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Communicating with Millennials, Part 6: Moving Beyond E-Mail to a Multi-Channel Compliance Learning Program

by Kirsten Liston

2000: E-Mail is Magic

I joined the compliance industry in September of 2000.

My company, which was about 6 months old, was engaged in the pioneering work of putting compliance training online.

Before we created our first antitrust course, the alternative was sending a team of lawyers around the world with a PowerPoint deck. (In fact, I talked to a lot of lawyers who had done those trans-continental road shows.)

But suddenly, at the push of a button, you could send a global message on competition law to all your employees, world-wide. You could test them—and ensure they recorded a score of 100%. You could collect a policy certification. And then you could print a report showing everyone you’d trained, down to the individual employee.

It was breathtaking! It was cutting-edge! It was, to paraphrase Steve Jobs on the power of technology, nearly indistinguishable from magic… at least given what had come before.

You know what else was cutting-edge? E-mail.

For years, I’d handwritten letters to friends who were scattered across the country. But now I could sit at my computer—at work even!—and type out long updates.

Given when online compliance training emerged, it was inevitable that e-mail would become its primary engine of delivery.

In 2000, the average office worker received somewhere between 10 and 50 emails per day, often only on one computer. So you could count on people actually reading your message.

An email from the GC or another senior executive was a really big deal. So if the GC wrote to you and asked you to take a training course, you took it seriously.

The compliance course rollout messages we wrote in the year 2000 were long and full of ponderous phrases like: “Our company is committed to integrity.” They were hundreds of words and many paragraphs long—and they worked.

2017: Email Is Not Magic

Flash forward seventeen years, and these messages don’t hold up so well.

In 2012, McKinsey noted that up to 28% of a typical worker’s day was spent reading and responding to emails. Now with Slack, text messages, and social media notifications on top of it, it’s only gone up from there. So we’ve all gotten very skilled at information processing.

Source: http://mashable.com/2012/08/01/email-workers-time/#8rBOhgO62Eqw

If you take away only one thing from this post, let it be this: If you are still using long, laborious rollout messages in the year 2017, it’s time to stop.

Remember that your audience is living in a 140-character world, and people get to the point a lot faster than they used to.

In fact, we just wrote a rollout message for a client that reads, in total: “Hey! We think respect is important. Take 90 seconds to find out why.”

But beyond rewriting your rollout messages (which I am imploring you to do—in fact, I will rewrite one message for you for free. Call us. I am serious), it’s probably time to think about moving on from email more generally.

Millennials Don't Use Email

This post is the sixth in a series about communicating with Millennials, and do you know who doesn’t use email?

 

If you guessed the generation that will constitute 50% of the global workforce by 2020, you’re right. Millennials don’t use email.

In fact, this generation’s use of chat apps (think Slack or WhatsApp), SMS, and social messaging platforms (from Snapchat to Facebook) has largely displaced more traditional ways of communicating online.

This doesn’t mean that email or the Intranet are going away anytime soon—but it does mean that you will need to rethink your compliance communication and rollout strategy if you want to keep your audience engaged.

In the same way that design has come to signify value, your use of technology also matters to how your program is perceived.

In fact, Microsoft partnered with SurveyMonkey to poll more than 1000 Millennials on what helped them thrive at work, and more than 93% cited “modern and up-to-date technology” as one of the more important aspects of a workplace.

Cultural Change and Choosing the Right Channel

Moving beyond email might feel like a chore. I mean, who really uses Yammer? But it actually introduces some exciting options that likely align with your larger strategic priorities for your compliance program.

For the last several years, we’ve been thinking hard about the question of how to create compliance learning and messages that really engage an audience.

As compliance becomes increasingly a culture issue, it’s worth looking at how companies successfully influence culture in other areas.

One of my favorite articles so far on this topic is “Cultural Change that Sticks,” from the Harvard Business Review.

There’s a lot of great stuff in the HBR article, but the first “a-ha” moment for me came in the section where the authors talk about formal versus informal interventions. They write: “Most corporate leaders favor formal, rational moves and neglect the informal, more emotional side of the organization.”

They provide some examples of what they mean:

  • Formal: adjusting reporting lines, making decision rights, processes, and IT systems.
  • Informal: networking, communities of interest, ad hoc conversations, and peer conversations.

I would argue this is true of compliance, too.

What are the traditional tools we’ve used to get the job done?

Well, in compliance learning there are typically “Tone from the Top” leadership messages, a number of policies and procedures, a Code, a Code certification, training courses, a hotline, an annual conflicts of interest disclosure.

Notice something? These are all formal interventions, centrally produced and distributed.

The informal, back-and-forth conversations—like the stories employees tell each other about the company, day-to-day conversations between managers and employees, or subtle peer signals about what really matters—just haven’t been part of the same picture.

Now, influencing the culture through informal interventions is time-consuming and involves a completely different set of skills and strategies. You can’t order it from a vendor or schedule it as a one-time event.

These are small and seemingly casual interactions, spread out over time. They don’t come all at once; instead, they accumulate, adding up to a larger picture of how the employee sees the company and their role in it. They also require making a human connection with employees, which can be hard to do on a one-on-one basis in a global company of a few hundred thousand people.

You know what else happens in small, bite-sized pieces, accumulates over time, and rejects formality in favor of a more casual, more human connection? Posts on social media. Texts. Slack messages. In other words, many of the ways we communicate digitally outside of email—and the communication channels that Millennials are choosing instead.

