Learn Better Microlearning

To Save Compliance Training, Focus on Root Causes

Written by John Marshall

Across L&D, compliance is considered a necessary evil: the scourge of both employees and learning practitioners and an annual box to check for risk-averse company executives. Ask an employee, and they’ll say compliance training brings to mind 1980s-era harassment videos coupled with requirements to change your password every 90 days. It’s no wonder compliance training has come to be seen as something to dread by everyone involved.

What this means, however, is that the training methodology – and the corresponding attitude toward it – is ripe for change, and employees have much to gain. Because while the current setup needs work, the underlying teachings are essential; well-publicized cases of the past year, from sexual harassment at Uber to anti-diversity undercurrents at Google and the multitude of revelations from the #metoo movement, show the corrosive effect of a hostile work environment and highlight the failure of corporate learning to truly address its root causes.

Basically, past “strategies” for compliance training haven’t been working, and the resulting aversion to the lessons themselves – and their drain on our time and energy – has created a crisis. Microlearning® strategies that make this training more engaging, relevant, and ultimately valuable can help pull us out.

At its core, compliance is about behaving ethically

All L&D practitioners want employees to take learning seriously. As such, they may try to separate the more “tedious” compliance training, disassociating it from other L&D initiatives like leadership academies and design thinking workshops.

This misses a critical opportunity to help employees change behaviors. After all, compliance aims to protect the safety and well-being of people in the workplace. This is a powerful goal, and siloing our training efforts sets us up to miss it. Compliance efforts fail when they’re pro forma, prioritizing the company’s legal risk over the growth of employees. Learners know intuitively when a training is about protecting the company, and they respond by disengaging and resenting the training as an imposition.

When this happens, the impact of the lessons is all but negated, leaving organizations just as open to the risks they set out to avoid. Further eroding credibility with learners, many companies deploy the same ineffective compliance trainings annually. Even worse, some only assign training once an infraction has already occurred.

It’s time for a better strategy

In a recent white paper, Grovo’s Chief Learning Officer writes that every Microlearning strategy must begin with an analysis of the root causes behind a problematic behavior. This is where most compliance programs go wrong. In focusing on regulations, laws, and rules that must be followed, compliance trainings miss the root causes of behaviors – everything from sexual harassment and discrimination to cyber security and workplace safety threats. Instead, they’re surface-level – more concerned with restating a law than shifting a mindset.

When it comes to noncompliant behavior, the root cause may well be a lack of knowledge of regulations. But unethical, discriminatory, and negligent behaviors just as likely come from a deeper lack of empathy and understanding.  “Knowing the rules” is only the tip of the iceberg.

Focus on root causes, not checking the box

An effective Microlearning strategy shifts compliance from a focus on the training process (e.g., “is the content two hours long?”) to an analysis of root causes (e.g., “is the content targeting the right barriers learners face?”). Simply put, it takes a deep look at the origins of problematic behaviors.

Take the example of hiring discrimination. Too often, hiring training takes a reactive approach, lecturing learners about the fines their company may receive for discrimination and offering a laundry list of interview questions to avoid. This misses the root cause of discriminatory hiring, which more likely comes from the employee’s ignorance of their unconscious biases, their inability to hold difficult conversations, and their unfamiliarity with the proper steps of the hiring process. Without addressing these areas too, there’s a good chance the compliance training will fail to stick.

Why it pays to start small and stay focused

With a single learning objective per lesson, Microlearning can target these root causes one by one, ensuring that your compliance training is addressing all of the gaps your learners may have. Plus, Microlearning lessons help employees develop these new skills in the context of their daily work.

This approach can mean the difference between a compliance program’s success and failure. Without understanding how your learners’ skills and attitudes intersect with your compliance goals, your training will likely miss the full range of root causes behind noncompliant behavior.

The L&D practitioner’s quest to end workplace harassment, discrimination, and other safety threats will continue to be an uphill battle. But by identifying, targeting, and nurturing the full range of behaviors, mindsets, and actions we hope to see, we’ll move closer to the safe and inclusive work life that every employee deserves.

Learn how to set a Microlearning® strategy for your workplace with this resource page.