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Which compliance training method is the most effective?
Which compliance training method is the most effective: sessions led by the compliance team? E-learning? Manager-led discussions?
Well, it depends. What do you want to accomplish?
All of these methods are legitimate, but they are each good at achieving certain compliance goals and not so good at others—and that matters, because you want to use the method that works best for what you’re trying to achieve.
We try to be delivery-agnostic in our work: we create content that could be delivered in any of these methods (and more, because these are not your only options), which gives us a lot of freedom to think about this kind of stuff.
In this post, we’ll break down these popular methods and give you tips on where each method is strong and where it’s weak so you can emphasize the methods that serve your current priorities—and when your priorities change (and they will), change what you’re doing to match.
Let's review the methods.
First, let’s be clear what we’re talking about.
When we say e-learning, we mean online training that is centrally administered and tracked by the compliance team, and each employee takes on their own on a computer or phone. This is often a course, but not necessarily.
When we say compliance-led, we mean live training sessions led by (... wait for it ...) someone from the compliance team.
And finally, when we say manager-led, we mean training sessions led by pretty much anyone except someone on the compliance team—a manager, ombuds, compliance champion/rep, or someone else from the business.
In short, e-learning is directed by a computer; compliance-led is directed by a compliance team member; and manager-led is directed by someone in the business.
Now, every one of these methods is going to get information to your employees; they’ll all do that more than adequately. And of course, the conventional wisdom seems to be that "live training is best, but e-learning is a necessary evil."
But that's not quite right.
When you dig into each of these methods, you'll see they vary in how well they support goals like recordkeeping, analytics, culture, operationalization, bridge-building, and real-time expert feedback. They're each strong in some areas and weak in others—because what helps them be great for some goals limits their ability to succeed in others.
So, let's break it down.
E-learning: best for recordkeeping and analytics.
E-learning is the best method for building records and running analytics. All training activity is managed within an online learning environment, and the sheer wealth of data you can harvest from that is staggering (at least in theory—your mileage may vary).
Now, you can of course keep records from live training; that’s what people were doing before the internet, and you don't need e-learning just for recordkeeping. Similarly, you can run analytics on live training data, too.
But doing that manually is really hard, and your dataset is going to be incomplete and messy. Realistically, you're probably not going to do it, and that makes sense, because it's exactly the type of thing a computer should do. So if your priorities are recordkeeping and analytics, emphasize e-learning.
That said, because all of the training activity happens online, e-learning is weaker on culture, operationalization, bridge-building, and real-time expert feedback—all goals that are better served by some sort of human interaction. That is, while technology makes it easy to track what people are doing, it also acts as a barrier to building the kind of relationships necessary for those other goals.
Compliance-led: best for bridge-building and real-time expert feedback.
Compliance-led training is the best method for building bridges between the compliance team and the business teams and offering real-time expert feedback to employees. By simply putting a compliance team member in face-to-face contact with business-side folks, this method helps build relationships and showcase the compliance team’s expertise with real-time interactions.
Of course, you can film videos featuring the compliance team members and distribute those via e-learning or manager-led training, and that is a second-best option when travel or logistics makes face-to-face meetings impossible (hiya, pandemics).
But while that will make the team more recognizable, it won’t build an actual relationship or provide for a two-way conversation. If your priorities are bridge-building and real-time expert feedback—like at the start of a new compliance program—you’ll want to emphasize this method.
Where compliance-led training is weaker is in recordkeeping and analytics (because it happens offline) and culture and operationalization (because it’s led by compliance and not the business itself). Again, just like with e-learning, the very thing that makes this method powerful in some areas makes it weaker in others.
Manager-led: best for culture and operationalization.
Finally, manager-led training is the best for building a compliance culture and pursuing operationalization. This method shifts the conversation from "something compliance does" to "something the business does," helping frame compliance as something that the business owns, not a top-down corporate initiative. (Read more about the power of manager-led/discussion-based training here.)
It also encourages operationalization by helping managers own the conversation about what compliance is, encouraging connections to day-to-day work. To be clear, it’s not operationalization itself—it’s still something discussed outside of actually doing the work—but it opens managers up for operationalization in a way that the other, top-down methods can’t.
That said, the operationalization goal is best-served when manager-led training focuses on practical application and job aids (instead of simply replicating e-learning modules or compliance-led discussions).
And of course, there are tradeoffs here too. Manager-led training is weak on recordkeeping and analytics for the same reason as compliance-led training (it happens offline), and it’s weak on building bridges and real-time expert feedback for the same reason as e-learning (no one from the compliance team is involved).
The takeaway: Focus on your goals, not logistics.
Now, each of these methods also has unique logistical hurdles.
E-learning is expensive; compliance-led training is limited by the bandwidth and travel budget of the compliance team; manager-led training requires creating a mountain of content.
But those are hurdles, not barriers. Pick the method that matches your goals and figure out the logistics; don’t use the wrong method because it seems logistically easier.
Basing your strategy on what's easiest is like knowing you need to bolt two pieces of wood together, but instead of doing that you just keep pounding them with a hammer simply because you had the hammer already.
That is, it might feel easier, but it’s not going to get the job done.
So, here’s the action item: take a look at what you’re doing right now. Does it align with what you think is most important?
There’s no right or wrong goal here; all of those goals are legitimate, and a healthy compliance program will probably vary which ones are important year-to-year as the program grows and matures. The problem only comes when your goals don’t align with your methods—that's a recipe for frustration and wasted effort.
So whatever your goals are this year, they’re yours—just make sure you’re using the right tool for the job.
Want to learn how we can help organizations just like yours achieve their goals?
Give us a shout!