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Thinking outside the tick box: Is compliance a necessary burden?

What is a compliant workforce? A key asset and brand protector that delivers clear return on investment, mitigates risk, and makes an organization more attractive to do business with? Or a drain on resources that is undervalued by stakeholders and employees alike, and who perceive such training as a box-ticking exercise?

Unfortunately, for the most part, it is the latter that holds true. In a new report, Thinking Outside the Tick Box from Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence, reflects this. One-in-four respondents stated that the main driver for a compliant workforce is to meet current industry regulations, while 78% believe compliance is seen as a necessary burden by employees. Indeed, as the number of regulations that organizations need to consider and abide by grows rapidly, it’s understandable why many employees see compliance training as an intrusive burden.

Almost one-third (32%) of respondents said the number-one barrier to a compliant workforce is employees’ perception that compliance training is too time consuming. But to consider compliance training as such is to overlook the wide range of benefits a compliant workforce offers the business. For starters, compliance can be a differentiator in the war for talent. A well-rounded compliance program can feed into wider employee development programs, which are valued by both Millennial and Generation Z employees. These employees also place a greater value on an organization’s moral and ethical responsibilities — the very same responsibilities that compliant organizations abide by.

Benefits of pro-activity versus reactivity

Beyond employees, a compliant business will find it much easier to pass the due diligence checks conducted by those they work with throughout the supply chain.

Being compliant can also foster reputational benefits, which help to drive sales, increase profitability and develop relationships with both existing customers and prospective clients. In fact, 37% of respondents said the business is the biggest overall beneficiary of a compliant workforce. Despite this, only 11% of respondents said maintaining or improving business reputation was the main driver of employee compliance.


Tick Box


“It is inevitable that readers will be put off by compliance documents if they are hundreds of pages long and fail to differentiate between the pertinent and the less pertinent information,” says Maninder Nijran, Head of Delivery Operations at Thomson Reuters Compliance Learning. “It’s easy to see why employees may start to be turned off by compliance learning materials.”

Add to this the availability of cut-and-paste policies and materials that can be obtained through a simple Google search, and it’s understandable why training sessions may feel tired. Such an approach only further risks creating the perception that compliance training actually is a box-ticking exercise — one to be endured rather than actively engaged with.

Further challenges stem from the dispersed nature of global businesses. Respondents identified various factors they had to overcome, including maintaining a consistent level of compliance across the business (29%), adhering to regional regulatory variances (23%), and overcoming different workplace cultures (22%).

The innovation of compliance

The key to remedying this, of course, is to make sure training is relevant to both the recipient and their role in the business, especially if the subject matter is complex and the temptation to deliver by-the-book training is greater. More specifically, compliance stakeholders need to ask how can businesses ensure their employees fully buy in to compliance training programs, rather than just partaking in a cursory way?

A good start is to cut out the complexity and make training courses as impactful, engaging and relatable as possible through the imaginative use of technology, says Nijran. Indeed, it is a popular sentiment — almost one-third (31%) of respondents believe compliance training could be enhanced using technology.

For example, technology can be used to create animated story-based content that mirrors users’ own workplace experience, complete with interactive quizzes or drag-and-drop activities, explains Gurpreet Minhas, Manager of E-learning Instructional Design at Thomson Reuters. User engagement can be further enhanced through the use of video mentors or avatars to lead trainees through a maze of decisions.

But to be effective Minhas says e-learning tutorials must take no longer than 45 minutes to complete. She adds that five-to-ten minute concentrated micro-learning modules, each focused on a core concept, can also be highly effective. In fact, research suggests three-to-seven minutes of micro-learning matches the brain’s working memory and attention span, boosts employee engagement, and yields an average of four or five items learned per session.

Nijran agrees, suggesting that to seize the missed opportunities an engaged and compliant workforce presents, organizations must transform something many employees regard as a tedious chore into an engaging, enjoyable, and relatable experience. But this cannot be achieved in isolation, and the right tone from the top is essential, he adds. “A compliance manager cannot turn around preconceptions and drive change about compliance training on their own,” Nijran says. “It has to come from C-suite stakeholders.”

Organizations need to rethink the value of compliance training and work proactively to address the stigma of compliance. To transform a compliant workforce into a business advantage, the value of compliance needs to be communicated as a business-wide positive while making training more engaging and less invasive.

Organizations that do address the stigma of compliance will open themselves up to a wealth of potential opportunities that can help to mitigate business risk and drive wider success.


Learn more about the latest trends and opinions in compliance training by downloading Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence’s Thinking Outside the Tick Box report here.

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