Compliance Training: The Organizational Training Which Isn’t

Organizational Training - bentrepreneur


When I first was hired away from Accenture to join Bank of America, I was asked to assume the management of the Bank’s enterprise-wide compliance training.  I was told that my job was going to be creating a version of compliance training that was engaging and would result in “performance change” for the better.

Frankly, I had no idea what I was getting into.

I didn’t know that the culture of  Compliance Training at the bank was all about the Compliance and much less about training.  So, the notion of creating “engaging” training that resulted in “performance change” was an almost impossible task, because nobody really took their Compliance Training as a valued opportunity to increase their knowledge and enhance their skills.  The culture was really permeated with the notion that this type of training was a “pain in the butt”, but had to be done any way so you wouldn’t get in trouble with your boss or get them in trouble for not ensuring all of their people had complied.

What I Learned Via Observation

Having been trained as an applied researcher, I began to conduct some due diligence to better understand the current format and learning architecture for the Bank’s “As Is” state of compliance training.  I also reviewed a bunch of verbatim comments, so-called, Level 1 feedback, based on Kirkpatrick’s framework.  These verbatims were qualitative comments  which different people who worked at the bank provided on the evaluation form-survey, conducted at the conclusion of the  compliance training.


Their Feedback:  The Voice of Customer

Indicative findings based on opportunistic sampling of verbatim data set:
1. It’s the same stuff (content) over-and -over again

  1. Why do I have to take the same stuff repeatedly, year after year?
  2. Why is this content and training so boring and repetitive?


In addition, I got the opportunity to observe a group of Derivatives Traders taking their compliance training, I noticed that their goal was to finish as quickly as possible and get back to work, rather than spending the time in the training to learn anything.  The most predominant action observed while watching them was how quickly they used their mice to click forward in the eLearning. While I was watching them “take” their training, I recalled that there were numerous complaints in the qualitative feedback that identified a “flaw” in the compliance training.  This flaw consisted of a frustrating tendency of the training software to lock up and jam.  When I observed the derivatives’ traders in training, I could see what the root cause of the problem was.  They were clicking the page forward button before the full page had loaded in.  It was evident that they weren’t reading the training, they were  just skipping ahead  as quickiy as possible


Using Design to Solve a Cultural Challenge Around Compliance Training

I knew I couldn’t change the culture of Compliance Training in the Derivative Trading Group, but I could solve the root cause to the “technical problem” they were experiencing.   So, the first innovation we implemented in the product was to make sure that the “forward button” did not appear on the page until the entire page had loaded in.  Complaints went down about jammed software, but in reality, the actual process of learning was still defective.


How We Attained Eight Straight Quarters of Increasing Satisfaction

My first year, we released several new versions of compliance training for Code of Ethics, Anti Money Laundering, and Info Protection.  Each release was followed by a vigorous review and analysis of our evaluation data, level 1 Reaction feedback.  From this analysis, we identified a list of items we could use to continuously improve the products’ usability, quality of instruction and learning opportunities by incorporating Voice of Customer and closely observing, and thereby recognizing, the cultural factors that drove compliance training in the bank and beyond.  As a result of our applied research and ability to rapidly turn around product improvements, we were able to increase customer satisfaction for eight straight quarters.

After 2 years, the form of the bank’s compliance training was complete, and that functional template continued to be used in the bank for the next few years.


Shared Findings & Recommendations

Here are some interesting findings I’d like to share with you based on my three years running BoA’s compliance training and via the experience I have consulting to other, non-financial organizations that were also seeking to improve their compliance training and enhance its value.


