Webinar Overview: Create Better Compliance Training

Webinar Overview: Create Better Compliance Training

We host a number of informative webinars at Vector Solutions to try to help people with common workplace performance problems. There's a list of recorded, on-demand webinars and upcoming, live webinars at our Webinars webpage.

In this article, we're going to review some of the key points from our recent Create Better Compliance Training webinar. You can listen to that webinar by clicking the link below:

Recorded, On-Demand Webinar: Create Better Compliance Training
(Vector Solutions Industrial and Vector Solutions AEC, webinar presenter Jeff Dalto, January, 2022) 

An Introduction to Compliance Training

We began with a brief introduction to some basics about compliance and compliance training, which we’ll briefly address below.

How Common is Compliance Training?

We started the compliance training webinar by asking our attendees how much of the total training that their organization delivered and assigned was compliance-based training.

  • 0-20 percent of organization’s total training: 17 percent of respondents
  • 20-40 percent of organization’s total training: 19 percent of respondents
  • 40-60 percent of organization’s total training: 36 percent of respondents
  • 60-80 percent of organization’s total training: 21 percent of respondents
  • 80-100 percent of organization’s total training: 8 percent of respondents

I admit I was surprised that the percentage of compliance-based training was so high. I know compliance training is a necessity and a “big thing,” but still didn’t anticipate it would be quite this high. Although perhaps when you hold a webinar on compliance training, that skews the attendees to a group that conducts more compliance training. Either way, the poll was interesting and certainly underscored the importance of compliance training in organizations.

Starting Assumptions about Compliance & Compliance Training

We then moved on to list a set of basic assumptions about compliance and compliance training that would serve as a framework or foundation for what we’d discuss in the rest of the webinar. These assumptions are:

  • Compliance is necessary (we all have to do it)
  • There are LOTS of compliance training requirements (and so it’s not a bad idea to look for help and efficiencies)
  • Compliance is the floor, not the ceiling (we should aim to do better than just comply)
  • Compliance is a multi-pronged effort (it’s about more than training and our compliance training should be aligned with our other compliance activities)
  • Compliance is about behaviors (and so therefore, compliance training should aim to change behaviors)
  • We shouldn’t see non-compliant behaviors as inevitable (so we shouldn’t just provide “checkbox-style” compliance training to cover ourselves legally)
  • People are inherently good, fair, ethical, etc. and generally want to comply (so our goal should be to help them comply)

Recommended Book on Designing Impactful Compliance Training

With those set of assumptions stated, we went on to give credit where credit is due. To prepare for this webinar, we read several books and did some additional crowd-sourcing through our professional networks as well. One of the best sources we found, and one we relied on a lot for both the webinar and for this article, was the book Fully Compliant: Compliance Training to Change Behavior by Travis Waugh (published by the ATD Press). In particular, we really relied on Waugh’s suggestions for designing compliance training to change behaviors as we’ll explain below. So, all credit to Waugh, and we do recommend people go out and buy the book and get much more information that we can provide in an hour-long webinar or in this article.

Compliance Training: More than Just Regulator Requirements

Next, we addressed the question of “What is compliance?” a little bit, and in particular, where are the types of compliance-related requirements an organization might face and the kinds of compliance training an organization might deliver to employees. In short, these included compliance requirements from regulators (such as OSHA, MSHA, DOT, etc.) but also training about an organization’s own code of conduct and the organization’s ethical training. So while regulatory compliance is a big part of compliance training, it’s not all of it.

Compliance Training: Addressing Which Risks?

With that addressed, we then discussed one of the major drivers of bad compliance training: which risk(s) an organization is most trying to address with their compliance training. In the broadest picture, an organization might use compliance training to mitigate two different types of risk. The first is the set of real risks faced by workers at organizations (and how those can lead to or contribute to non-compliant behaviors). The second is the risk of getting caught by a regulator or winding up in court without having provided compliance training to workers. And we admit, it’s understandable that an organization should consider both of these types of risks. But we ask you to consider if compliance training is sometimes too concerned with the risk of getting caught by regulators and does not focus enough on the risks that workers face in the work environment. We’d suggest it’s common for organizations to focus too much on the risk of getting in legal trouble (or being fined) because they didn’t provide compliance training instead of focusing on the real compliance-related issues and helping workers navigate difficult compliance challenges.

