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Make your riskiest stuff easiest to understand.

June 5, 2017 7:55:59 AM CDT / by Ricardo Pellafone

Quick, what compliance risk keeps you up at night?

Got it? Good. That risk should, from your employees' perspective, be the easiest to understand.

Here, let me explain this with a picture I took yesterday.

This is the entrance to the municipal courts building in downtown Dallas. Like pretty much every government building, it has a lot of signs on it, and several saying what you can't bring into the building.

Take a look: which prohibited item do you think the courthouse cares about the most?

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Hint: it's the thing in the big red "prohibited" circle.

Of course, the courthouse does not want people bringing in nunchakus, drills, or knives either, which is why that other sign is there.

But the thing they really care about is guns.

And so that's made extra-easy to understand—because you're unlikely to read the laundry list of "Prohibited Items" with its examples and exceptions. You are conditioned to just ignore that type of stuff as lawyer nonsense designed to shift liability. 

But you are likely to see the huge icon with a "prohibited" symbol that's right on the door. And so the stuff that they really care about has been made easy to understand.

So, question: from your employees' perspective, which sign better represents your program?

Is the sign with the "no guns" icon, where the riskiest stuff is prominent and easy to understand?

Or is it more like the laundry list, where "no guns" appears after "no scissors" and "no sporting-good objects"?

That is, do you flag your riskiest stuff for your employees, or do you bury it in an annual training course with 20 other risks that aren't nearly as serious?

If you want compliance, you have to identify what you really care about—the stuff that will absolutely ruin your day—and focus on that. If you try to make everything important, you will just communicate that nothing is important and people will ignore all of it.

Instead, pick what really matters to you, flag it for employees, and make it easy to understand.

Ricardo Pellafone

Written by

Ricardo Pellafone

Ricardo used to be in-house compliance, leading investigations for a sovereign wealth company in Abu Dhabi and a Fortune 200 tech company in California. He has degrees in psychology and law.