Lessons Learned

  • Recognize that in most companies, compliance training isn’t training, so much as a way for the company or organization to mitigate legal, reputational and liability risks in the content area being addressed
  • The most important component of compliance training in Fortune 500 companies and other organizations is the “Attestation” at the end of the course. This is the page in the training where participants agree to abide by the policies enumerated and discussed in the training. Why is this so important?  Because, if there happens to be an info protection, say a company laptop left in a car and stolen with proprietary data on it, , the company, in this case BoA, is not responsible for the actions of the employee, because said employee agreed to abide by the Bank’s policies info protection policies.  If there is litigation it tends to be a civil case and the Bank is not culpable for the incident or problem, the careless employee is to blame, not the Bank
  • Many employees, at least at BoA, had taken the same Compliance training for many years over-and-over again. Only a small sliver of the content was new and significant, and that content was “buried” inside of the compliance training eLearning product in a way that made it hard to find and recognize.
  • Banks and other financial solutions are interested in reducing risk, but not at the expense of increasing their employees’ “time in” the training. They monitor time on task assiduously at the bank and too much time training reduces productivity.
  • ROI is difficult to measure, but cost containment is less so. Time spent in training, especially when using eLearning is easy to measure and quantify.  If you can reduce time spent in training, without losing the value of the specific learning, it is a win for the business.  This is an ROI that is easy to measure, especially when a minute saved times 5000 participants can be quantified as a significant productivity savings.
  • It’s not easy when leadership is fundamentally conservative and narrow minded based on their own school experience, but as a learning strategist and adult learning specialist, one must be willing to fight for the right of employees to self-direct their own learning in ways THEY know has value for them. Organizational leadership needs to “trust” their own employees and let them guide their own learning.  This is worth fighting for, especially in light of recent cognitive research which suggests more self-direction of learning better learning outcomes.
  • Assessment of most compliance training is generally an unreliable knowledge test or even worse a quiz with obvious answers at the conclusion of the course. Generally, this quiz has items aligned with the course’s learning objectives.  If retakes are required or requested as participants strive to pass the test, most LMSes allow your instructional designer to set the delivery of test questions in a randomized manner.  Unfortunately, they are using the same or VERY similar questions that are just reordered randomly and served back up to the students.  This is NOT particularly effective if the same questions are just re-ordered.  Another design approach is needed to increase reliability of the testing,  so employees are less likely or able to “game” the assessment.  To make the Federal Regulators satisfied that the assessment has validity, another methodology is needed, so they will validate that the compliance training was sound and met the legal requirements of Sarbannes-Oxley, or some other regulatory screed.


Best Practices

  1. Develop assessments that rotate “entire test forms” rather than just the same questions in a Ferris Wheel effect. Really you want to swap out the entire Ferris Wheel and ensure questions are not just aligned to learning objectives but decidedly different.  These are not reordered question, but isomorphs and analogous to ensure near transfer takes place.   NOTE:  The Regulators and Executive Conference Board really liked this approach.
  2. Provide access to “Anytime Tests”.  Make it possible for those who have taken the same type of compliance course over and over to test out at any time they want to, not just at the beginning of the course or the end.
  3. Add In a “What’s New” section, so those employees who have taken the same type of compliance training in the past, can review what’s new first and then, if they see fit, to brush up on the older, more familiar content, before testing out on an Anytime basis.
  4. Make the compliance training self-contained, all links are internal to the product. We learned that if the product links out to the web, participants, especially more naïve users, can get lost on the Internet and have trouble finding their way back in to finish the training.  Keep all links inside the product, so it’s easy for them to find their way back and not spend time noodling around the Internet when they have company business to complete.
  5. Give participants the opportunity to either proceed quickly through course content or “dig into” areas of interest within the product that helps to build skills. Most of compliance training is about knowledge transfer and not skill acquisition and personal development.  However, when the compliance training is being designed, the learning architects need to uncover areas of particular interest where management has identified, via needs analysis, performance gaps that have to filled.
  6. Where Needs Analysis has identified specific performance gaps that are reducing productivity or efficiency, these “Critical Mistakes” should be treated as a chance to provide those being trained with opportunities to practice the task receive feedback and try again. These opportunities should be salted throughout the compliance training as optional exercises.  These practice opportunities in the compliance training should only be included in those areas of concern that an organization wants to address immediately.

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