The Roots of Today’s Compliance & Compliance-Training Legal Landscape & Framework

According to Waugh in his book Fully Compliant, much of the current legal landscape regarding compliance training, and in particular legal sentencing issues, originates with the US Federal Sentencing Guidelines of 1991 (although this has been amended and other laws factor in as well). Those guidelines address not only sentencing but helped establish the following seven major ways organizations should address compliance-related issues:

  • Clear policies & standards
  • Executive leadership
  • Reporting channels for misconduct
  • Regular monitoring & auditing
  • Incentives & performance management
  • Proactive training & communication (the primary focus of this article and our recorded webinar)
  • Appropriate response & intervention

So it’s important not only to design better compliance training, but to strategically plan your organization’s compliance efforts so your compliance training is aligned with these other compliance activities.

During the webinar, we conducted another poll, asking how well organization’s have aligned their compliance training with these other foundations of compliance. Here are the results:

  • Not integrated-siloed: 14% of respondents
  • Some integration but we could improve: 68% of respondents
  • Well-integrated: 17% of respondents

So most attendees were in the middle, with some of their compliance training well-aligned with other compliance efforts but room for improvement as well. There’s reason for optimism but also room for improvement in this aspect of compliance.

Common Flaws with Compliance Training

We summarized some of the most common flaws with compliance training this way:

  • Doesn’t effectively manage real workplace risks
  • There’s too much of it
  • It’s often not designed by starting with an analysis of the workplace and of learners
  • It doesn’t focus on worker behaviors and attempt to modify those behaviors

To the point about not focusing on behaviors, one big flaw with a lot of compliance training is that it primarily focuses on delivering information to workers. Information is important, to be sure, and information can influence behaviors sometimes, but certainly information alone is not enough and compliance training that focuses entirely on “telling” workers things is likely to not attract or keep worker’s attention and is likely to be ineffective.

Partnering with a Training Provider for Compliance Training Assistance

Given the sheer amount of compliance training that many organizations have to deliver to workers, it makes a lot of sense to at least consider partnering with a training provider for help with compliance training. In particular, a training provider can help by offering:

eLearning Courses for Compliance Training

You’re probably familiar with elearning courses even if you don’t know them by that name. Some people refer to them as “online training” or even just “videos.” For the purposes of this article, it’s just important to know that elearning is the standard format for online training (you can read more about elearning courses here). When you’re looking for compliance training elearning courses, consider getting courses that are:

  • Intended to be used by employers like yours in your organization’s industry
  • Set within real job tasks that your workers actually perform
  • Intended to engage workers with things like job-relevance, eye-catching visuals, storytelling, and appeals to emotions

Learning Management Systems (LMS) for Compliance Training

You may be less familiar with learning management systems, a software system also known as an LMS. Learning management systems are online, generally cloud-based software systems that help manage, administer, deliver, track, and report on all of your training, including both training that happens online and training that occurs offline. You can read more about learning management systems (LMS) here.

Here are a few things to consider when looking for a learning management system (LMS) to help manage your organization’s compliance training:

  • Easy-to-access and intuitive admin dashboards to monitor compliance training completions, etc.
  • Tools to import existing training content (PowerPoints, videos, PDFs, etc.)
  • Tools to create online training activities (quizzes, surveys, checklists, etc.)
  • Tools to create specific training assignments for workers, selecting specific workers, teams, groups, departments, etc.
  • Tools to select specific training materials for compliance assignments (instead of one-size-fits-all assignments)
  • Ability to manage complex dates often associated with compliance training: when does the assignment start; when must it be completed; when does the initial training completion “expire,” and when must the worker complete the compliance training again?
  • Notification sent to workers and their managers to inform them of key training issues (assignments, upcoming expirations, incomplete training, etc.)
  • Ability to “package” a number of training activities so assignments can include multiple activities and be completed over time
  • Creation and storage of completion records (for online training and offline training)
  • Robust compliance-training reporting capabilities
  • Storage of training material audit history (storing older version of training activities you updated over time)

Webinar Poll on Compliance Training Documentation

Because documentation of compliance training is such a key concern, the next poll in the webinar asked the live audience if their organizations are struggling with documenting their compliance training (creating completion records, storing completion records, quickly finding completion records, etc.). Here’s what they reported (no pun intended):

  • Not at all (no challenges):  23 percent of attendees
  • Some challenges: 76 percent of attendees

A learning management system excels at automating this kind of training documentation. Learn more about this in our Features to Look for in an LMS for Compliance Training article.

Conducting a Training Needs Analysis for Compliance Training

Time and again, instructional designers will tell you that analysis is at the heart of all effective training efforts.

