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Prioritizing the Compliance Learner Experience (LX)

Given the increasing need for compliance training and growing resentment on the part of the learners required to complete it, the time has come to reevaluate how we approach it.

Learning professionals have long been aware of the limits to the conventional one-size-fits-all, check-the-box approach, which tends to result in poor engagement and retention — while also proving ineffective at changing behavior. Yet, we persist in requiring participants to read dry, unengaging policy summaries and attest that they have done so. In most cases, this results in learners never understanding why the policy applies to them or what specific actions they’re expected to take.

Research shows that only about a third of organizations design their compliance training to further their talent development. The other two-thirds admit that they are merely trying to meet regulatory requirements.

A Learner-Centered Approach Proves More Effective

Some are now discovering a better way to do compliance training: Employing a multi-step, multimodal learner experience (LX) that provides real-life scenarios and role playing exercises to actively engage learners, allowing them to apply what they learn and see the relevance of compliance policies — and the consequences of non-compliance.

“We need to transform compliance training by focusing on the learners and the behaviors we aim to cultivate,” explains Anna Sargsyan, chief learning officer at AllenComm, a leader in designing compliance training for companies in highly regulated industries like financial services, healthcare and manufacturing. “Because this type of training is often mandatory, it’s expected that standard requirements dictate the training design. Instead, we champion a learner-driven approach that prioritizes understanding and engaging with learner needs. Mere awareness of policies is insufficient for real behavioral change. Our training design enables learners to identify risks, voice concerns and form better habits through practical application.”

The case for a learner-centered compliance program can be based not only on the avoidance of negative consequences but also on the value of creating a culture of accountability, which offers benefits that go far beyond regulatory experience. Charles Duhigg, in his book, “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business,” tells the story of how Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill transformed the entire organization by focusing on worker safety. It became the catalyst for creating a “culture where new values are ingrained.” Organizations tend to invest in programs such as leadership development while accepting a subpar LX in compliance as a necessary evil. The real opportunity for compliance training is increased accountability for both the self and others. Developing this mindset can be a challenge, but as the Alcoa example demonstrates, compliance can be transformative.

Addressing the “Boring” Factor of Compliance Training

There’s one prevailing misconception about compliance training: Because it is focused on rules, policies and procedures, it must also be strict in its training delivery method. Countless professionals have undoubtedly suffered through compliance courses that have felt like a copy-and-paste of standard operating procedures (SOP) or legal jargon. However, as educational psychology and best practices in instructional design have often shown us, training is most effective when the content is relevant to the company’s culture and processes and is personally applicable to individuals.

AllenComm uses a variety of strategies and techniques to make learning more engaging and relevant. Instead of simply having learners read a manual or sit through a PowerPoint presentation, we design immersive activities such as games, videos and simulations that breathe life into the material and provide a vivid picture of what’s at stake to help them relate to the subject matter. When appropriate, we even inject humor into the training, to humanize the content and make the experience more approachable. Here are some examples:

  • An office safety training course designed for a leading insurance company features fictional “peers” who act as tongue-in-cheek representations of the common misgivings learners have with safety training. By relating to these characters and their humorous but realistic office experiences, participants not only internalize the principles but also stay focused on the training, looking for the next funny twist.
  • For a leading manufacturer, an illustrative board game presents various scenarios that allow participants to explore challenges and potential consequences related to privacy issues — with badging elements and branching scenarios to boost learners’ motivation.
  • A 3-day compliance training course for a major healthcare retailer features a series of modules that prepare learners for an in-person, mock-clinic exercise.
  • For a leading insurer of medical professionals, a training program positions learners in the role of the doctor, challenging them to make decisions and solve problems. Videos featuring highly respected physicians and researchers help participants make more informed decisions.

Personalization Heightens Relevance

Since participants in any compliance training come with different backgrounds and experiences, consider steps to personalize the learning journey according to the needs of each learner:

  • Build a pre-assessment into the compliance course. If learners pass the assessment, perhaps they could get credit without completing the entire training (depending on the specific regulatory requirements). This may be useful for new employees from the same industry who may already have much of the knowledge needed, as well as learners who are required to take a compliance course on the same topic every year.
  • Create primer/foundation experiences (microlearning) for all learners, regardless of their role in the company. Then, provide role-specific application practice in follow-up micro-modules. These can be used as reinforcement or as part of a more in-depth learning path for roles with a high impact on compliance controls.
  • Employ various characters or avatars to serve up different learning experiences/tracks and provide some variety if learners are required to take the training regularly. The fresh context will help them to extrapolate the underlying principles for the policies.
  • Personalize the experience with custom learning paths for participants’ specific roles in the organization. This is particularly important when real-life, compliance-related dilemmas are different based on role. It will require additional up-front research, so leverage this strategy for your most critical programs.

Build Assessment Into Compliance Training

The goal of any compliance training is risk mitigation, which often entails some aspect of behavior change. To truly measure the effectiveness of such a program, it’s important to target higher-level learning objectives and build in measurement tools to assess the effectiveness of the program:

  • Discover needed metrics/key performance indicators (KPIs) in an

upfront analysis or performance mapping stage (a list of what will be evidence that the compliance training is a success).

  • Leverage existing compliance reporting, then compare/contrast at

logical in-training or post-training benchmarks.

  • Depending on type of compliance, track:
  • Access to resources/guidelines, how often and under what circumstances.
  • An increase in policy questions asked or issues raised in “speak up” channels.
  • A decrease in (reports of) non-compliance.
  • A decrease in legal issues tied to ethics and compliance.
  • A decrease in work-related injuries/illnesses.
  • Retention/attrition rates.
  • A decrease in consumption of company resources.

“If we only measure completion, we aren’t truly assessing learning. This might meet compliance standards, but it fails to foster a culture of compliance. Our approach does more than satisfy requirements — it shifts mindsets, increases accountability and mitigates risks effectively,” adds Sargsyan.

Change can be challenging 

Given the growing importance of compliance training and the risks involved in non-compliance, making improvements to training procedures may be fraught with uncertainty.   

To get everyone in an organization comfortable with a new approach, it’s best to begin strategically and work incrementally, starting with a high-priority training program and gauging the results. For many, the sheer volume of compliance courses necessitates prioritization. Rather than having one mode for all compliance training, you can begin with a tiered approach that invests in the programs that are most critical to the business. As AllenComm and its clients have discovered, the benefits of implementing learner-centered compliance training are well worth the time and effort you put into it.