Leveraging on Microlearning to Turn Compliance-Obligations Into A Risk-Mitigating Opportunity!


Taking Compliance and Ethics lightly is not an option! The guidelines and laws enacted by the US Government around them are meant to deter and detect unlawful conduct within organizations, regardless of their ownership

Two documents that talk about these in detail are– (1) The Chapter Eight – Sentencing of Organizations, Introductory Commentary, Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual, and (2) Effective Compliance and Ethics Program, Federal Sentencing Guidelines Manual.

To avoid the adverse financial impact of a potential fines or bad press, organisations implement effective Compliance programs.

The result Periodic organisation-wide Compliance & Ethics training programs across levels. Sadly, most of them are considered time consuming, irrelevant, unclear and boring. Learners hate it, and top bosses are so fearful of potential Compliance misses that driving these training programs takes precedence over the learners’ understanding, capabilities, applicability and/or preferences. 

US Compliance & Ethics: A Snapshot of Non-Compliance

Data on organizational offenders between the 1990s up to 2021 suggests:

  • Over 70% of organizational offenders sentenced are smaller organizations with fewer than 50 employees 
  • 10% offences by organisations having between 50 to 99 
  • 12% offenders are in the 100 to 500 employees range, and 
  • Less than 8% organisational offenders belong to organisations with over 500 employees

Clearly, larger organisations are far more vigilant to Compliance issues. The smaller organisations with lesser employees throw caution to winds with over 70% offences. Sometimes, the fines and punishments leave them insolvent!

The type of offences classification by the United States Sentencing Commission include: Fraud 30%, Environmental 24%, Anti-trust 8%, Food, Drugs, Agricultural  & Consumer Products 7%, Money laundering 6%, Import & Export 5%, Tax 3%, Bribery, Gratuity, Extortion 3%, Drugs 3%, immigration 2% 

These pertain to a range of industries such as manufacturing, health care, retail, transportation, services, construction, finance, agriculture, environment management among others.

Two Objectives To Achieving Compliance

  1. Exercise due diligence to prevent and detect violations of the law; and
  2. Promote an organizational culture that encourages a commitment to Compliance with the law (criminal, noncriminal or a regulation).

3 Purposes Served by US Federal Sentencing Guidelines

The US Federal Sentencing Guidelines are put forth to self-monitor and for self-policing Compliance related issues.

Organisations are expected to aggressively work to deter unethical acts, and punish those organizational members or stakeholders who engage in unethical behavior.

The US Sentencing Guidelines have laid down 3 purposes:

  1. Punishment– depending on the degree of ‘blameworthiness’ of an offender.
  2. Deterrence– to discourage certain organisational actions/behaviors.
  3. Incentives– to maintain a robust internal control mechanism to prevent, detect, and report criminal conduct including felonies and Class A misdemeanors.

The problem: With a fleet of employees across all levels, keeping the workforce in tune with Compliance & Ethics guidelines gets challenging! To keep actions and activities in order, you are required to communicate, and specifically tell the dos and don’ts related to Compliance and Ethics.

The organisation cannot absolve itself of the actions, omissions and lapses of its people across levels. 

Consequently, training and adequate follow-up of each one’s understanding, interpretation, behavior and actions needs to be managed well. This task falls on the lap of the L&D team.

Proactively Embracing Microlearning as Part of Mitigation of Compliance Issues

The two mitigating factors that organisations need to embrace in the face of regulatory accountability and deterrence:

  1. Existence of an effective compliance and ethics program. This reduces an organization’s culpability score.
  2. A reliable, genuine and robust self-reporting, cooperation, or acceptance of responsibility.

That’s where the L&D unit comes into the picture, and microlearning becomes the jewel in the crown to deal with Compliance & Ethics Training matters effectively, down to every individual!

It’s best to avoid and make the organisation resilient with a sound learning program rather than having to turn into an organizational offender, and either plead guilty or go to trial in a court of law.

