One of the critical success factors for any ethics and compliance program is education. LRN’s 2013 Ethics and Compliance Leadership Survey Report found that 75 percent of ethics and compliance officers considered the creation of an education program a top priority, with 45 percent reporting that “keeping it relevant” was an important goal for their program.

Education and communication are critical components in transforming corporate cultures worldwide. Advancing ethical corporate cultures starts with designing effective education programs that promote awareness, impart knowledge and breed an organizational sense of ownership and responsibility around business conduct. With today’s business paradigm requiring not only legal compliance, but also ethical behavior, education leaders are finding the need to shift their learning strategies to adapt to the new business drivers and evolving audience requirements. Designing effective compliance and ethics education programs that reach diverse audiences across multiple time zones, in a progressive and innovative manner, is emerging as the new necessity. This is reinforced by research from LRN’s 2013 Ethics and Compliance Leadership Survey Report, in which the data shows convincingly that the most effective programs are delivered in a blended suite of modalities, addressing the various learning styles and attention spans of the evolving workforce.

One fundamental reality in today’s business environment is that the learner is the new consumer, driving high expectations for user engagement and on-demand access to knowledge. This new consumer thrives in an environment where learning is more informal, social and integrated 24/7. This new learner/consumer is altering the learning landscape, rejecting being held “hostage” to one learning format. The profile of today’s learner is one with multiple layers of distractions and information overload. Critical content needs to connect with them in short, easy-to-digest segments that can be applied in practical and relevant ways.

Top Challenges

Training Fatigue

Online education fatigue has led the list of E&C education challenges in the past two LRN Ethics and Compliance Leadership Survey Reports. Where E&C education and communications programs remain static and status quo, the efforts of E&C leaders to capture the attention of employees and deepen their commitment to shaping a culture of integrity are having a limited impact. In short, many are disengaged.

The 2013 survey data show that online education remains the primary lever at E&C professionals’ disposal. More than three-quarters of companies deploy online education across the employee base. But the time allotted to deploy this education is minimal. More than two-thirds of leaders said they have three hours or less of employee time each year to deliver E&C education—a small window to raise awareness, impart critical knowledge and reinforce the right behaviors.

Keeping It Relevant

The most common educational strategy, employed by 91 percent of companies, is to rely on a broad, enterprise-wide ethics and compliance curriculum. This means that employees aren’t receiving targeted education that addresses the risks they face in their day-to-day work.

Passive vs. Active Learning

Ethics and compliance education programs ask very little of learners, and this contributes to very little impact. The latest research on adult learning methodologies demonstrates that passive learning, in which employees are expected to learn facts and consequences from media such as presentations and videos, is far less effective than active learning, in which the learner is involved in the lesson. The shift to active learning comes after about a decade of change in which learning trends like individualization, social networking, and mobile have grown in popularity.


Generation Effect

Complicating the planning and strategy for ethics and compliance education and communications programs is the presence of four generations of workers with very different learning styles. The convergence of four generations in the workforce is posing tensions, with employers concerned about how to manage such differing attitudes, work habits and loyalties. The three most recent generations are the Baby Boomers (born 1946-1964), Gen-X (1965-1980) and Millennials (1981-2000). Slowly retiring, commonly characterized as the Silver Tsunami, is the Traditionalist generation. Born between 1925 and 1945, they are typically characterized as being hardworking and financially conservative, with a low tolerance for change. Traditionalists are most comfortable with a command-and-control style of leadership, a generation raised to set and obey rules.

The newest entrant into the workforce, the Millennials, are often characterized as Digital Natives. They comprise a new breed of socially networked employees, which is evolving the workforce. This new audience is pursuing active learning and seeking to be engaged and inspired. They want to be a part of shaping the learning experience and the organizational culture. They are overtaking older candidates in roles where their ability to navigate social media, and their demands to be treated in a meritocratic way with an appetite for more responsibility, are very attractive.

Social and Collaborative Learning

Whether or not your organization is adopting social learning tools, the fact is that employees worldwide are using the tools. Furthermore, the proliferation of these tools will continue and evolve at exponential rates. It is important to determine how your organization can best adopt them effectively for education and communication.

