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Building a strong workplace culture – where people actively think about how to do the right thing and then follow through in their actions – is not something that happens organically. Rather, it is something that takes work and time. As we look to 2023 and beyond, it is clear that high-quality, impactful ethics and compliance learning initiatives and communications will be viewed as paramount in the pursuit of a strong workplace culture. With this focus comes a recognition that learning and development (L&D) professionals are key players and will increasingly have a seat at the table and help shape the direction organizations take. Their presence and expertise will help organizations create more powerful, impactful and effective adult learning and communication programs.

What is driving a greater recognition that L&D has unique contributions to make?

Ethics and compliance (E&C) professionals have long known the importance of educating the workforce in order to create and maintain a culture of ethics and compliance. It not only helps mitigate risk and reduce legal liability but also can help carry a message about an organization’s own values and priorities. What’s more, these learning experiences are among the key activities in the E&C program that reach each and every employee – and in some cases external business partners as well.

As E&C professionals have charted a path and developed more sophisticated learning programs in the past five years, there has also emerged a recognition that something more is needed to actually help shift behaviors and drive a culture forward. Ethics and compliance programs are now starting to recognize L&D professionals can help take their adult learning education programs to the next level and help drive values throughout the organization.

Though E&C learning has traditionally been the purview of the compliance function, L&D’s influence can be the key in supercharging a culture of learning and growth. In fact, there is a growing collaboration between the two functions to bring together the knowledge of L&D professionals in how to make learning experiences more engaging, memorable and effective, and the subject matter expertise of E&C leaders.

It is worth noting that not all organizations have the resources to staff a fully operational L&D function, and smaller businesses may only be deploying the necessary E&C learning modules to maintain regulatory compliance. However, through partnership with consultancies, organizations of all sizes are still able to infuse solid principles of adult learning to enhance the efficacy of their E&C programs. So, while the conversation about L&D having a seat at the table  with Compliance inherently speaks to large enterprise organizations, all organizations can see similar results with strategic partnerships.

For those organizations that embrace this emerging trend, L&D partners can help drive program improvements in three critical ways in 2023.

Driving quality over purely cost-driven considerations

First, developing high-quality, effective compliance learning can be difficult, and many competing factors must be weighed in order to optimize a program. Further, there is a cost whether the organization purchases virtual learning modules or builds their own. However, one practice that is increasingly becoming the norm is focusing on high-quality learning, and not just selecting the cheapest solution. This is because when poor quality learning tools are used, it not only wastes valuable employee time, but it may also actually harm the overall quality and internal reputation of the E&C program.

We have observed in the past six months, L&D is increasingly at the table in organizations of all sizes. They are seen as a resource and skilled member of the team and are helping organizations make better choices with their budget. In 2023, this trend will most certainly grow in strength as programs that got started early on this journey start to reap the rewards of a strong relationship with L&D and other programs see the value and engaging L&D as a resource.

This shift is the direct result of organizations viewing ongoing adult learning not just as a thing they must do, but rather as an opportunity to engage each and every employee in their organization’s values. Compliance communications and the related learning experiences are among the few activities that actually reach each employee on a regular basis and one of the best opportunities to drive knowledge and educate on expected behaviors.

So, how does L&D fit into the picture? L&D’s very mission is to drive organizational performance by increasing skills and knowledge – and they have much to offer here. This is where a trained professional can help identify poorly designed or written content. Some of the most glaring issues they spot include use of ineffective gimmicks or gamification to mask poorly written content; disparities in design quality and consistency; poorly written questions that ask for regurgitation of a random fact rather than driving application of a lesson; and poorly designed analytics that track results but don’t really measure employee knowledge, retention or risks.

Learning and development professionals know, despite their functional title, providing opportunities for learning can positively influence employee behavior – but alone it is not sufficient.

Creating a culture of learning that is employee-focused to drive better program results

Second, learning is not a “one and done” experience. A single course given once every handful of years is certainly better than nothing, but messages and expectations sink in better when there is a sustained and meaningful flow of communication and information. Further, the impact can be increased when learners have an opportunity to apply those lessons in real life.

In considering any learning event, identify the real objectives and outcomes to be achieved. If the answer is to check the compliance box, it’s unlikely to influence the organization’s culture.

