Getting it right

Written by Rob Caul on 1 May 2013 in Features

Rob Caul provides a step-by-step guide to compliance training

We live in a highly regulated world today.

Whether it is the latest anti-bribery legislation, data security, health and safety, or industry-specific legislation, regulatory compliance is a familiar term in the business lexicon.

Today, there are well over 100 government bodies carrying out oversight activities, with failure to instigate compliance policies likely to have potentially serious consequences for both individuals and organisations. The Civil Aviation Authority, the Financial Services Authority, the Environment Agency, the General Medical Council, the Healthcare Commission, the Information Commissioner, the Nursing and Midwifery Council, and the Pensions Regulator are just a few of these regulatory bodies ensuring that certain standards are adhered to.

Furthermore, being compliant doesn't just mean you are adhering to current legislation. It can reduce the cost of insurance policies and is often required by new business clients as part of the procurement process.

There is also little doubt that increased regulation has led to growth in compliance training. The L&D industry today is typically spending up to five times more budget on health and safety, quality, compliance, and technical training than on professional skills1. In a 2012 survey conducted by Kallidus, 67 per cent of UK organisations interviewed said that compliance is very important to them2 and the 2010 Benchmark Survey from Towards Maturity3 found that a key driver behind 73 per cent of organisation's use of learning technologies is to improve the delivery of compliance learning.

The same survey from Towards Maturity found that 89 per cent of businesses deliver health and safety training to staff, 80 per cent deliver compliance programmes related specifically to their industry, and 76 per cent deliver programmes related to corporate social responsibility, such as equality and diversity.

This growth in compliance training is also being seen on the other side of the Atlantic where, according to Bersin & Associates' 2011 Corporate Factbook4, the top priorities among US companies include meeting compliance requirements and improving skills that are highly specific to a learner's job.

So what does this mean to training and the design of training programmes that both ensure that employees adhere to the latest legislation as well as providing genuine input into their career development?

There are two key elements of compliance training today that have a fundamental impact on the success of the training that is provided: firstly, the fact that individuals have no choice as to whether they undertake it and, secondly, that it is necessary to prove to the powers-that-be that compliance has been attained. Let me explain more.

Just ticking a box

One of the biggest obstacles to effective compliance training today is the compulsory nature of it. The fact that it has to be done all too often leads to a simple tick-box approach - 'we have got to do it so let's just do it as quickly and as painlessly as possible' . This attitude, however, can be significantly detrimental to the effectiveness of the learning intervention.

Few learners are likely to be incentivised by the training, for example, if those that design it are all too happy to point out the dire consequences of not complying and breaking the law. Training driven by fear of non-compliance is never going to capture the imagination of the learner as it is a training focus that prioritises covering the back of the organisation rather than meeting the needs of the user.

Similarly, all too often, the tick-box approach leads to training departments rolling out large portions of compliance training without any serious reflection or measurement as to what its true value and impact is. You would not get away with this non-proactive approach with other forms of training so why does the bar tend to be lowered so much with compliance training?

This article will explore means by which this bar can be raised again so that compliance training is not simply a certification-based programme but can actually help enhance performance and change behaviour.

The importance of monitoring compliance training

In addition to the compulsory nature of compliance training, the second key characteristic is that it must be regularly monitored.

Because there are legal requirements to keep detailed records of training and many professions requiring regular updates, it is clearly essential that all training is tracked with a full audit trail and repeat assessments. Simply providing the training is not enough.

Having now identified the key characteristics of compliance training, let's now examine by far the most popular form of delivery: e-learning.

The role of e-learning

E-learning remains the leading method for compliance training today. A survey in 2011 of 417 L&D professionals by the corporate training company Video Arts found that e-learning is being used for training specifically in legal skills (47 per cent) and health and safety (44 per cent)5.

While it's important that e-learning should remain just one element of a broader training approach and be integrated with other mediums, it's clear that some of its key characteristics lend themselves to compliance training today.

For example, e-learning is able to reach a broad audience cheaply and quickly - often the requirement in compliance training. It can also provide the consistency that a webinar or face-to-face training simply can't and ensure that everyone receives the same message with no concerns about any information or vital legislative nuances being left out. It can also alleviate the pressures on organisations' existing internal resources and can be delivered direct to the employee's desktop, mobile phone or tablet.

Flexibility is also important. With regulations changing all the time and new legislation coming onto the statute book, e-learning modules are ideal in that they can be easily updated. In this way, different courses can be tailored for different individuals, with employees receiving the training they need rather than simply a 'one size fits all' approach.

Finally, it is easy to track who has completed the training and when.

The net result is that e-learning continues to justifiably lead the way in the delivery of compliance training - a low-cost delivery channel that can reach a large and geographically dispersed employee population with a consistent message within a relatively short timeframe.

Top tips for successful compliance training

So, given that e-learning is the most effective delivery channel, what are the key characteristics of a successful compliance training programme and how can we ensure that it is much, much more than just a 'tick box' approach?

Firstly, in addressing the compulsory obstacle of compliance training, it's important that you keep things positive: focus more on the benefits of the training rather than the consequences of non-compliance, although learners should still be aware of the importance of complying.

