see how such behavior isn’t compliant.

Avoid Making It A One-Time Event

This is a pitfall of all kinds of training. It typically goes like this: a training is scheduled. Everyone goes to the training—they get trained—and then they know what they need to know and everything is fine and dandy. And if everything is not fine and dandy, then, well, too bad—the training is over, and it’s time to move on with life.

Except that’s not how people learn. People don’t retain much when they stuff [4] as much information as possible into a short period of time; they learn better with spaced repetition: “learning in short bursts over time and repeatedly testing yourself on what you’ve learned is much more effective for long-term recall than cramming.”

Instead of having one big training event, make training a consistent activity over a long period of time. Not all the training should be formal, either. Learners can glean information from what we call “job aids” to great effect after learning initial principles.

In Conclusion

Compliance training can be effective, but to be that way, it can’t contain these pitfalls. The 3 things you should avoid in compliance training are as follows: Don’t frame the training around legal issues, don’t use unrealistic scenario examples, and don’t forget to make the training an ongoing process. You’ll see better, longer-lasting results.