Effective training

You compliance training doesn’t have to be fun. It doesn’t have to be entertaining. Or popular.

It can be, but it doesn’t have to.

If you assume that your employees want to do the right thing, then what your training must do is help them do their job compliantly.

An animated video about the elements of antitrust violations can be entertaining, but the learnings will have faded 6 months later when your sales rep is about to attend a trade show. What she’ll really need at that moment is a boring job aid like a simple checklist of what she must do before, during and after the trade show (e.g. submit the agenda and the minutes to Legal, make a “noisy exit”, etc.).

Just-in-time training. Task-based training. That’s what most front-line employees need.

Think about the approach of safety professionals. Next to every doorway leading onto the shop floor, there is a sign asking employees to wear safety goggles and a bin containing such goggles. No one is simply relying on the safety video that was shown to the employees on their first day on the job.

So why don’t we do the same for legal risks? Why do we continue to rely on once-a-year videos and certifications?

It’s a big task, of course. But we can start small:

  1. Identify your biggest risk
  2. Identify where this risk poses the greatest threat (by geography or product line)
  3. Identify the group of employees closest to the risk (sales, finance, etc.)
  4. Identify the riskiest task performed by these employees
  5. Create a job aid or some other type of task-based training just for them

Then move back up the list and address the other tasks. Then the other groups. Then the other locations. Then select another risk and go back down the list.

It’ll take time but you will be making real progress.

Just in time

Imagine a world where we don’t put stop signs or traffic lights at dangerous intersections.

Instead, we provide training to all students entering high school, telling them where the dangerous intersections are, hoping they will remember when they first take the wheel a few years later.

Sounds ridiculous?

Yet, many companies train their new employees on antitrust or corruption risks months or years before these employees will attend a trade show or interact with a government customers. Wouldn’t it be better for the training to be provided just before every trade show or customer meeting – as if they were approaching a dangerous intersection?

Training options

There are different ways to train employees. Depending on the risk we face, some ways are better than others. Here are a few options (among many others):

  • Onboarding training – That’s the one-and-done approach. It should be reserved for no/low-risk activities, like “Here is where the corporate policy manual is.”
  • Basic training – Also for one-time training events, and recommended for low/medium-risk activities, like “Careful Email Communications”.
  • Refresher training – The training we repeat every year or every other year, for specific groups of employees. Best for medium/high risk activities, like “Discrimination and Harassment”.
  • Task-based training – This is when the training is baked into the actual tasks of the high-risk activity. Ideal for significant risks like antitrust, corruption, or trade sanctions.
  • Simulated-risk training – I call it War Games. A common example today is phishing your own employees to test their alertness, awareness and decision-making skills. When used for high-risk activities, repeatedly failing these exercises could lead to disciplinary actions.

The art of repetition

My mom, whose first career was as a high school teacher, had a saying: “Educating is the art of repetition.”

Teachers (and parents) understand this. Not only do they have to repeat the same material with every new class, they have to repeat it with the same class until everyone understands the lesson. Different students learn in different ways and at a different speed, so teachers must find different ways to teach the same material. There is in fact an art to it.

As E&C professionals, we face the same challenge. Each employee learns in her own way. Some of us have to deal with multiple cultures and multiple languages. And, of course, we all get a regular influx of new employees.

It’s normal for us, and perhaps even more so for our business partners, to get tired of repeating the same thing over and over again. Eventually, we assume that everyone gets it as much as we do. That’s what the Heath brothers called “the curse of knowledge” in their book Made to Stick. Experts start believing that everyone else understands what they understand. But we all know that what seems like an obvious red flag to an antitrust lawyer is not so obvious to a junior salesman.

Clearly, we cannot stop teaching. So our job is to find new ways to deliver the same materials in innovative ways. We can mix it up with technology, with humor, or with artifacts (art-ifacts – get it?).

Pro tip: remember that your employees are not tired of hearing the message. This should give you the energy to keep going.

What’s your story?

As an ethics & compliance professional, what if your day was live-streamed for all employees to see?

What if they could see you writing multiple drafts of a new conflict of interest policy, and see you push for its adoption, and see you upload it to the website?

What if they could observe the countless hours that go into creating a training module to educate the workforce on preventing corruption – writing the script, selecting the actors, verifying the translations?

What if they could listen in during your meetings with the internal audit department as you scope audits to insure that antitrust controls are effective?

What if they could see the long hours you spend reviewing thousands of emails as you try to gather facts following an anonymous complaint?

What if they could hear the debates of the disciplinary committee to ensure that everyone is treated fairly and consistently?

In that hypothetical world, assuming employee confidentiality and privacy could be protected, I believe that the corporate culture would improve. This level of transparency would foster trust.

In our real world, we can adopt a lighter version of this. We can tell our story – everyone loves a story. We can make employees feel part of that story, because they are part of that story. Storytelling is how people learn best.

Why don’t you tell your story?

Maintenance is cheaper than repairs

The best E&C programs kick the tires on a regular basis.

They understand that a program cannot run forever without adjustments, maintenance and repairs.

In a large organization, a program will have several elements: antitrust, anti-corruption, government contracting, international trade, privacy, cyber-security, ethical culture, etc. At any given time, one element is in the hot seat, getting all the attention, while another is considered safe and ignored.

A good program will make sure that no element is ignored for too long. Every fews years at the most, we need to kick the tires. If it can’t be done in-house, competent consultants can do this work quickly and at a reasonable price. It’s easy to budget for.

Regular maintenance is often cheaper than repairs.


Many employers have an official on-boarding process for new employees.

It’s that short period after hire when we tell new employees what they need to know before they start doing what we actually hired them to do.

This includes sharing our values and providing ethics & compliance training. Just like we would not let a machine operator on the shop floor without safety training, we don’t send an account executive to a trade show without antitrust training.

We do this at the outset of employment to frame messages that come later – messages about sales goals, production quotas, delivery schedules, etc. Our values provide context for our rules.

However, few of us remember that we communicate about our values even earlier in the hiring process. How much we talk about our ethical culture during the interview stage sends a message. How often we communicate our values as part of our marketing efforts can determine the talent we attract.

If an ethical culture is truly the foundation of our business, everything we do should communicate accordingly.