Corporate compliance professionals have another book to consider putting on the shelf, this one exploring how to build a good training program in our era of digital communications and invigorated regulatory scrutiny. 

The book, Creating Great Compliance Training in a Digital World, is from Kirsten Liston. These days Liston runs Rethink Compliance, a consulting firm based in Colorado. She also worked at SAI Global for a while, and in one way or another has been developing compliance training materials for nearly 20 years. You can get the book via the Society of Corporate Compliance & Ethics bookstore ($55 to $70).

Despite all of Liston’s compliance credentials, she begins the book by disclosing that she started her career as a journalist. First, you can see that in the style of the book itself — lots of short sentences, easy to read, staccato style. More important, she says, is that those principles she learned for compelling journalism are every bit as applicable to compliance officers who want to deliver compelling training. It’s all about holding people’s attention.

“Grabbing people’s attention is a problem for anyone who has to get a message out — whether you’re an advertising copy writer or a compliance training manager,” Liston writes early in the book. “So if you create or deliver content — in any format — and you want that content to matter, you have to operate like a professional creative.” 

That’s true, and most compliance professionals know it at an intuitive level. The rest of Liston’s book (156 pages) works through five principles to put the idea into practice.

What are those principles, exactly?

  • Focus on what the law means, not what the law says.
  • Think like a lawyer, talk like a human.
  • Aim for persuasion, not just information.
  • Handle the nuts and bolts.
  • Measure and manage your impact.

Compliance professionals can get behind any of those five principles, but I especially dwell on the first three. That’s because the nature of what we want compliance training to achieve, and the purpose training serves — those things are changing. 

As Liston notes, 20 years ago a company needed compliance training mostly to show regulators that the company had it. Now regulators don’t just want to see that training exists; they want to see that the training really works. So do boards, business partners, and consumers. 

That means compliance training is much more about changing employee behavior; not just showing employees what they should do, hoping for the best, and trying to dodge liability if they don’t. 

In other words, effective compliance training today is about communicating to persuade, rather than communicating to inform.

Liston

Hence Liston has that whole third principle about aiming to persuade. She walks the reader through how advertisers approach that goal, and how compliance officers can use the same techniques for your audience of employees. She gives examples of typical types of employees a compliance officer would encounter (lifers, newbies, sales people); and shows what messaging can work best with each one to foster connections and trust between employee and training — which is mandatory, if you want any chance of employees paying attention and absorbing your materials.

Those first three sections of the book are an in-depth look at communication strategies like that. It gives compliance officers new to training a solid understanding of why certain training techniques will work well, while others don’t. 

The last two principles are more about how compliance officer can build and run an actual training program. For example, how would you take Justice Department guidance about compliance programs and translate that into real actions that you’d do with real employees? What metrics would you want to develop — and which ones are baloney you can ignore? When would you want to rely on e-learning, and when on in-person training? 

Liston answers those questions (and many more) in the latter part of the book. She gets specific, right down to tools you might want to try for building your own training; or which other executives to court when you want to buy some. 

The bottom line is that compliance and audit professionals are skilled, intelligent people; but most come from background studying technical issues such as points of law or control frameworks. To build and deliver effective training — that is, to persuade people in a systematic, scalable way — requires different knowledge and skills. 

Liston’s book is clear, plainspoken roadmap for compliance officers to acquire those things. It talks in language compliance officers can understand, both as compliance professionals and as regular people. Just like she recommends you do with your own compliance training.

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