If you’re not familiar with analysis, it’s the investigation into things like:

  • Is there a problem to fix and, if so, what’s the cause of it?
  • Would training help?
  • What do I need to know about the learners to create training accordingly?
  • What do I need to know about the job task?
  • What do I need to know about the work environment?
  • What do I need to know about the training environment?
  • And similar issues one should “analyze” before any training is developed

You can learn even more about training analysis in our full article on the ADDIE training development model and this article on analysis within ADDIE.

In the webinar, we suggested conducting an analysis before beginning any work on compliance training in order to:

  • Get a better idea of real workplace context and risks
  • Find from managers and subject matter experts what risks most worry them
  • Find from employees/learners what their thoughts, experiences, and training needs on various compliance training topics are

In the webinar, we illustrate a technique for identifying risks, causes, and specific employees behaviors that elevate those risks (so that you can design training to help modify those behaviors). This is based on an example from Waugh’s Fully Compliant book, and in Waugh’s book it’s illustrated in the form of a fishbone/Ishikawa diagram. The diagram, which a training designer would create after consulting managers and employees, shows:

  • Specific, real workplace risks the organization the organization is worried about and wants to mitigate
  • Things that actually cause those risks
  • Specific things that contribute to those causes, including (but not limited to) employee behaviors

Organizations can use everything identified in their fishbone diagram(s) to strengthen their overall compliance programs, and they can use those worker behaviors that lead to causes and risks to begin creating targeted compliance training intended to modify those behaviors.

Targets for Compliance Training: What Drives Non-Compliant Behavior 

There are a number of things that drive behaviors at the workplace. In Waugh’s book, he identifies the following:

  • Organizational culture
  • Context in which behaviors occur
  • Habits
  • Worker motivation
  • Beliefs of individual workers

Waugh recommends not trying to create training to change your organization’s culture or change the actual beliefs of individual workers. And instead, he suggests focusing on changing how employees behave within specific workplace contexts or as a result of habits, and he also suggests creating compliance training that will motivate workers to both learn and behave differently on the job when training is over.

We won’t go into great detail why Waugh makes this argument, but we will note we agree with his logic and will give you a very compressed explanation below:

  • Organizational culture—this is probably setting your target too high and perhaps overestimating your ability to drive change. The culture of an organization is a large, multi-faceted creation of all the different people who work for that organization. Compliance training activity X, no matter how great it is, is unlikely to change your organizational culture in total and it’s possible you’ll find yourself essentially swimming upstream. Focus on changing individual behaviors and, over time, perhaps you’ll make a positive long-term effect on organizational culture. You can learn more about organizational culture via Edgar Schein’s model in this article.
  • Individual beliefs—it may seem attractive to try to create training that changes what people actually believe, but it’s not that easy. By way of analogy, think about political debates on social media sites. How often have you seen people change their minds? The fact is, it’s difficult to get people to change their minds (and our confirmation biases act against these attempts). Sometimes trying to do so will only make people dig in their heels and resist even more (which is one finding in this report about DE&I training from the Learning Guild) and sometimes you can risk offending workers and making them defensive by presenting training messages in polarizing, divisive terms that may seem good and true to you but are viewed differently by employees.
  • Context, habits, and motivation—you CAN design training to affect these here, and that training can help workers modify their behaviors and be more compliant. And that’s what we’re going to address in the next section of this article.

Compliance Training that Targets Workplace Context & Resulting Worker Behavior

Before we get into this section, it’s important to introduce the theories of the Nobel-Prize winning behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman as presented in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow. We’ve got an entire article devoted to applying the lessons of Thinking, Fast and Slow to workplace performance improvement projects, but we’ll quickly summarize the relevant points below:

  • We make far too many decisions in a day to give reasoned, rational thought to each one
  • As a result, our brains have created two “systems” for decision-making
  • One of those is a slow, deliberate system that uses reason and is often more accurate; the other is a faster system that’s essentially automatic and doesn’t require conscious decision-making
  • That second, fast system is necessary, often works well, but is more prone to mistakes and can be influenced by things like emotions

It’s this second system, the fast-thinking system that doesn’t require rational thought, that often kicks in when we’re faced with issues within our workplace context. And it’s things within the workplace context and our reactions to those contextual elements that we can target with compliance training to modify behaviors at work.

The automatic/system-1/fast-thinking behaviors (these can also be called rules of thumb, heuristics, or biases that Waugh calls out for particular attention with compliance training are:

  • Availability—we create opinions, make decisions, and act based on information that’s most readily and recently available to us.
  • Affect—we tend to make decisions based on our emotions
  • Social influence—we’re social beings and tend to want to fit in with the group and do what others do

Here are some tips (again, from Waugh’s book) on creating training with an eye toward how workplace context drives behaviors.