It’s a no-brainer: Prevention with microlearning is an easier option when the misses by your employees can cause a dent due to ignorance or lack of education/reiteration.
Smart organisations recognize and understand that it’s best to invest a few thousands in initiatives like microlearning rather than grapple with loss of reputation/brand-image or pay fines in millions. 

Enabled by microlearning, you can easily dodge the need for Self-Reporting, Cooperation, and Acceptance of Responsibility due to Compliance & Ethics misses.

For instance, the healthcare industry is most prone to fraud offenses. Data suggests that over 54% of Compliance cases belong to this category.
This means that its microlearning initiatives on Compliance and Ethics for healthcare employees (Doctors, paramedics, medical specialists, nurses, administrative staff etc.) must protect its employees on fraud related issues/scenarios they are likely to encounter. . One-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work!
Instances of prior misconduct can be the low hanging fruits that can be easily avoided by microlearning and reinforcing the Key Learning Points (KLPs), and using Spaced Repetition as per the risk-specific profiles of the learners in the healthcare industry.
Doctors and healthcare professionals from different specialisations need different Key Learning Points that are mutually exclusive.

7-Step Compliance Framework and the Relevance of Microlearning

To implement an effective Compliance program, a seven-step Compliance framework can be followed by organisations to deal with Compliance & Ethics issues.

Given below is this framework, and a perspective on how microlearning training initiatives strengthen and complement the Compliance & Ethics program of an organization.

Step 1. Detecting and Preventing Violations By Building a Robust Compliance Mechanism
This requires an organization to put the required Compliance standards and procedures in place in order to prevent and detect violations of law.
Standards of conduct and internal control systems must be robust enough to reduce the likelihood of violations of the law, and this can happen only when it’s complemented by a strong internal controls mechanism.

Relevance of Microlearning:
Putting the required Compliance standards and procedures in place means that adequate training and empowerment of your workforce needs to be a top priority.

Risk-specific training is required so that each member in the organisation can prevent and detect violations of law. Microlearning enables this, especially, the conduct and behavior of learners can be part of the Key Learning Points as per each employee’s role, tenure and department.  

The training for making internal control systems strong must also be based on each employee’s role in your microlearning initiative. This mitigates the ‘forgetfulness’, plus they overcome the fear of reporting matters, are able to boldly detect/report potential risks of Non-compliance. This way microlearning makes ‘internal controls’ reliable and failsafe.

Step 2. Commitment to Compliance By Organizational Decision Makers

Decision makers of an organization must know the content and operation of the Compliance program and must be fully involved on behalf of the organization by keeping reasonable oversight in implementing the Compliance program effectively with the right resources.

Relevance of Microlearning:
Even top bosses need to be constantly kept abreast of the commitment to Compliance. No one is beyond being trained or reminded of what a good Compliance & Ethics program needs to be. Microlearning enables them with the specifics, and helps them keep a tab on the actions of those responsible.
The top bosses (organisational decision makers) also need a simple and quick-access repository of Compliance & Ethics related ‘Key Learning Points to make their job easier. This is done best with microlearning!
The microlearning snippets can and must be customised as per the needs and roles of the top leadership/decision-makers. This keeps the decision makers agile, alert and well-equipped in keeping the organisation resilient to Compliance issues.

Step 3. Perform Due Diligence Exercise While Screening & Selecting Leaders Driving Compliance

An organisation must be extremely well-determined in the selection of Compliance leaders with character. This requires a thorough due diligence exercise. Only clean and highly responsive/responsible individuals must be made in charge of the Compliance initiatives. It is extremely critical to weed out individuals who have a history of engaging in violation(s) of the law.

Relevance of Microlearning:
When leaders with integrity drive Compliance, microlearning initiatives get the right impetus.
Such leaders are able to appreciate the unparalleled benefits of microlearning, but also promote its usage in creating a ‘learning organisation’, where your workforce gains core competencies to keep Non-Compliance issues at bay!

Step 4. Inclusive & Comprehensive Compliance Training For Every Level

Compliance training is required to cater to all individuals across all levels of the organization. Training needs to be well-communicated along with having practical mechanisms to adhere to Compliance standards and procedures. It must be appropriate to every individual’s role and responsibilities. It’s important to ensure that top leaders (governing authority) are well trained to secure Compliance every step of the way. Ignorance and lack of knowledge cannot be an excuse to Compliance misses and its consequences.