A recent study conducted by the Masie Center cites that more than 78 percent of organizations are using collaborative documents such as wikis and blogs for learning and knowledge sharing. Close to 70 percent of organizations are adopting internal social networks for learning, such as Yammer. There is also a significant rise in classroom-based group learning — more than 45 percent of organizations indicate they are leveraging live training to reinforce their education program.

Corporate-hosted blogs and discussion forums are multiplying. Leaders and regional managers are leveraging these tools to post topics and enlist employees to share opinions and personal experiences. Some companies are posting links to video vignettes with facilitated discussion threads that enable learners to post their thoughts and comments or share personal experiences that extend the scenario-based learning. Organizations are extending learning opportunities through discussion forums, blogs, wikis and other social learning platforms. These types of forums promote user-generated content and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. This approach enables learners to personalize learning and find themselves in scenarios, bringing more relevancy and ownership to the education program. High-performing organizations and those in the technology industry are capitalizing on social learning tools for knowledge management, building informal learning networks and hosting expert alliance forums across their organization.

Blended Learning

All too often, ethics education is a dull and monotonous activity, and many employees find little connection between the annual compliance education program and the core business issues that are relevant at a local level. However, when an organization’s leadership commits to shaping an ethical culture, there is an opportunity to foster powerful peer-learning experiences. Designing a blended learning strategy enables an organization to employ a range of delivery formats (e.g., online, mobile, live), instructional strategies (e.g., scenario- and game-based learning) and communication tools to build knowledge, develop skills and change behaviors. By delivering E&C content more frequently through a variety of channels, blended learning addresses different employee learning styles and combats training fatigue. Blended learning offers a more relevant, engaging and social approach to E&C learning, and it prepares leaders at all levels to set the right tone.

Compounding the convergence of multiple generations and preferences in learning and communication styles, today’s organizations are operating in a global landscape with a diversity of employee and partner situations that require a deeper understanding of cultural preferences. Not only are there the more traditional calls for a blend of visual, auditory and kinesthetic stimulations, but calls for the framing and context to be more culturally adaptive are mission-critical. While framing the topic of anti-bribery and corruption, the learning simulation for a shop floor employee in Taiwan must be framed in a different situational context than when presenting the same issue to a corporate executive team in Washington, D.C. or a vendor agent in Nigeria. When presenting the issue of speaking up and non-retaliation, the learning interaction presented to a team of claims adjusters in Cleveland, Ohio should be different than the problem-solving simulation developed for a manufacturing team in Santiago, Chile. Taking these diverse learning styles and cultural sensitivities into consideration when designing your education and communications strategy and program can enable greater knowledge “stickiness” and promote more adoption of the concepts of the program. The learning simulations should engage and challenge your workforce to consider the ethical quandaries of their roles and responsibilities, but framing the content with regional or cultural context adds an important dimension of impact and relevance. This strategy can shift the learning from passive participation to active learning and melt the typical barriers of global perception or “lost in translation” scenarios typical of many ethics and compliance programs.

Top 5 Strategies for Developing an Effective Blended Learning Program

1. Develop a broad set of operating principles.

Blended learning can be effective because it puts into practice the principles of clarity, repetition, variety and active engagement. The strategy allows your program to reach more learners, and connect with them more often, when they are exposed to clear messages multiple times through a number of different channels and immersive, engaging formats. Another important principle is localization: the design and content of your learning should fit the local cultural context. Imagine a U.S.-based company rolling out anti-corruption training for employees in their Middle East operations. Localization would require not only translation into the appropriate languages, but also running the graphics or visuals through a cultural filter so that images and symbols convey the right meaning and respect local business cultural norms.

2. Collaborate across boundaries.

Build a shared vision and purpose around creating a strong ethical culture. Ethics and values can be driven into the organization by reaching out and partnering with functional leaders, such as Human Resources, Learning and Development, Company Communications and Corporate Social Responsibility. Bringing these stakeholders together will test your leadership skill in building shared vision and purpose. Fortunately, your mission and values statement and your code of conduct are foundational business documents affecting every employee, so you can make the case that educating and communicating on these vital matters is a shared responsibility.

