I recently hosted a panel at an industry conference on the topic of “Training & Communication: Marketing & Integrating Your Compliance & Ethics Brand.” I finished by asking the audience, “How many of you knew you’d also be wearing a marketing hat from time to time?” There was a scattering of hands — but there should have been more.
The biggest challenge facing ethics and compliance professionals these days is creating a distinctive culture of ethics and respect in their organization – one that both defines and expresses their brand. While online compliance training courses, instructor-led seminars, and eye-catching posters contribute to employee knowledge and awareness, getting employees to actually live the cultural lessons you’re trying to impart requires a healthy dose of good old-fashioned consumer-focused marketing. And in the world of compliance, our consumers are our employees.
For instance, when a big-name European car company is trying to convince you to buy a luxury vehicle, it doesn’t just tell you about leather seats, fuel economy or safety features. It invites you to join a culture. Ethics and compliance is a different animal, of course – but culture is just as important and many of the same rules apply.
Universal concepts, individualized delivery
Just as we would if we were marketing cars or any consumer product, the messages we create for ethics and compliance must be universal, yet also tailored to the individual. This requires us to deliver messaging in all the ways employees receive information from other sources, whether that’s social media, email or internal corporate networks.
Some of the participants on my panel had good ideas for applying this concept when it comes to reinforcing principles of compliance in the workplace:
- Humanize the message: Two of the panelists described their efforts to tell personal stories and use real-life scenarios to increase employee engagement and underscore cultural relevance. Their programs, aptly named “I Am Compliance” and “Faces of Compliance” featured desktop delivery of videos, images and stories of real people discussing how to behave when confronted with an ethical dilemma or a breach in compliance.
- Maintain a constant drip: All the panelists agreed that maintaining a “constant drip” or “continuous flow” in the training and communications program was essential for reinforcing the organization’s compliance brand. Just as it works in conventional advertising, repetition of a lesson over time makes the learning sticky. One company sends out notifications with a short message at the start of each business day to maintain that constant drip.
- Vary the method: One panelist explained that her organization had learned not to rely on just one method of training because it eventually gets stale and employees stop paying attention. Instead they use various methods, including online and mobile reminders, one-point pop quizzes, even cartoons, anything to keep the message fresh, interesting, and crystal clear.
- Measure and remediate: Another panelist found that measuring employee understanding and knowledge about the culture allowed her organization to discover learning gaps and points of uncertainty enabling them to take targeted remedial action.
Merge the messages
The ultimate goal in bringing a marketing mindset to your training and communications program is to build an internal compliance brand as powerful as the one your company conveys to the outside world. For example, your published code of conduct should merge seamlessly with your company’s brand and can even include many of the same cues such as taglines, colors, images of popular products and company locations, and of course the employees themselves.
You’re not creating a separate brand with your code of conduct, you’re simply deepening the roots of the values and reputation your company presents to the outside world.
The more subtle message you’re trying to reinforce is that when employees obey the rules and treat their coworkers with respect and civility, they’re actually contributing toward making their company a better place to work. Corporate culture isn’t derived from a set of documents, it’s built out of the individual and collective behavior of all employees.
Just as a brand isn’t what the company says about itself, but what other people say about the company, employee behavior is the final expression of your E&C marketing program’s success.
By Joe Pulichino, Ed.D.
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