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You're probably spending way too much on compliance training
Seven ways to reduce your compliance spend - and increase its effectiveness.
In my last newsletter, I took issue with a single online compliance course and described - in somewhat tedious detail - why I thought it failed by its own standards. This week, I want to take a step back and look at compliance training in general.
In some ways, the learning tech industry is built on compliance training. According to Fosway, annual compliance is the number one driver of learning activity, with 57% of participants in their 2023 research report highlighting it as their top priority.
And indeed the Custom team here at Mind Tools work on compliance projects all the time. Sometimes these projects are based on statutory requirements (it’s the law), sometimes it’s regulatory (a regulator has set rules), and sometimes it’s because a client has made a public commitment to providing training and now needs to demonstrate this.
You may well be thinking: ‘What a waste of time’. I know that this is a common view in the L&D industry and I have some sympathy for it. ‘Training’ is one of the worst controls you can put in place to mitigate risk because it requires that people do the right thing - something that humans are not terribly good at. In fact, Gartner is predicting a 50% reduction in annual compliance training by 2025 as organizations shift to more automated controls.
However, in the meantime, online training for compliance does offer a number of advantages. It’s relatively easy to produce, distribution is almost free, and it can help limit financial penalties for organizations when something goes wrong.
There are also good reasons to do it well. First, if it’s well designed, then it:
🔒 actually can mitigate the risks your organization faces;
😍 sends a message to employees about how much the organization cares about that risk;
💃🏾 creates a better employee experience.
And, if a major incident occurs, you don’t want to be asked to demonstrate how effective your training was only to have to present an embarrassingly generic tick-box exercise.
All of that being said, you probably spend too much on it.
Based on a number of conversations I’ve had in the past couple of weeks with clients and colleagues, I’ve put together the following equation to help you lower those costs.
A PowerPoint version is available if you want it.
In short, the cost of compliance training equals:
⚙️ the cost of developing the training;
👩🏽💻 PLUS the cost of time spent by your colleagues to complete that training;
💰 PLUS the cost of fines, reputational damage or other fallout from a failure to do this well.
If we can reduce the costs associated with each of these, the total cost of compliance training will drop considerably - while also providing a better and more effective learning experience for your colleagues.
⚙️Development costs: Do we build or buy?
There are plenty of e-learning providers who offer off-the-shelf compliance courses - including us! An off-the-shelf option can meet your compliance needs overnight. And, if they’re designed well, they can be effective. But they also come with a recurring annual license fee.
Building your own compliance courses takes more time and the involvement of a subject matter expert. But it also means that content can be tailored to your organization’s unique context and challenges, increases relevance to your learners, and you only have to pay for it once (we can help with this too).
Since we’re looking at reducing cost in this newsletter, the key consideration would be the whole-life cost of your solution. How long do you expect to use it? And at what point does building it become cheaper than buying it?
👩🏽💻 Colleague hours spent: How do we reduce these?
In the L&D world, we’re all about improving colleagues’ lives. Sometimes that means helping them develop skills. At other times it means making their working day less bad.
Trust me: Your colleagues will thank you for reducing the amount of compliance training they have to complete, no matter how great it is. And it’ll save your budget!
Here’s seven ways you can reduce the time spent by colleagues on compliance training, grouped under three neat headings:
1. Design for their context and ditch the irrelevant stuff
Years ago, I worked on a health and safety project where the team were scratching their heads trying to think of chemical hazards to include in the ‘COSHH’ section of their e-learning.
If you can’t think of any for an extended period of time, it probably means it’s not a real risk - and you don’t need to worry about it.
2. Offer ‘role selection’ to personalize content
A manager’s responsibilities are typically more extensive than a team member’s. Someone who works on-site faces more hazards than someone who works in an office.
By offering a ‘role selection’ mechanism, you can tailor content to different user groups - and save everyone looking at material that has no relevance to them.
Provide a pre-test
3. Allow users to ‘test out’ by demonstrating capability
The purpose of compliance training is to ensure that colleagues can make the correct decisions to protect the organization. If they can do that before they take the training, then the training is going to offer little to them.
A ‘test out’ gives them an opportunity to demonstrate competence, and then skip the learning content entirely if they pass.
There are various approaches to this. In our off-the-shelf courses, we leave the assessment open the entire time and let the learner decide when to take it.
4. Serve relevant content to ‘plug gaps’ based on a pre-test
Another way to use a pre-test is to serve content to learners based on gaps in their current knowledge or capability.
With this approach, the learner answers questions based on topic area, and is then presented with only those topics where they made mistakes.
Check out our example to see how this works in practice.
5. Provide ‘refresher’ courses, not repeats
Most commonly, we see organizations role out the same training every year. This means that colleagues who have completed the training three or four times are exposed to the exact same content as someone who is new to the organization.
