5 Tips for Helping Employees Get the Most Out of Ethics and Compliance Training
By Logan Watts, PhD
With the beginning of a new school year, my inbox is flooded with annual training requirements from my university. Next up on my to-do list are online modules on the topics of sexual harassment, active shooters, and fire safety. In my experience, these programs are not inspiring or all that informative. In fact, I know exactly what to expect. I’ll spend a few hours (okay probably more like a few minutes) racing through pages and pages of information with the goal of learning just enough to pass the quiz and get back to my job.
Unfortunately, this is what many ethics and compliance training courses are like today as well. They are designed for efficiency, so that lots of people can quickly “check the box” to get back to more pressing matters. But what happens when there’s a real emergency? Will your employees be able to recall much information from these courses when they need it most?
My colleagues and I recently published a meta-analysis investigating why some ethics and compliance training courses are so much more effective than others. We reviewed over 80 empirical studies and found that the most effective courses rely on a few key best practices. Here are 5 evidence-based tips for helping your employees get the most out of your ethics and compliance training:
1. Teach decision-making strategies, not just rules. Typical courses focus on communicating rules and policies. This information is important. However, we found courses that also taught ethical decision-making strategies were 333% more effective than the average course. The most effective courses taught strategies such as how to identify relevant stakeholders, analyze motives, and forecast downstream consequences of decisions.
2. Practice makes perfect. Okay, maybe not perfect. Nobody’s perfect. But we found that courses that provided lots of opportunities for practice were 176% more effective than the average course. Try including low-stakes opportunities for employees to practice solving ethical dilemmas.
3. Include face-to-face time with experienced trainers. This is a challenging tip to implement in many organizations, because it’s not as efficient as online training modules whenever lots of people need to be trained. Nevertheless, the extra cost may be worth the investment. We found face-to-face and hybrid courses were 74% more effective than online courses.
4. Use lots of cases. Cases refer to short scenarios or stories involving characters facing an ethical dilemma in their job. Cases can be based on real events or entirely fictional, as long as the scenario is perceived as realistic. We found courses that emphasized case-based learning were 126% more effective than the average course.
5. Evaluate course effectiveness regularly. A recent study found that the majority of ethics and compliance training programs go unevaluated or only collect “smile sheets” (e.g., How satisfied were you with this course?). Collecting additional information is critical for evaluating how much learning is occurring as a result of training and whether that new knowledge is being applied on the job.
Use these best practices to improve your ethics and compliance training programs at work. Your employees and your organization may very well depend on it.
Medeiros, K. E., Watts, L. L., Mulhearn, T. J., Steele, L. M., Mumford, M. D., & Connelly, S. (2017). What is working, what is not, and what we need to know: A meta-analytic review of business ethics instruction. Journal of Academic Ethics, 15, 245-275.
Steele, L. M., Mulhearn, T. J., Medeiros, K. E., Watts, L. L., Connelly, S., & Mumford, M. D. (2016). How do we know what works? A review and critique of current practices in ethics training evaluation. Accountability in Research, 23, 319-350.
The Ethics Advantage Team