Training: More Complex, More Important — and More Pushback

Originally published in NAVEX Global's Top 10 Risk & Compliance Trends for 2021 eBook. You can download the full eBook here.

In the last 5 years, ethics and compliance training programs have taken on a new life and focus. Organizations now recognize the critical role they play in an overall effective compliance program, and with increasing regulatory scrutiny, compliance programs have started to recognize training as an area of excellence and not just a task to be completed. As we move into 2021, the challenges that lay ahead will continue to test the effectiveness of the compliance function.

Issues are More Contentious

Employees may push back against trainings on current divisive issues. Compliance professionals will need to navigate these divides while communicating their expectations of employees.

One of the more difficult challenges going into 2021 will be navigating our divided and heated workplace environment. Compliance professionals will need to manage the divides that exist while communicating their expectations of employees. Many sensitive issues are more about personal conduct and values than legal requirements; training a large, diverse group of employees will be a challenging task. In previous years, compliance professionals faced little objection to training issues. Now there is the real possibility that significant numbers of employees will object to parts of a training. And since we have encouraged employees to speak up, they are doing so. Additionally, there are more avenues available to speak up through social media and internal business communication platforms.

Employees may be resistant and push back against trainings on current divisive issues, such as getting a COVID vaccine, or diversity training, that are casting deep social divides today. In 2021, Compliance professionals will need to navigate these divides while communicating their expectations of employees. The most sensitive issues may be more about personal conduct and values than legal requirements.

Read: Managing the Impact of Politics in Our Organizations

Compliance officers should expect to encounter more resistance from employees who don’t like what they’re hearing or who feel empowered to present a challenge. Consider the following examples:

  • Safety protocols for in-person work may require employees to wear masks or practice other safety measures, but many may be unwilling to follow such guidelines.
  • Your desire to advance issues of social justice or equity in your workplace may be met with strong internal resistance from those who hold very divergent views.
  • The threat of climate change may cause corporations to alter practices in response to consumer, investor, board, and/or employee demand. These changes could be resisted by employees who see this challenge in a different light.
  • Advancing equity and inclusion with gender-neutral language and accepting coworkers who identify as transgender or non-binary is a very important initiative, but employers should expect efforts to be met with resistance from those who do not acknowledge their need.
  • Diversity training that encourages the advancement of programs for groups that have been historically subject to discrimination may experience significant resistance from others who deny that systemic discrimination exists. If employees interface with the public, this challenge is even more complex.

Organizations will need to think carefully about how they train on these topics, and how they address objections in the coming year. Meet objections with compassion and an open mind and thoughtfully consider them – but also be prepared to respond in a way that fits your organization’s values.

Your goal in 2021 is to find a way to reach all your employees.

In-Person Training May Not be Possible, but Adaption Is

The delivery of training has become more complicated as the pandemic forced millions to work remotely or avoid close proximity. It was a massive challenge when eLearning suddenly became one of the only feasible options, and that will continue into 2021.

Read: Beyond Diversity: Stop Categorizing Differences and Start Embracing People

For organizations with employees who have little or no access to technology or company email, this is the year to start planning for the next inevitable disruption. Consider new approaches that simulate live delivery methods: Host a live video conference call or develop pre-recorded video resources that employees can access.

If we fail to respond to the lessons of 2020, our employees may go another year without critical training.

Steps a Company Can Take

1. Map Out Your Organization’s Needs and Make a Plan for 2021

Many plans were set aside in 2020, and many employees did not get all the training they needed. Now is the time to look at risks, the gaps, and employee needs, then make a plan. Build out a curriculum and identify how to deliver critical messages to your employees. You’ll need to rely more heavily on eLearning, and innovate training formats that may be new. Start your planning with an open mind. It’s an opportunity to reinvent the function and approach learners in this new, virtual environment.

2. Align with Leadership on an Approach to Controversial Topics

Identify topic areas that may be controversial or challenging for your organization. For example, in 2020 we heard from many organizations that wanted to advance issues of social justice with training. In 2021, training for charged topics like social justice requires a strong message from the top, so make sure executive leadership is fully committed. Then let employees hear directly from leadership about your organization’s position and expectations.

3. Expand Your Definition of Training

To make your training program more effective and resilient, consider expanding your definition of training. It is not limited to an eLearning course or live event. Training is like a marketing program: you want to get information and messaging out to your audience, and you want the audience to take some action as a result, such as to follow rules or policies or model certain behaviors. And like marketing, don’t rely on a single mode of communication; 2021 is the year to expand beyond traditional training. Use a variety of tools and communication methods to reach employees who find themselves in very different work environments.

4. Ask Executives to Model and Articulate Company Values

In 2021, it will be more important than ever for employees to see ethical leadership in action. With a transformed workplace (and many working remotely) this will be a daunting challenge.  Leaders will need to be connected to employees. They will also need help from the compliance department to effectively share important messages across the workforce. Employees need, and expect, to hear from executives and managers about how they and others are demonstrating ethical values.

5. Be Prepared to Handle Objections

In 2021, you will need a plan for handling employee objections. Whether it is to science-based protocols, diversity initiatives, social justice messaging, or efforts to reduce your organization’s negative impact on the climate, employees are likely to speak up. Some may express opinions that are wildly different from those of the organization, and different from your own. Be patient and listen. Your job is to reach all employees with important compliance and ethics messages. Be thoughtful in your response, share views with vendors who provide training, and seek the most effective way to get all employees to understand and meet expectations.

Finally, be prepared to hold everyone accountable for a successful training program in 2021: management, employees, third parties, and especially yourself. Patience and cooperation will be necessary for everyone’s success in the coming year. 

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