According to the HBR authors, companies that drive successful cultural change act in both the formal and informal spheres.

Yes, they undertake formal reorganizations and have all-hands meetings.

But then the CEO will make social visits to local sites or send informal emails with business updates. There will be posters about the new values in the employees’ everyday workspace. There might be a video of everyday employees talking about the values.

These are all things I’ve seen happen at several different companies where there is a new CEO trying to drive cultural change as a part of implementing a new business strategy.

And people noticed. Dress codes changed (men stopped wearing ties, or started). Ways of communicating changed. Language changed, along with key company reference points (for instance, a focus on “quality” was replaced with a focus on “customer success”). Whether or not there was a wholesale shift in behaviors and attitudes, there was a large shift in expectations, and employees realigned themselves accordingly.

Tactics and Strategies for Multi-Channel Communication

So let’s bring this idea of informal cultural interventions back to compliance and the topic of Millennials.

For people who’ve grown up with ready access to digital tools, communicating on multiple channels, in short bites, is second nature.

When you communicate this way, you communicate differently. Your messages are shorter, casual, more human, even more transparent (see Part 1).

And that’s a more effective way to communicate—not only for Millennials, but for all of us.

It’s no accident that my long, chatty emails to college friends fell by the wayside when Facebook and texting arrived. These new tools gave me the ability to feel connected to people half a world away with comparatively less effort.

So how can you put this into practice in your compliance program?

Think in campaigns, not courses.

In compliance, we’re used to thinking of a training course as a solution. Have a bribery risk? Assign a bribery course! But as our field moves from audit trails to culture change, mandatory courses and 100% completion rates shouldn’t be our only tools.

Instead, take a page from consumer brands, like Coca-Cola or Ford. A soft drink company doesn’t run a detailed 20-minute PSA in January and hope that, every time you order drinks for the next 12 months, you remember the PSA and choose their product. No, they blanket their audience with attractive, engaging, ongoing communications, choosing multiple channels for the widest possible reach.

So big brands will sponsor popular TV shows, run magazine ads, buy billboard space on the freeway, write You Tube ads, make engaging television commercials, advertise on podcasts, and run posters on the side of city busses. They’re not counting on a single message to reach their audience – instead, they’re surrounding their target market with short, engaging, frequent pieces of content in the hopes that one or more will land.

To apply this strategy in compliance, think about all the channels where employees receive company information today—from email to company social media pages to manager messages to posters in the physical workspace—and think about how you might craft a campaign approach to reach them via some more of those channels. Even adding just one step beyond training can significantly boost that training’s effectiveness.

For example, one company we know followed their annual conflicts of interest training with a witty poster. And, at the SCCE national conference last fall, Tom Fox described how a company he worked with had scheduled a “Chatter Jam” to coincide with the launch of their Code. Of course, the company ran a typical Code launch, with a cover note and distribution to all employees. But then, during the Jam, the compliance team hung out online and took real-time employee questions about the Code and what had changed.

(It’s also possible, given today’s LMS technologies, to assign even standard training courses or send completion reminders via Chatter, Yammer, Intranet pages, Slack, or text message. If this sounds interesting to you, send me a note at Kirsten@rethinkcomplianceco.com and I can explain further.)

Start with the why.

We all take in massive amounts of information (today, the average American spends nearly 11 hours per day in front of a screen [[link -- http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/30/health/americans-screen-time-nielsen/index.html).


We’ve talked before about how any piece of information has to compete for airspace and attention. So it follows that, more and more, any piece of information has to announce WHY it should be consumed—quickly and convincingly enough that you don’t skip by it.

But those of us in the compliance profession aren’t great at doing this in ways that resonate with the average employee.

“Because the company might be fined.” Uh, okay. (Translation: Big deal.)

“Because you could go to prison.” Uh, okay. (Translations: Seems highly unlikely.)

There are good reasons why compliance programs don’t often publicize the number of investigations they do, the lawsuits they respond to, or the number of people who get fired or disciplined—but the end result is that, for the average employee, the prospect of a compliance failure seems as distant and unlikely as a tornado or a house fire. (Translation: Sure, you have to be aware of this stuff, but it’s not likely to happen here.)

The good news is: Communicating through multiple channels, including some that are more informal than all-company emails, gives you ways to slowly build the case to care, bit by bit and point by point.

For example, in Tom Fox’s SCCE presentation, he suggested finding interesting and relevant articles in the news and posting them on internal company social media as the start of discussions.

It could be as simple as a post that reads: “Middle manager sentenced to 10 years in prison. But read his story. He didn’t even think it was illegal!” or “Guy tried to raise money by selling company secrets. It didn’t end well.”

A series of real stories, about real people who face serious consequences, could do far more to convince your audience than 100 “Our company is committed to integrity” emails.

These kinds of small and seemingly casual interactions can be powerful shapers of culture, and can amplify the larger, more formal steps you’re already taking. And all it will cost you is some time.

A series of real stories, about real people who face serious consequences, could do far more to convince your audience than 100 “Our company is committed to integrity” emails.

These kinds of small and seemingly casual interactions can be powerful shapers of culture, and can amplify the larger, more formal steps you’re already taking. And all it will cost you is some time.

Want to talk through a multi-channel approach? Or want to collect your free email rewrite? Contact Kirsten at Kirsten@rethinkcomplianceco.com or use the form on our website to schedule a free consultation today.

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