Any teacher will tell you that how we learn is nearly as important as what we learn. For compliance officers tasked with ensuring that employees and management are well-trained, the process isn’t quite as easy as the occasional online quiz.

An effective training program should understand the unique psychologies of the workforce and managers you hope to reach, Paula Davis, director of compliance program operations for SAI Global, said during a panel session at the Compliance Week 2015 conference.

“You’ve got people who don’t know; people who don’t care; people who don’t do anything they are not told to do by management or peers; and people who, no matter what you do, simply won’t care,” she said. “The gap between compliance training and leadership is what we do in each of these circumstances with these groups of people.”

Serving the “don’t know” segment means, naturally, closing that knowledge gap—although not necessarily by memorization and recitation. “Often there is just far too much ‘driving knowledge into people’ and hoping they remember, rather than giving them practical tools and techniques,” Davis said. “The idea that an occasional training program is going to embed knowledge and correct behavioral practices in an entire audience is mistaken. People will not retain this stuff indefinitely; it’s a use it or lose it situation.”

For employees with attitude issues—that is, the ones who just don’t care—CEOs, executives, and managers may be able to influence that thinking by example and tone at the top. Some leaders, Davis said, may first try to frighten people with stories of the terrible consequences that non-compliance can bring and the liabilities that will be visited upon them.

As Davis sees it, a more effective approach is to make employees care about ethical and compliance standards by appealing to basic human values. Psychological studies have also shown that people tend to be more obedient in the workplace than other aspects of their lives. “We can train the average employee as much as we want, but they will do what their manager tells them,” she said.

While employees may respond to authority, and managers can help balance training with business objectives, compliance must still be in control of those initiatives, Davis says. Senior managers, she warns, “tend to paint far too rosy a picture” of their company as an ethical workplace and don’t have the objectivity of a compliance officer.

Humanize the Experience

Don’t underestimate the value of a personal touch, Bruce Anderson, chief ethics officer for HealthNet, said at the Compliance Week 2015 conference. “Your standard online training is really good at reminding people, but you are probably not going to change someone’s mind,” he said. “One of the best ways to influence people is to create workshops and go in person.”

“I hate talking about compliance. The way I usually talk about compliance is to remove that word from most of my slides and focus on professional development.”
Amyn Thawer, Head of Global Compliance, LinkedIn

Amyn Thawer, head of global compliance for LinkedIn, spoke at Compliance Week 2015 and argued that the time to worry about compliance and ethics training is before someone is hired. He described his company as in “hyper-growth mode” where talent recruitment is a top priority. Another characteristic of the LinkedIn workforce: Like many Silicon Valley companies, it courts millennials aggressively.

That necessitates “adding some sizzle to the ethics and compliance work we do,” Thawer said. Traditional messaging that might be standard at older, larger organizations had to be re-imagined given LinkedIn’s current and future workforce.

“None of us have guaranteed jobs for life,” Thawer said. “Today, there is a social compact between an employee and the company that you have a tour of duty. The employees owe it to the company to improve it; the company owes it to the employee to enrich their professional development.”

Ethics and compliance training can be recast in this light, Thawer said. “I hate talking about compliance,” he said. “The way I usually talk about compliance is to remove that word from most of my slides and focus on professional development.” The message to these young employees: “You can’t be the CEO of a company if you don’t understand what that compliance and legal landscape is.”

Training and testing prospective employees is equally important, Thawer said. His team gives ethics and compliance questions to recruiters and managers to incorporate into LinkedIn’s hiring and evaluation process.

Good Oversight

As always, executive support for compliance—including the training component, which can sometimes cost painful dollars to implement—is crucial. “You can have the best training program, but if you don’t have buy-in from senior management, if you don’t have a seat at the table and ongoing, living involvement, it is really irrelevant,” added Suzanne Rich Folsom, chief compliance officer for U.S. Steel.

To secure that executive support, the CCO must show how a training program can create value. Making that connection clear to senior executives can help override concerns that training is costly, unnecessary, or a waste of resources, she said.


The following is from a presentation at Compliance Week 2015 by Suzanne Rich Folsom, general counsel, chief compliance officer, and senior vice president of government affairs for U.S. Steel. She listed questions a CCO should ask when developing compliance and ethics training programs.
Does your company have:

International operations and/or sales?

A business model relying on   third parties? 

Government-related customers or vendors?  

M&A transactions involving international targets?

Does the organization have adequate internal controls implemented?          

What is my budget?   

Do I conduct live training, in person or both?           

What are people calling the hotline about?
Sources: Suzanne Rich Folsom, CCO, U.S. Steel, CW Presentation.

Folsom suggests shaping training around compliance risk assessments, which ideally should be conducted at least once every two years.

Another pitfall is consistent messaging, since training is rarely done by a single group within a company—so compliance messages must align across the business as a whole, said Katherine Kelton, vice president of compliance for Aramark. “Compliance shouldn’t be seen as a bolt-on or add-on to the end of something that is done day-to-day,” she warned. Her approach is to build partnerships with operational leaders and stress that they share responsibility for compliance and ethics with the CCO.

Jennifer Tocci, senior compliance group manager for TD Bank, said she focused on defining roles and responsibilities—who has his or her hand in the training pot, so to speak. In many cases, internal auditors or regulators will want to know the answer to that question, to confirm that the right people in the organization created the best approaches to training.

“Is it someone in legal, someone in compliance, or a business person?” Tocci asked at Compliance Week 2015. “Who has the authority to say, ‘Yes, these are the words that are supposed to go on the page’ ”?

Most important of all, don’t rely on the status quo. “Don’t assume that because a company has been around a long time that they have a fabulous program,” Folsom warns.