Last reviewed 21 January 2020

What can be done to make compliance training more enjoyable and effective? Here, Judith Christian-Carter, independent learning consultant, takes a look at the current state of compliance training and provides some suggestions for improving it.

Perhaps not the most interesting subject to kick off the new year but for many organisations, regardless of size, compliance training is akin to “the elephant in the room”. Such training is not an option but it is often dull, drab and boring to undertake. For many organisations, compliance training is not an option. People have to be trained and tested, the training is mandatory and often uninspiring. Many Learning and Development (L&D) functions churn out courses, mainly in the form of eLearning, on the basis that they have to get it done. The result is, invariably, dull, drab and boring content. This encourages learners to skip through the content as quickly as possible in order to get to the end test, hoping that this will be easy because it has been designed badly, then ticking the boxes so they will get a pass mark, after which they can get on with their job.

Not only does this leave organisations vulnerable to non-compliance and all manner of ramifications, including being taken to court and legal costs, but it also has given both eLearning and L&D overall a bad name. So, what can be done about this situation, now that compliance has become such an urgent and essential requirement?

The current state of play

The International Compliance Association defines the term compliance as “the ability to act according to an order, set of rules or request.” As such, compliance is essential for all organisations to ensure that employees work in accordance with guidelines, which are set down by industry-based governing bodies, those of individual organisations and of wider government legislation. There is one common aim, which is to ensure that compulsory training serves to manage risk within all organisations by providing knowledge and appropriate behaviours with regard to specific rules and regulations.

As a result, there is now immense pressure on organisational leaders and L&D functions to get compliance training right. This, in turn, places a significant focus, cost and time on making sure that appropriate compliance content is delivered but also, and even more importantly, of changing behaviour.

However, back in 2017, a survey found that 56% of organisations reported that the largest problem hindering the success of compliance training was the lack of user engagement, with only 4% of employees saying they were motivated to learn in order to remain compliant. In other words, employees do not value compliance training because they think that nothing will ever happen to them and, therefore, do not take their responsibility to learn about compliance seriously. Not only could this be putting people’s lives at risk, but it is also a waste of time, as well as having a negative impact on both organisational productivity and profitability.

Currently, the most common way of delivering compliance training is through 30–40 minute eLearning digital courses, with some 72% of organisations using this approach. However, only 33% of these organisations report getting learner engagement with just using this method and only 17% say it has encouraged a change in behaviour. It does not have to be like this though and, surely, the time has now come to stop wasting time and money, and to find a way to solve this problem once and for all.

Pay heed to data

If organisations do not collect and use data which can be used to measure and improve the effectiveness of learning over time, then they are unlikely to increase employee engagement. For those organisations that do collect data and use this for analysing learning (learning analytics), they not only have the necessary evidence but can apply it to ensure that their compliance training/programmes deliver content that sticks because it is engaging.

Engaging design

What do employees think about compliance programmes? The statistics show that there is a lack of attractive, high-quality digital compliance content. This means that compulsory programmes, such as compliance, need a major overhaul if they are to achieve the desired behavioural change. Asking learners which design features they see as vital when using digital compliance programmes, three design features stand out; these are:

  • storytelling

  • spaced learning

  • learning scenarios based on real situations.

While incorporating these design features into compliance programmes may require developing the skillset of L&D to manage the resulting learning design, their incorporation into such programmes is critical to achieving engaging content and where its value is shown clearly to all employees.

Involve managers

Most L&D professionals know that managerial involvement in learning is vital for the latter to be a success, but in a large number of organisations managers and leaders detach themselves from learning solutions. Not only do many managers not encourage behavioural change by supporting learning in the workplace, but there is also a reluctance by managers to make time for learning. Clearly, these current deficiencies need to be addressed urgently.

When looking at organisations that have impactful compliance programmes, they all involve managers and leaders by:

  • fostering employee trust in managers and senior leadership

  • ensuring there is a communication plan in place for all key stakeholders

  • working with directors/senior managers to endorse learning

  • providing managers with resources and job aids to encourage application

  • having managers who encourage and make time for staff to study on the job.

“If the value of the compulsory learning is truly appreciated by management and then portrayed to individuals, information is more likely to be retained, and behaviours altered, as learners recognise the importance of the content and how it fits into the wider success of the business.” (Beyond the Ticking Box, Towards Maturity CIC Ltd, 2019).

The way forward

The key to more engaging and effective compliance training is to address the current pain-points, in particular the lack of user engagement. There is a need for “exciting and innovative mandatory courses that go beyond mundane tick-box exercises. Using digital technologies in particular offers many opportunities, but it is not the digital tool itself that makes the difference; it is the way it is used.” (Beyond the Ticking Box, Towards Maturity CIC Ltd, 2019).

In particular, organisations that have managed to overcome the problems with compliance training and its associated box-ticking, have undertaken eight key actions.

  1. Recognising that a lack of learner engagement is a symptom of individuals not recognising the value of the content.

  2. Investing wisely in compliance programmes; while the initial cost may appear to be expensive, it will save money in the long-run when compared with non-compliance.

  3. Reinvigorating the use of digital technologies.

  4. Paying attention to behavioural economics in order to highlight the impact of changing learners’ behaviours on the organisation’s financial situation.

  5. Using more innovative design features to bring compliance content and its value to life.

  6. Listening to what learners find essential for learning.

  7. Getting managerial buy-in for compliance programmes, by advocating the available programmes and seeing the value in them so that employees also can recognise their importance.

  8. Involving managers in the learning journey, by L&D working with organisational leaders in order to achieve successful compliance.