3. Maximize diverse communication channels.

Create a buzz, a viral buzz. Tap into your organization’s communication style and preferred channels, but don’t be afraid to open up new avenues for learning by utilizing innovative formats and “pull” tools. Determine which channels and formats currently work best for the various audiences in your communication ecosystem. At the same time, you need to break through the noise and combat training fatigue. Instead of a code course refresh, for example, consider developing an interactive e-code that includes links to games and other learning activities that “pull” employees into the learning process. Introduce some healthy competition and fun activities. Many forward-thinking companies have re-invigorated ethics education with humorous videos, film festivals, write-your-own-case exercises and even art exhibits.

4. Enlist managers to lead with a tone in the middle.

For most employees, their supervisor is the face of the company. The expectations and behavior exemplified by managers is by far the most influential factor in shaping the organization’s ethos and culture. At DuPont, for instance, leaders begin meetings with a short “values contact,” which is a short reflection/sharing on a core value, such as safety. This simple practice weaves ethics into the workflow and sets the right tone for business activities and decision making. At BAE, Inc., every manager at every level facilitates a one-hour ethics learning discussion annually, which is supported with a toolkit of resources centered around complex dilemmas presenting non-obvious situations juxtaposing right vs. right. Enlist your managers to serve as “ethics envoys” to their teams.

5. Measure the impact of your education and communications.

Ideally, your approach to measuring impact should be holistic enough to capture how your ethical culture is evolving as a whole, while also focusing on specific issues of concern and high-risk areas. For example, you can use employee focus groups, leadership interviews and surveys to conduct a “cultural MRI” of your organization. Culture is measurable when the analytic instrument is well designed and focuses on observable behaviors and business outcomes. What’s important is to get a baseline and then devise a blended learning strategy that can close identified gaps such as poor understanding of policy requirements, low levels of trust and fear of speaking up. Do not rely on completion rates, test results and employee feedback to gauge holistic impact. Instead, consider assessing employee perceptions, attitudes and behaviors to determine organizational impact. Armed with data on how you moved the needle in key areas, you can justify your program budget and, more importantly, make the case enterprise-wide for culture as a business strategy.

Innovative Programs: Final Tips & Tricks

As you design your ethics and compliance education and communications strategy and program, consider the following tips to help promote more collaboration and innovation across your workforce. They can help bridge the convergence of four generations in the workforce and energize everyone to be included in the conversation.

  • Provide your enterprise with diverse social learning tools that support on-demand and flexible access to knowledge. They’re critical to promoting greater awareness and knowledge.
  • Present realistic examples of ethical dilemmas that energize and stimulate discussion. Invite your workforce to be a part of designing and leading the discussions.
  • Provide opportunities for your employees to seek ways to reflect and apply strategies to resolve difficult situations.
  • Leverage social media platforms to bring together global and generational perspectives on mission-critical issues.
  • Guard your program against complacency and training fatigue.
  • Support blended social learning channels to engage the learner beyond a single online course.
  • Seek ways to support collaborative learning using fun approaches, such as experiential learning, simulations, gaming, vignettes and ethical maps. These tools can promote greater authenticity, commitment and sustained knowledge retention.
  • Design ethical dilemmas that contain true risk, provoking learners to think twice, and provide the opportunity for them to apply what they have learned in safe simulations.
  • Offer company-hosted discussion forums or manager-led discussions. They can support the critical-thinking skills that encourage participants to absorb, process and apply, thus enabling behavioral transformation.

The full LRN Risk Forecast Report can be accessed at:


Marsha Ershaghi Hames

Marsha Ershaghi bio 7-14-14Marsha Ershaghi Hames has 16 years of experience leading corporate education initiatives. As Practice Leader, Education Solutions at LRN, Marsha is responsible for knowledge and advisory leadership around corporate compliance and ethics education solutions. Her expertise is specifically around progressive and blended learning strategies, especially in the framework of experiential and interactive learning methodologies. She has dedicated the past 10 years to advising global organizations on education strategies that simultaneously drive ethical corporate cultures and greater productivity and performance.

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