Relevance of Microlearning:
Microlearning gives your learners adaptive learning facility to match his current level of understanding.
Risk-specific training makes it all the more relevant for them. Learners get real-life application oriented Compliance training that is specific and pertinent to their roles. This way learners can appreciate  the value of a tailor-made approach to Compliance, and stop viewing Compliance training as boring. 
Microlearning takes you away from a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach with a host of features in microlearning such as adaptive learning, spaced repetition, gamification, assessments, flashcards, micro-targeted learning goals and much more.
A good microlearning platform is able to baseline and monitor the learners’ progress, and give repetitions (reiterations), and assessments depending on one’s level of proficiency.
A robust microlearning platform doubles-up as a fabulous quick-reference tool. In the times of need, a learner can quickly refer to a microlearning snippet. This makes microlearning platform a ‘just-in-time’ tool for quick-reference in real-life Compliance situations.

Step 5. Establishing Safe & Effective Monitoring/Reporting Mechanisms For A Strong Compliance Program

Organizational conduct and integrity must be high to comply with Compliance standards and respond appropriately. An organisation must develop a powerful, safe and reliable system for the organization’s employees/agents to report or seek guidance regarding the potential or actual violations of law. The employees reporting non-compliance must do so confidently without the fear of retaliation. Anonymous reporting mechanisms, regular monitoring and audits help prevent and detect violations of law. Periodic evaluation of the effectiveness of the compliance program is a must too!

Relevance of Microlearning:
Microlearning snippets can be used to strengthen this element of effective monitoring/reporting. With microlearning, you can reiterate and ingrain the need amongst your workforce to be bold, responsible and forthcoming in detecting, preventing, or reporting potential Compliance issues.
To fearlessly seek guidance and report, you need a continued reassurance about the seriousness of Compliance regardless of the seniority levels or influence of those involved.
This reassurance can come easy from short microlearning snippets that highlight the penalties and rewards of nipping potential risks in the bud, or reporting violations of law without delaying.

Step 6. Incentivizing Integrity & Promoting Compliance Through Rewards and Penalties

An organization must promote its Compliance program with incentives to perform. Disciplinary measures or penalties must be put in place to act as a deterrent for violating laws. An organisation must also have penalties against employees in failing to take the right steps to prevent/detect violations of law.

Relevance of Microlearning:
A good microlearning platform has various features like reward points, badges, levels, and team exercises that make Compliance related learning fast, fun and effective.
It is particularly helpful in making something as dreary as Compliance training as easy as playing a game. This is how microlearning can actually break the self-imposed barriers to dealing with Compliance issues with complete faith.
A microlearningenabled workforce turns fearless and accountable to protect the higher purpose viz. the image/reputation of a business.

Step 7. From Detection to Action Thereby Securing Compliance in the Face of Violations

An organization must take reasonable steps when a violation of law is reported, or a potential incident is detected in the nick of time. This includes making appropriate changes to strengthen the Compliance and Training program.
Besides this, due diligence is an on-going exercise. So, ongoing risk assessments of the robustness of the 7-step Compliance framework must continue to happen.

Relevance of Microlearning:
Your microlearning training initiatives work like the facilitators to this self-policing and strengthening exercise of your work force across levels.
Periodic assessments of Compliance program can actually eliminate serious and likeliest risks by modifying the compliance program, and the microlearning initiatives linked with them.
Re-assessment keeps the microlearning lessons up to date, and geared-up to keep your workforce empowered for any potential Compliance scenario.

Microlearning is helpful even to those involved in periodic evaluations of Compliance programs. They too must be exposed to microlearning lessons with the relevant Key Learning Points critical to their job deliverables.

To conclude, it is important to understand the imperatives of Compliance in a highly regulated US market, and how microlearning becomes a dependable solution to the challenges posed by a demanding regulatory environment.

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