Is it possible to make compliance training enjoyable?

Published by Richenda Sabine on

woman at laptop engaged in training

Is it possible to make compliance training enjoyable?

Take compliance training from ughh to oooh

Say the words “compliance training,” and you’re likely to be met with a sigh and eye rolls.

Unfortunately, people often respond negatively to the ‘C-word’. People often comment that compliance feels like a chore that gets in the way of ‘real work’ or something that no one else cares about, so why should they?

But compliance training doesn’t need to be boring or soul destroying. Is it possible to make compliance training engaging, maybe even enjoyable to complete? We are here to share that, yes, absolutely. You just have to understand human behaviour and tap into some effective behavioural principles.

woman at laptop engaged in training
Compliance training – who wants it?

Most non-compliance is inadvertent. It isn’t because employees don’t understand or agree with the policies. It’s just easier to default back to more comfortable and familiar habits. It’s also hard to teach people if they don’t see the value in what they’re learning, so we need to view compliance training through a new lens – and apply a distinct set of tools to help people act compliantly.

Behavioural science can provide this lens.

Who needs it?

Most businesses today need to adhere to a set of regulations, laws or government policies. Compliance training has a reputation for being tedious because the rules themselves are. These rules or laws (set by the industry in which the company operates or defined by wider legal regulation) are in place to maintain things like safety, health, employee dignity and privacy.

From cybercrime to AI, the biggest challenges faced by compliance in 2024 pose significant threats. Compliance training is there to protect both employees and employers, as well as to demonstrate that companies have done as much as possible to ensure that the way they conduct business is compliant. But when training happens because it is necessary, the level of engagement is low – compared to doing things because they are valuable, relevant or beneficial to the parties involved.

Who cares?

In a recent podcast, cognitive psychologist Magda Osman and Behavioural Scientist James Elfer argued that if you make a subject like unconscious bias training mandatory, more often than not it will backfire. Why? If this is something that you care about, you’ll perceive it as interfering with your sense of ‘agency and control’ and rebel against someone else telling you what to do or how to behave – the fastest way to lose interest and stop learning. In other words, people want to feel that they are in control of their own behaviour. So, if the training must be mandatory, the content needs to be designed to keep learners engaged. Examples include:

  • Incorporating interactive content like quizzes or games
  • Focusing on practical applications by using real-life scenarios to illustrate situations in which employees are likely to find themselves
  • Encouraging input and discussion by creating an environment that is open, transparent and two-way.

The ultimate test of the effectiveness of compliance training is employee behaviour: Are you seeing the desired behaviours on completion? For example, are people using stronger passwords after cyber security training or are they starting to speak up after whistleblowing training? If the answer is yes, the training has been successful.

close up image of a face looking at a screen, reflected in their glasses
The 3 ‘R’s

The key to making compliance training successful is to realign the employees’ negative responses to continually repeat, reinforce and make it relevant. This is where behavioural science helps us by incorporating the 5 main stages of behaviour change:

  1. Pattern interrupt. Deliver the ‘unexpected’ by interrupting employees’ patterns and making them open their minds. For example, you could ask a child for their perspective on compliance issues.
  2. Commitments and consistency. Eliciting actionable commitments gets people to identify and understand what behaviour or action they’re committing to, and those commitments will eventually become compliant behaviour.
  3. Social stigma. Negative social consequences can be even more powerful than fear of authority. The challenge is to get people to associate positive social results with compliant behaviour and negative social results with non-compliant behaviour. For example, imagine a man on his way to work who sees posters everywhere naming and shaming him for his unethical behaviour! Unrealistic, yes, but powerful, nonetheless.
  4. Repetition embeds messages into long-term memory. It has the power to rewire the brain and form habits around repeated information. Classic examples of this include TV ads or radio jingles, so consider using sound bites, video clips or podcasts to reinforce your message.
  5. Avoiding pain and gaining pleasure. The Pleasure Principle (developed by Sigmund Freud) suggests that everything we do is motivated by either avoiding pain or gaining pleasure. Employees are much more likely to be compliant if they associate pleasure with compliant behaviour, rather than the painful consequences of non-compliance, but it’s about getting the right balance to achieve motivation.
What behaviours are involved?

Why is changing our behaviour so hard? Does it work better if you mandate or inspire?  Evidence from behavioural science shows that this is more likely to happen if a) people want to do it, b) they find it easy, and c) they can connect with others. Using opinions, quotes or stories from ‘credible messengers’ has been shown to increase compliance [Cialdini, 2007].

At BAD, we recently collaborated with a global travel company to produce a compliance learning campaign, covering subjects including Information Security, Sanctions, Anti-Trust and Anti-Corruption. The design process used evidence-based behavioural science, with techniques to make the content as engaging and effective as possible, while supporting long-term positive behaviour change. Working closely with their learning team, the result was a bespoke digital campaign of learning modules, video explainers and comms, delivered globally in multiple languages to thousands of employees. The success of this training came down to the close collaboration we had with the client to ensure the delivery of high-quality and relevant compliance training within the challenging environment of global business.

Compliance here and now

If there’s one constant within the compliance industry, it’s the state of risk and compliance is ever-changing. More companies are realising the need for training to be not only compulsory but also ongoing. From training new employees to refresher compliance courses, organisations need to ensure they’re meeting their corporate responsibilities and protecting their business reputation.

The science of behaviour is not a panacea – its tools won’t stop employees with active negative intent, nor will insufficient training change an organisational culture that sends out the wrong messages. Done properly, it can be an important piece of the puzzle that reinforces a positive, ethical culture that helps move employees from intent to action.

Rather than viewing it as unavoidable, compliance training should be an opportunity to demonstrate a company’s core values and culture: The best training needs to address the behaviours that lead to regulatory breaches and provide the right models and systems to address these problem behaviours*. Understanding why we behave the way we do allows us to align with what’s most important – whether that be personal, business or climate change.