An alternative approach is to provide more extensive training when a course is first launched, and to reinforce those messages with short ‘refresher’ courses over the subsequent months or years.
6. Review frequency
Compliance training is often run annually. In some cases, this may be a requirement. In others, it’s the result of having not asked: ‘Why?’
Your legal colleagues will be able to offer advice (and opinions) on how often compliance training needs to be rolled out and repeated.
7. Consider regular spaced bites instead of longer courses
I began this post with a reference to an online compliance course that I criticized in a previous newsletter. It’s mea culpa time.
While I stand by all of my previous criticisms, I neglected to mention that the course in question was part of a longer programme of drip-fed content.
This approach leverages what we know about how people learn, including spaced repetition and the importance of retrieval practice. It means shorter courses, more often, and is a demonstrably effective way to promote learning for those areas where you really do need colleagues to change their behaviour.
Which takes us to…
💰 What risks do you face?
They tell me compliance is dull. So, if you’re still with us in this week’s Dispatch, then you’re a hero (🦸) and I see you.
Anyway, I wrote at the start of this post that compliance actually does serve a purpose. The ideas above aren’t intended to dismiss compliance training, but to help us all do a better job of achieving its ultimate aim: To help our colleagues make decisions that protect our organizations and our customers.
Ask yourself (and your compliance/risk/legal colleagues): What risks are we exposed to, and what should our response be?
For example, modern slavery is more of an issue if you work in an airport than for a publisher. Financial services firms (rightly) have more regulations to comply with than tech start-ups.
When you’re putting together your compliance program, ask yourself: Is this a real issue that our organization faces?
Then, make decisions about frequency, depth, and test-outs based on the answer.
Compliance is important. Bad training takes too long, is unfocused, and everyone hates it.
Effective training is shorter, tightly aligned to the behaviors that you want colleagues to demonstrate - and costs way less.
Hey you made it! Here at Mind Tools, we really do want to combine effective compliance with a positive experience for our end users. If that sounds like a groovy thing you’d like to chat about, contact email@example.com or reply to this newsletter from your inbox.
🎧 On the podcast
On the topic of end users, Nahdia and I recorded a fun podcast last week with Gusto’s Jaclyn Anku and Intellum’s Lizzi Shaw. Jaclyn and Lizzi are experts in online learning, but work in the ‘customer education’ rather than L&D world.
That means their approach is based less on running programs and developing content, and more on generating revenue - both for their customers and their organizations.
Check out the episode below 👇🏿
📖 Deep dive
Let’s keep it light this week.
What are the odds of ‘Heads’ when you toss a coin? According to researchers in Amsterdam, it’s not what you think.
The team tossed 350,000 coins from 46 different currencies and discovered that there’s a 51% chance that coins will land on the same side they started on.
‘Coins of 46 different currencies were flipped by hand and caught in the palms of 48 student participants to record the landing side. The data collection process required meticulous recording over many months, with flipping sessions videotaped to validate the results.’
‘Why?’, you may ask.
Well, from the paper:
‘If you bet a dollar on the outcome of a coin toss (i.e., paying 1 dollar to enter, and winning either 0 or 2 dollars depending on the outcome) and repeat the bet 1,000 times, knowing the starting position of the coin toss would earn you 19 dollars on average.’
Bartoš, F., Sarafoglou, A., Godmann, H. R., Sahrani, A., Leunk, D. K., Gui, P. Y., ... & Wagenmakers, E. J. (2023). Fair coins tend to land on the same side they started: Evidence from 350,757 Flips. arXiv preprint arXiv:2310.04153.
👹 Missing links
According to KPMG, 64% of 1,300 global CEOs surveyed are predicting a full return to the office within three years. That might sound unlikely, given how many people seem to prefer at least some form of hybrid working, but the respondents have an ace up their sleeve: with the vast majority saying they are likely to link office attendance to financial rewards.
Another week, another huge step forward for the world of artificial intelligence (AI). Over a century ago, we managed to digitize two key senses: recording and re-playing audio, then capturing pictures to be displayed later. This year, we’ve finally cracked scent! A new computer program is able to use an odor map to sort molecules and, in so doing, can group related smells together. The emoji above is a nose, by the way.
In 2020, as schools around the world pivoted quickly to remote learning, students from rich backgrounds with excellent internet connections experienced real advantages. Now a new report from UNESCO has found that nearly half the primary and secondary students worldwide had the opposite experience: They were cut off from education because they didn’t have the required technology. Like the ‘working from home’ debate (see above), it’s a reminder that technology is great for those with access - but that our solutions need to be inclusive.
👋 And finally…
A couple of weeks back, we recommended a playlist of music from the Harry Potter films. I’ve had it playing on a loop ever since, but let’s pivot to something a bit more futuristic this week. Enjoy!
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