In the past, compliance training was regarded by companies as optional. Organizations can no longer afford to take that view.

Recent guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) puts pressure on businesses to ensure compliance reinforces the values, policies, and procedures of the organization. Yet, “Compliance teams are still typically understaffed and overworked,” said Maria D’Avanzo, chief evangelist officer at Traliant. The department must take advantage of opportunities to craft its message to employees in an effective manner.

Enter code of conduct training.

More than 70 percent of respondents to a survey from Compliance Week and Traliant, an online compliance training provider, believe their organization’s code of conduct (CoC) training to be effective. The survey, conducted in September and October, received responses from 209 compliance and risk professionals representing both private and public organizations.

Of the respondents, 12 percent described their CoC training as “highly effective.” Another 23 percent were neutral on the subject, while only 6 percent described their training as ineffective.

For organizations looking to elevate their CoC training to highly effective levels, online courses are “a great tool that lets compliance, administration, and human resources teams get a head start,” said D’Avanzo, a former chief ethics and compliance officer herself. A plus of offering online training is that the door is wide open for customization, allowing compliance departments to exert their influence on ensuring the learning meets its mark.

About 76 percent of survey respondents said their training includes online content, either exclusively or in combination with a live component. Just 10 percent said their training was strictly live.

“The DOJ expects organizations to measure the effectiveness of their CoC training. One way is to use data from question level reporting to identify knowledge gaps and then send out microlearnings—short videos that are quick and easy to consume—or emails to reinforce that information and change behavior.”

Maria D’Avanzo, Chief Evangelist Officer, Traliant

CoC training is most impactful for employees when it includes real-life, “ripped-from-the-headlines” examples of the conduct or ethical challenges the company is wrestling with, said D’Avanzo. How much their training is linked to the experiences and needs of their organization might account for respondents’ differing views on effectiveness.

“A tailored approach to training conveys knowledge in a relevant context so employees can better identify and escalate issues and avoid misconduct,” she said.

If your employees have been struggling to understand why accepting gift cards from clients might pose potential conflicts of interest, pull those examples into your training and use tools like FAQs to explain the situation in a simple way, D’Avanzo said.

It’s crucial to customize training to bring it home to employees by including content that reflects their organization’s ethical challenges, D’Avanzo said.

Typically, an organization will assess what is important to and specific about it from a risk perspective. Those details will inform its discussion with its training vendor regarding which CoC training topics to focus on, D’Avanzo added.

“You have this code that says be a good corporate citizen, and you have to make sure your employees understand what that means in terms of their day-to-day work and the decisions they make,” said Scott Schneider, head of content development at Traliant.

Regarding customization, D’Avanzo recommended looking at the organization’s recent investigation track and picking three areas to highlight, such as conflicts of interest, sanctions, and fraud. The company could also include a 3-minute video featuring the chief executive officer to introduce the training and highlight its importance. Its culture and community could be incorporated, along with its branding, logo, and colors.

Another way to go is to include questions from the “running list” compliance teams regularly field from employees, D’Avanzo said.

Nearly 14 percent of survey respondents reported offering no formal training at all. These firms are likely smaller and don’t train in the traditional sense, D’Avanzo observed.

“They are likely providing CoC training in a format other than traditional online training, such as targeted ’hot topic’ emails, a compliance newsletter, or incorporating CoC messages in business line meetings,” she said.

Added Schneider, “Online training can be a great option for smaller companies that may not have the in-house expertise to tackle nuanced topics like privacy, bribery, or harassment.”

Meeting government expectations

“The DOJ expects organizations to measure the effectiveness of their CoC training,” said D’Avanzo. “One way is to use data from question level reporting to identify knowledge gaps and then send out microlearnings—short videos that are quick and easy to consume—or emails to reinforce that information and change behavior.

“There’s an expectation by the DOJ that if you get into trouble, this aspect of your training program is going to be looked at very closely. There’s no way around that.”

Traliant Q5

Having an updated training course was not a priority for more than half of the survey respondents. About 54 percent said they are comfortable offering the same annual training course two or three times, while 32 percent said they prefer to offer the same training once only.

Among organizations using a training vendor, 38 percent didn’t know when the course was last updated. Organizations should make it a point to know when their CoC training was last updated and how, said D’Avanzo.

Compliance teams at those organizations would benefit from building a strong partnership with their vendors, she said, especially as the DOJ increases its scrutiny on training.

Keeping up with change

It’s often difficult to get employees to take CoC training. If an organization isn’t updating it and making it fresh every year, employees will notice and might be even more resistant to participating, D’Avanzo said.

About 51 percent of survey respondents said new rules and regulations would be the No. 1 reason to motivate their organization to update CoC training. Emerging ethics and compliance risks were identified as the top factor by 17 percent of respondents, while 15 percent said new organizational initiatives, such as implementing environmental, social, and governance (ESG) changes.

Most organizations are aware of new rules that are implemented, D’Avanzo said, and a good way to keep up is by signing up for free newsletters from law firms that track regulations. Another good source is the compliance community.

“Compliance officers are notorious for sharing freely,” and it really pays off for local officers to set aside time to talk once a month, D’Avanzo said.