However, if the objective is to enhance culture through meaningful content, fostering an environment that prioritizes ethics, respect – and yes, compliance – there is a much greater impact. If employees are at the center of these efforts (what they need, care about, and can use) then the organization is already on the way to creating a learning culture. 

Organizations are embracing the concept of building a learning culture where meaningful and relevant opportunities to expand on skills and grow professionally are offered to employees. Also important to note, employees must be given allocated time and opportunity to utilize these resources to instill a true culture of learning. This includes covering important compliance-related content, but also learning opportunities that can enhance job performance and career growth. Learning events that are sandwiched in during other high priority initiatives will not receive the desired time and attention.

If employees are at the center of these efforts (what they need, care about, and can use) then the organization is already on the way to creating a learning culture.  

A great first step on this journey is to reframe the term “training”, the most used industry terminology, and instead focus on the greater goal: learning. The term “training” comes with baggage – frequently thought of as a boring, but necessary, task or used as a punitive action when expectations are not met. “Training” is pushed onto people. Instead, many leading organizations are now talking about these efforts as learning, continued support, and skill building for career growth. “Learning” is what employees do as they build skills and knowledge they can apply on the job. For this to work and permeate across the organization, it’s imperative that time is allowed for learning activities and that the content is high quality, relevant and engaging to the workforce. In fact, this entire article excludes the term “training” in favor of terminology centered around learning and education. While this shift in verbiage may take some time and adjustment to adopt, it is an important step in creating a culture that embraces learning.

One approach that is becoming more widely embraced is adaptive learning. This personalization of learning gives an employee a unique experience with course content – adapting to what the employee already understands while providing more information where the employee is struggling. The goal of this type of learning experience is to make it relevant to the learner rather than a waste of their time.

A great first step on this journey is to reframe the term “training”, the most used industry terminology, and instead focus on the greater goal: learning. The term “training” comes with baggage – frequently thought of as a boring, but necessary, task or used as a punitive action when expectations are not met. 

Another approach is self-directed exploration and skill development, including improving knowledge about compliance areas and risks important to your organization. This will help strengthen important corporate values while providing benefits to your employees. It may also encourage employees to seek more challenging roles and opportunities within the organization. Another benefit for the organization, and the compliance function, are helpful metrics to share about the importance of compliance, not only within the organization’s leadership but also to employees.

L&D and E&C can work together to build a mutually reinforcing culture of learning and support each other’s efforts. Employees rarely differentiate between learning content that comes from E&C and learning content that comes from their L&D teams or operational leaders. High-quality learning experiences from all sources contribute to the organization’s overall messaging about the importance of learning and improvement.

Driving for year-over-year program improvements

A third, and important, way L&D contributes to the overall success of E&C learning and communication programs is through their relentless focus on year-over-year program improvements. This focus on improvement is aligned with similar concepts found in DOJ guidance, for example.

As noted above, ethics and compliance learning is among the few compliance initiatives that impact each employee every year – and these interactions often happen on a regular basis as new learning topics and communications are rolled out. When these interactions are viewed as two-way communication (sharing information with the employee, but also getting information back from them), organizations create an ongoing opportunity to learn from employees through performance metrics, feedback metrics, and even follow-on effectiveness surveys.

This information is vital to identifying hotspots, areas that require additional time and attention, and making decisions about future investments – all of which contribute to driving program improvements. When organizations are able to further combine these data points with other compliance data (such as allegations of misconduct, or policy attestations) this creates a new view of the organization and the effectiveness of its E&C program. Further, this also helps to identify locations that may be struggling or where misconduct may be more widespread than an isolated report.

 A talented L&D professional can help identify important data points and report on them so that programs can start (or even continue) the journey of making year-over-year improvements. L&D professionals leverage several solid models for learning experience evaluation, covering everything from satisfaction with the program and comprehension of the content, to on-the-job behavior, business results and return on investment. Benchmarking compliance learning initiatives against an organization’s other L&D offerings can provide valuable insights on where and how to continue to improve.

2023 prediction

As the world continues to adjust to the new normal and work is thought of differently than in years past, organizations will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the workforce wherever they are located. Organizations that can provide opportunities for personal and professional development within a culture that embraces authenticity and learning will find that they enjoy better employee engagement, performance and retention. Learning and development, and ethics and compliance education will continue to influence and reflect the conversation about organizational culture.  

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