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Rethink Compliance Training: Kirsten Liston

For too long compliance training has been stuck in a rut. So focused on teaching the law, its purpose got lost. Kirsten Liston, founder of Rethink Compliance, says it’s time to shake things up. Hear how she wants to move beyond the rules to put humans back at the center of compliance. Discover how values and culture fit into this picture. Find out why data collection is key to driving impact.

Move beyond the check box to rethink compliance training

Top tips to rethink your compliance training program

Don’t have time to listen now? Here are some top tips from Kirsten:

  1. Think of compliance problems as human problems: Compliance training courses shouldn’t just check a box. Create training that helps employees make better decisions. 
  2. Move beyond the rules to behavior change: Don’t tell employees what they can and can’t do. Embrace marketing techniques to change behavior.
  3. Start with values and culture: Create compliance in collaboration. Ask what kind of organization your people want to be part of. Identify a shared ethical point of view.
  4. Normalize data collection: Start gathering more meaningful data. Don’t just measure completion. Find out how people are feeling.

1. Think of compliance problems as human problems

In 2000, when Kirsten started working in corporate compliance, the industry was in its infancy. The task was to put compliance training online. But nobody knew what that meant. So, they had to figure it out. 

Kirsten had a front-row seat as Fortune 500 companies and Global 2000 organizations defined their approach. And one thing became immediately clear to her: whether it’s conflicts of interest or data protection, compliance problems are actually human problems. 

“I think that actually got buried by a lot of the lawyers who did the early compliance messages… But the fact of the matter is, the stuff we’re training about, is all about humans out there in the world making choices. And we’re trying to get out ahead of the ones who might make poor choices, or apply the wrong decision-making framework or just think about things the wrong way.”

2. Move beyond the rules to behavior change

Workplace compliance is all about getting people to comply with laws, regulations and standards. So, it’s not surprising that early training focused on telling people the rules and then proving that they had been told. This tell-and-test approach quickly set the framework for future compliance training.

Of course, knowing the rules isn’t a bad thing. After all, if you’ve never been told the rules, how can you be expected to follow them? But if you want people to do the right thing every day, Kirsten says you need a different approach. She suggests looking to marketing for techniques that really change behavior.

“I think anybody who knows anything about human behavior change knows that informing somebody about a rule isn’t necessarily the most persuasive thing out there. The people who are best at persuading humans – the marketers and advertisers – they don’t start with their message or the thing they’re trying to accomplish. They start with [asking] who are these people? What matters to them? And how can I get my message through to them in a way that actually feels relevant? It feels compelling. It opens their eyes, and it sticks with them. And it’s not from just telling them the law.’’

3. Start with values and culture

In the earliest days of online compliance training, the industry was very careful to separate itself from ethics. It wanted to be treated as a critical department solving a business problem, not philosophers debating how humans should act. 

However, as compliance has developed within organizations, things have shifted. Kirsten has seen a move towards values and principles-based compliance. Rather than telling employees what they can and can’t do, it’s about presenting an ethical point of view for the company. When it’s done well, it’s created in collaboration by answering some key questions and coming to a shared ethical viewpoint.

For a lot of companies these days, compliance isn’t just about: don’t harass people, don’t bribe, don’t insider trade. It’s really about presenting an ethical point of view for the company. It’s really about saying, what kind of an organization are we? How do we do our jobs? And, frankly, what’s in bounds and what’s out of bounds?…It isn’t just about: here’s a list of rules you have to follow. It’s this is what kind of company we want to be and what company we want to build together.’’

     4. Normalize data collection

While messaging is shifting from hard and fast rules to softer values and principles, there’s still a regulatory compliance requirement to measure training’s effectiveness. So how does this work? How do you measure soft subjects so you can provide hard data to government agencies?

For Kirsten, the first step is to start gathering more data. Compliance has always relied on completion and pass rates in a Learning Management System (LMS) to provide an audit trail, but this won’t give you a window into culture and perceptions in your organization. Instead, you need start asking your people how they’re feeling.

“I’ll give an example. One of the questions the Department of Justice asks prosecutors evaluating a program is: does this company have a Speak Up program in place? Do employees know about it and feel safe speaking up? Those aren’t hard data things. You can’t answer that by saying 100 of our employees reported last year out of a population of 5000. That tells you how many spoke up, but it doesn’t tell you how they felt about it. So, you have to start collecting data about feelings. Ask employees: we have a commitment to speaking up, but do you feel safe speaking up here?”

A quick recap

Too often focused on rules and regulations rather than people and behaviors, Kirsten has four strategies for rethinking compliance training. 

  • Don’t solve compliance problems; solve human problems
  • Move from teaching laws and regulations to changing behaviors
  • Put your values and culture at the heart of compliance
  • Use hard data to explore your impact in soft subjects

Want to find out more? Check out the full podcast. 

About Kirsten

With over 15 years’ experience in the industry, Kirsten founded Rethink Compliance in 2015 with the aim of making training better. Today, they work with more than 125 clients across a range of different industries to redefine conventions and create real change. 

You can find out more and get connected with Kirsten on LinkedIn.

On Kirsten’s reading lists

Check out a book that’s influencing Kirsten’s approach to compliance training.

Smart Brevity: The Power of Saying More with Less, Roy Schwartz, Mike Allen, Jim VandeHei

Kirsten recommends this book if you want to maximize your impact. It makes the point that smart, short, writing is actually way more impactful than going on at length.

Looking for more reading tips? Check out our book blog.

Learn more from like-minded learning experts

Interested to hear more from Mirjam as well as other learning experts and your L&D peers? The State of Digital Learning Report is the place where you can tap into the minds of your L&D peers and learning experts, compare approaches, and get prepared for the year ahead.

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