It's essential, for example, that participants receive a clear explanation at the outset about why they need to do the compliance module, what they will get out of it, and why they need to adapt their ways of working to incorporate it. This needs to be done quickly and concisely - ideally in the first minute or two of the module.

Another important characteristic is to keep the e-learning module brief, with just a few key take-aways, and the language as conversational as possible. With many learners expecting compliance training to be full of jargon and business and legalistic speak, a conversational tone can keep them engaged and ensure that the training is more effective. The formal exposition of rules and policies should be kept as simple and top-level as possible, with supporting information available if learners are interested in delving deeper.

It's also essential that the e-learning taps into learners' day-to-day experiences so that they can see the relevance of the training, that it really matters and what impact it will have on their jobs. Compliance training is essentially about doing and changing individuals' behaviour rather than storing up vast reams of legalistic knowledge. Therefore, rather than focus on the legalistic detail, the key goal of compliance training should be posing the question what does this law or regulatory code mean to me in practice?

Real-life case studies that show what has actually happened in your own or other organisations and how this has affected both the employer and the people involved are also to be encouraged, as are meaningful role plays and practical work examples.

Questions to drive the learning experience and reference points for follow-up materials should also be included. In this way, employees can have a good understanding of how to apply what they have learned and are more appreciative of the consequences for their organisation. Learners should even be encouraged to identify the issues and make recommendations themselves.

There are other tools to ensure that compliance training is more aligned with individuals' jobs, such as including it in induction programmes, incorporating it into performance reviews and assessments, and using diagnostic tools to link the learning more closely to job roles.

Another important consideration here is to ensure that compliance training is targeted at the right people. Often, some form of compliance-related training is an issue for the entire organisation's workforce. Each employee, however, requires targeted training based on their level of responsibility rather than being on the receiving end of a 'broad brush' approach by the organisation.

For example, make sure that it is the sales teams who receive training on selling financial products and senior executives who are brought up to speed with the latest corporate governance guidelines. Don't push compliance training at employees who don't need it.

What other means can be used to engage the learner?

A fresh and eye-catching design helps, as does making the learning experience as stimulating and interactive as possible. At all stages, e-learning must also be learner-driven, with the learner at the heart of all activities. Variety is key as well - videos, photos, news reports or real-life case studies, for example.

The concluding minutes of the e-learning module are also crucial in ensuring that the learner is able to apply what he has learned in the real-world environment. It's therefore important that the key messages are reinforced at the end of the module, with the user clear as to his individual responsibilities. Someone to follow up with, if one has specific questions, is important, as is having assessment and feedback mechanisms throughout the training, so that the user never feels alone.

Finally, you can't rely on e-learning to do everything. The key messages and take-aways need to be constantly reinforced through other media and the correct behaviours need to be demonstrated from senior management downwards. Compliance training needs to be aligned with the organisation's corporate values and ethos.

Tracking the training

As I mentioned at the outset of this article, it's not simply enough to undergo the training - you need to prove that you have completed it as well.

A popular way of doing this is through an enterprise-wide learning management system that can act as the platform for reminders, updates and, if necessary, issuing completion certificates.

In this way, employees can have a better understanding of their own compliance responsibilities through automated email reminders and personalised training plans; line managers can see the compliance status of their teams in real time and can have the ability to manage their own training; compliance officers and senior management can have a full overview of the compliance status of their organisations, ensuring that standards are met and training is up to date.

Organisations can also stay current with changing and newly-introduced regulatory issues and legal requirements, make sure the right people complete the right regulatory training for their roles and provide evidence of mandatory training on demand to governing/regulatory bodies.

Developing a flexible solution for the NHS

Kallidus recently implemented an LMS system for Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS. Statutory training within Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust encompasses four main areas - health and safety, fire safety, infection control and manual handling. Securing attendance for this training was challenging, however, with staff having to take a whole day away from their regular duties. Many staff also did not work standard training hours.

The Trust chose the Kallidus LMS platform and Kallidus' bespoke content team to create the e-learning modules. Initially, it chose the four core modules to be developed (health and safety, fire safety, infection control and manual handling) with plans to also add two clinical modules - blood transfusion and medicines management - as well as an equality and diversity course.

Working with Kallidus' instructional designers, the e-learning scripts brought to life scenario-based content with questions, quizzes and knowledge checks based on pictures of the Trust's own buildings and hospitals and their own phrases and instantly recognisable terminology.

The e-learning-based compliance training helped Gloucestershire Hospitals NHS achieve 30,000 lesson completions in just five months, with staff fitting it around their work patterns - many nurses got access to the course during their night shifts, for example. The LMS is also tracking progress and the results of the training to meet NHS compliance purposes. Future course modules are expected to include key subjects such as dementia and child protection.

Here to stay

There's little doubt that the focus on compliance is here to stay and, if anything, will increase over the next few years.

If designed in the right way, with a focus on the learning goal and input to personal development rather than its compulsory nature, there's no reason why compliance training can't become an ever-more important element of the L&D mix over the coming years.

A fully-referenced version of this article is available on request.

About the author

Rob Caul is CEO of learning and talent management solutions provider Kallidus. He can be contacted via

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