In reference to the availability bias/heuristic, considering doing this within your compliance training:

 In reference to the affect bias/heuristic, consider doing the following within your compliance training:

  • Tell stories within training
  • Draw upon your employee’s emotions during training
  • Make characters within training stories feel similar to and accessible to leaners (they’re “like me”)
  • Avoid merely explaining regulations and reciting data/statistics \
  • Avoid polarizing people with black and white, divisive scenarios and stereotypes

 In reference to the social influence bias/heuristic, consider the following in your compliance training:

  • Include information in training about what people’s coworkers do, believe, and value (example: 90% of employees already follow this compliance rule…)
  • Present real-life positive role models (and stories) drawn directly from the organization’s employee base
  • Reduce top-down “telling” within training
  • Enable more peer-to-peer discussion, reflection, learning, and sharing during training

Compliance Training that Targets Workers’ Habits at Work

To fully understand this next section, in which we discuss training to help workers change habits at work, it’s important to understand the three parts of a habit:

  • Cue: the thing that triggers the habit
  • Routine: what ones does in response to the cue
  • Reward: The benefit one receives after performing the routine in response to the cue

So to make that less abstract and more concrete, if I smoked cigarettes (my habit) and got stressed (cue), I’d pull out a cigarette and smoke it (routine) and feel relaxed as a result (reward). That’s it—the three parts of a habit.

So the compliance trainer’s goal here is to provide training that somehow helps the worker rewire that habit, either by changing the cue, routine, or reward. Below we’ve listed some ways to do that.

To create compliance training that modifies the cue at the beginning of a habit:

  • Help create a new cue by providing training that helps workers get “back in touch” with unpleasant feelings about non-compliant behaviors they most-likely have felt before but may have buried due to workplace stresses, competing priorities, etc.
  • Add new cues into the workflow in the form of just-in-time training (JIT) and embedded performance support
  • Instead of post-training attestations in which a worker attends training and then signs something saying they’ll put the training into action at work, try pre-training attestations (these prime the worker to pay more attention during training to see what they’ve just agreed to)
  • Use training and communication campaigns spread over time so these messages are more frequent and therefore more likely to act as cues
  • Use not only training but also other forms of communication that support and reinforce the intended message

To create compliance training that helps employees change the routine after a cue:

  • Find a way to redirect the tendency to find the path of least resistance back to a status quo, as many routines are in reaction to a cue that breaks the workplace status quo and are intended to quickly return to the status quo (additional tips for how to do this below)
  • Provide lots of practice in training
  • Provide job aids to guide performance on the job
  • Teach employees how to use resources provided in addition to training, such as ethics officers for consultation, guidance, and discussion

To create compliance training that helps employees change the reward after the cue and routine of a habit:

  • Develop training that highlights how good it feels to do something at work that’s compliant
  • Make potential emotional rewards that are currently invisible to the worker more visible (for example, explain how hacks that expose customer data can have very negative consequences for the customer, something the employee doesn’t directly see and may not think about)
  • Thank learners often during training
  • Train the first-responders who will respond to employees having compliance-related issues how to reply appropriately and helpfully

Compliance Training that Aims to Motivate Workers to Learn & Change Workplace Behaviors

We may not talk about this as much as we should in the world of training design, but having a learner be motivated to complete and learn from training is essential. Likewise, employees are more likely to apply that training and change behaviors on the job if they’re motivated. So our goal within compliance should be to unleash that motivation. For more on this general topic, check our articles on Daniel Pink’s book Drive and Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

To create compliance training that’s more likely to motivate workers to both engage with (and learn from) the training and later apply that training to change behaviors on the job, try the following in your training:

  • Recognize that people are motivated when they are autonomy, mastery, and purpose. Build these into their learning and performance environments as much as possible.
  • Include problem-based learning and problem solving in compliance training
  • Include fewer simplified, black-and-white examples in compliance training
  • Include more “shades” of gray examples in compliance training, especially for case studies and scenarios

How Vector Solutions Can Help Your Organization with Compliance Training 

At Vector Solutions, we’ve got the extensive libraries of compliance-related elearning courses to help and learning management systems with important compliance-training-based features to help you ensure compliance at work.

Our LMS also offers tools to help you import, create, assign, and track completion of your own custom, site-specific compliance training activities that you may have made using the tips about behavior, context, habits, and motivation discussed above.

Contact us today to learn how we can help you and good luck with your compliance training efforts. 


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