For many years, organizations paid minimal attention to ethics and compliance training. Training was done by someone who had another important job to do on the ethics and compliance team. It was seen as a check-the-box exercise, and employees felt the brunt of that approach.
But over the years, E&C professionals have increasingly reported that they expect big things from their training programs. In NAVEX Global’s 2019 Definitive Corporate Compliance Benchmark Report, 64% of survey respondents – and 95% with advanced programs – identified compliance training as key to reducing bad behavior. And when it comes to the ultimate ethics and compliance goal – establishing a culture of ethics and compliance – that is the number one result that companies want from their compliance training program.
That is where reality and expectations don’t seem to quite align. We want our programs to do a lot of amazing things for our organization and workplace culture, but we don’t have sufficient time or budget to accomplish the basics. See chart below.
Why do you think that training programs fail?
Compliance training programs are growing in importance as organizations recognize the critical role they play in culture, and in compliance. Organizations are facing a host of new and emerging mandates and expectations, and key federal agencies are sending a clear message that checking the box is not sufficient.
Just this April, the U.S. Department of Justice Criminal Division released updated guidance in its Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs. The clear message is that your training program needs to be an integral part of your compliance efforts, and it must be effective. And our internal programs – everything from the solutions we use to the ways in which we support and monitor efforts – must be properly staffed and budgeted if we hope to have an impact. And it’s not just about your employees, it extends to board of directors and third parties.
Demonstrating compliance training effectiveness
A key marker of the most successful compliance training programs is multiyear planning and budgeting. This means that there is a multiyear plan that addresses what topics must be covered in the program, how frequently compliance training must occur, and which categories of employees must take the training.
The next key item is that your program must be properly budgeted and staffed.
If you want a world-class program that will help change your culture and send a message both internally to your employees and externally to regulators and investors that compliance matters, you must invest properly in that program. With 63% of E&C professionals indicating that they will be focusing on training in the next 18 months, there is no better time than now to get your program into shape.
This doesn’t change the fact that about 1 in 3 programs struggle with budget issues. The budget conversation starts with buy-in – buy-in from senior leaders who have access to the purse strings. This brings us to another key finding in the report: Leaders who view the ethics and compliance function as a strategic investment, associate compliance training with a positive impact on workplace culture. Leaders who see the compliance function as a necessary evil or an insurance policy, view compliance training less favorably.
This may feel a bit chicken and egg, but if you are having trouble getting the necessary funding for your program, start with taking a hard look at the training you have done to date. Is it high-quality and does it have an impact? If not, it’s time to make changes if you hope to get more support. If yes, then it’s likely time to work on changing your organization’s perception of the role of compliance in general. That will have a halo effect for the rest of your program components, including training. Granted, that is no small feat.
Here you need to think like your business leaders do – demonstrate value and return on investment. The benchmark report indicates half of respondents believe that ethics and compliance training reduced their legal liability as well as increased the number of employees who spoke up by raising issues through internal reporting channels. Have you ever thought about trying to quantify what this means for your organization in terms of dollars? These are real numbers that could have a real impact on perception and your ultimate budget allocation.
How does your E&C training program impact your organization?
Relying on strategy when you have a shoestring
Until that happens, strategy can be the differentiator for your effective compliance training program. While funding and staffing may be nonstarters for many budget strapped organizations, effective communication, strategic deployment, and committed leadership support are key program drivers that every organization can work to deliver on. And these are essential program features called out in the updated DOJ guidance.
First, make sure you are targeting the right employees with the right topics. Don’t force everyone to take in-depth training on every topic you offer. Think about roles and risks, and try to deploy training that is relevant to the learner. That will help you address learner fatigue and limited time to train. Unfortunately, only 26% of organizations consider an employee’s particular exposure to risk in determining who is assigned a training topic. “Risk based” is a critical approach for all things ethics and compliance. Training is no different. The training messages an employee receives should directly align with the type and level of risk the employee encounters in their daily work.
Invest budget dollars wisely
Second, the effectiveness of your training itself is paramount. Are the messages you are trying to get across communicated effectively and communicated regularly? If you have any budget at all, spend it wisely. Don’t just go for the cheapest training solution – think about the best way to spend the dollars you have and make your program as effective as possible.
As you determine which training to offer, you have to address two underlying challenges: knowledge retention and learner fatigue. If you cannot afford top of the line training for all topics, select the most important ones and invest more heavily in those topics. You will need to train on other topics as well, but your investment in terms of time and dollars may be less robust. In budget strapped programs you may consider a mix of online training, live training, or training done via screen share technology.
Get leadership support
Finally, leadership support, even if not in the monetary form, is still essential. Leadership needs to reinforce the compliance messages presented in your training. They need to take your training, and so should your board of directors. Many times communicating the compliance message is the easy part; the hard part is communicating that the organization is serious about it. And that message needs to come from the top down.
It is encouraging to see that the perception of compliance training is trending positive, especially among advanced programs that are continuing to improve their ethical cultures and reduce their legal liability. The next stage of program maturity is to ensure those perceptions receive the necessary support from internal stakeholders to grow the type of ethics and compliance training programs that deliver on those goals.
By Ingrid Fredeen
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