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A spoonful of sugar


Are your compliance courses seen as ‘unpleasant medicine’? Remember when you were ill as a child and the doctor prescribed that horrid yellow medicine? That unpleasant whiff of banana. You knew it was necessary, but it wasn’t a pleasant experience. Best to just get it over with.

Some learners (and some trainers) have the same feeling about mandatory e-learning courses. It’s a part of modern life, they say, might as well be grown up about it, click continue until it’s over with for another year. They make it through the multichoice assessment, breathe a sigh of relief and go back to doing exactly the same thing as they were doing before. No behavioural change, no shift in mindset, no difference in engagement levels.

We know that e-learning is a powerful tool that can deliver consistent messages and can provide effective learning management to meet audit requirements. But to build competence you need to create a learning experience that engages colleagues and drives the behaviours that underpin the success of the business. And doesn’t leave you making a face.

Here are five ways you can make your compliance e-learning more palatable.

1. Link learning to individual aspirations.

We humans are simple creatures – we’re motivated by reaching our own goals, not other people’s.

To start with, you’ve got to make the training mean something. Connect the ‘important but dull’ messages of compliance to the learner’s everyday experiences. To create a learning experience that engages learners and drives behavioural change, you need to tell your audience what’s in it for them. We humans are simple creatures – we’re motivated by reaching our own goals, not other people’s.

So what’s the motivation for learning something new? Where’s the reward? How does this training help learners do their job? For a creative business it could be “If we display exemplary professional conduct, then we can push boundaries in our work”. Be it increased sales revenue or feeling more confident in front of new clients, you need to set out what it is they’ll gain from completing this course. Make the link between the course and their own individual ambitions and you’re off to a great start.

2. Competence not just compliance.

Next, try and reduce complex policy to simple ethical questions that can be answered by everyone. In many organisations, policies are written by legal teams who are determined to make sure every eventuality is covered. Give that to your average employee and it will feel overwhelming and meaningless. Break it down and ask yourself, what’s the essence of this policy? What are we really trying to achieve here?

Rather than simply teaching colleagues about procedures, focus on reinforcing the importance of one key action. Create a simple question that motivates people to do the right thing - it could be “Does this feel right?”, “What would my colleagues think?”, “How would I feel if someone treated me that way?” or “Could I explain this decision to a regulator?”

Make the learning relevant to your learners. Use familiar style, imagery, examples and peer contributions.

Choose a question that resonates with your staff and weave this message into your training materials. It makes decision-making instinctive instead of being based on impersonal policy documents. This gives ownership and accountability back to your people.

3. Find an authentic voice.

Make the learning relevant to your learners. Use familiar style, imagery, examples and peer contributions. Offering advice from experienced colleagues builds trust. Use familiar settings, make it feel like it’s coming from within, that it’s genuine and absolutely relevant.

Make the most of a distinctive culture, especially if it’s highly valued by colleagues. In order to build engagement and trust with learners, you need to capture and convey this culture throughout the learning content.

Some off-the-shelf e-learning, whilst convenient, can feel artificial and irrelevant. “Who’s this person telling me how to do my job? They don’t know me, and they don’t know my organisation”. Tempting like a ready meal, generic e-learning can be just as unsatisfying and unlikely to sustain your learners. If your learning isn’t cooked to your organisation’s own recipe, you risk alienating and disengaging employees. If you’ve got a limited budget, you could use off-the-shelf content as part of a bigger, customised blend, but try to avoid it as a sole solution.

4. Place learning in context.

Learning should be driven by authentic scenarios, drawn from real work situations. Simulations, case studies, ethical dilemmas, stories – they all bridge the gap between the training room and the real world. Replicate common incidents that occur in the workplace. Don’t make it too easy, there’s not always a right answer - real life is nuanced, so reflect that in your materials.

Create scenarios set in the context of key messages from the policies or codes that you’re trying to teach - reference the underpinning procedures, but don’t expect people to be able to recall clause 5.1.2 or the overnight accommodation spending limits for a hotel in Azerbaijan. Signpost where people will get the information – test their ability to know why, when and where to go for clarification, rather than simply testing their memory.

Combine engaging content with communications strategies that you know work in your organisation.

5. Campaign for change

‘If you build it, they will come’ was certainly not said about compliance e-learning. Blend e-learning with internal communications to campaign for real change. Combine engaging content with communications strategies that you know work in your organisation.

So how do you drive adoption of your initiative? First, find the thing that motivates the employees you’re trying to reach and weave messages around that. Surround them with news of your project - posters, emails, teasers, intranet banners, speeches from key thought leaders in your business. Second – make it easy for them. Work with your technical teams to create single sign-on access points, put links to the learning on intranets, Sharepoint sites, email footers - places people visit many times a day. If you’re in a sector where staff aren’t sat in front a computer all day, make sure it’s talked about in team meetings, that there are posters in kitchens or send postcards to employees at home. Be creative about how you broadcast your key messages.

Follow up launches with targeted communications for any late adopters. Consider gamification to encourage completions – you could use leaderboards that use real-time tracking capability, so teams can see who’s completed the training and who hasn’t. This motivates learners to join in, managers can see progress and target any feet-draggers - plus it adds a fun element to the training.

To make behavioural change instinctive, learning needs to be a process rather than a one-off event. So think about how you reinforce those messages over time. Remember those simple questions that you formulated, the ones that motivate people to do the right thing? Make them visible to people as they go about their daily business.

That’s when compliance and competence become instinctive, making life – and learning – sweeter for everyone.