For all the work and time and dollars expended, when was the last time you saw a Code course that really made you say, “Wow.”

In the tech industry, people talk a lot about reasoning from first principles. Elon Musk is famous for it.

The idea is to step back from the way things are currently done, revisit the original problem to be solved, and ask: What’s really going on here? If I want a certain outcome, what’s really needed? What’s possible?

The power of first-principle thinking is that it lets you step away from all of the current, accepted solutions — along with all the outdated assumptions or original technological limitations that those solutions were based on.

The classic Elon Musk example is his founding of SpaceX. According to James Clear, Elon Musk wanted to explore Mars. But when he tried to buy a rocket, he discovered they were out of reach, even with his PayPal millions — at up to $65 million each.

So he decided to rethink the plan. Buying a rocket was prohibitively expensive. What about building one? Turns out the cost of materials needed to make a rocket were only about 2% of the rocket’s purchase price.

Suddenly, Musk had identified a huge market opportunity. Instead of buying a rocket, what if he put his PayPal money towards buying raw materials and making rockets? Assuming his team could master rocket technology, he could then sell rockets at a price that would seriously challenge the existing aerospace industry — and use the money to fund his dreams of colonizing Mars.

By ignoring current practice and going back to the original problem, he overcame the blind spots of an entire industry. Why did rockets cost so much? Because that’s what rockets cost. But what if they didn’t? Today, SpaceX offers rockets that are one-tenth the cost of competitors — and still makes a profit.

Elon Musk didn’t set out to start a rocket company. He set out to go to Mars. Founding a rocket company was just the best way to get there.

So what do rockets have to do with compliance training?

Our industry is about 20 years old, and a number of our assumptions and time-tested solutions are due for a rethink. In many cases, “standard practice” reflects old 2005-era technological limitations and assumptions that we don’t even realize we’re still bringing forward.

For instance, take the Code of Conduct course — the centerpiece of most compliance training programs.

Our industry is about 20 years old, and a number of our assumptions and time-tested solutions are due for a rethink.​

A Code course is typically:

  • Rolled either annually or every other year
  • Sent to ALL employees, usually in their native language
  • Given to all new hires

At most companies, the Code of Conduct training has widest reach and greatest number of translations of ANY piece of training inside a company. It’s highly visible (often featuring a message from the CEO), and compliance teams work hard to get the content just right.

It’s also usually the single most customized course in a compliance program. Just as Codes have become branded documents, Code courses are expected to reflect a company’s brand, voice, risk concerns, and culture.

That said, for all the work and time and dollars expended, when was the last time you saw a Code course that really made you say, “Wow.” Or, put another way, when was the last time you felt really proud of your Code training?

It’s worth stepping back and asking: What is the purpose of a Code course?

Forget current practice — usually an intro with a CEO message, plus three to six topic-based lessons that get switched out year on year. That’s a 2003 vendor-driven answer to how clients can roll a “new” course each year, one that reflects the limitations of early course-authoring software, when edits were expensive and time-consuming (especially if you were translating into many languages) and there were a limited number of course formats to pick from. It also reflects a time when Codes were long, boring, legalistic documents that were hard to read or reference and needed to be “brought to life” through training.

Let’s look at things from the perspective of 2019. What is a Code course trying to do? What is it supposed to accomplish?

To my mind, the Code course has five key purposes:

  1. First, set a tone — to credibly, clearly state that the company expects each employee to meet a high standard of ethics and integrity
  2. Remind (or educate) people that the Code exists and explain what it is, why it matters, and how to use it — and, ideally, get them to read it
  3. Give examples of how Code issues can come up in real life and make it clear that this is not theoretical; most of us will face Code issues at some point, and we need to be prepared to handle them
  4. Point the way to other ethics resources that can answer questions when the Code can’t
  5. Finally, send a clear, credible Speak Up and anti-retaliation message

The standard Code course is one way to do this, but it’s not the only way, and the existing way has been overused.

What if instead, your Code course was:

  • A challenge: Rather than create a course that repeats some of the content in your Code, why not make employees go INTO the Code to find the answers to situation-based questions. This gets them using the Code as a reference — just the way you want them to in the future. And why not brand the challenge to your company and business, make it playful and a little fun? One great part of creating a challenge-based Code course is that the Code does a lot of the heavy lifting for you. The actual challenge text can be very custom to you and quite short — and a lot less expensive to translate than video dialogue.
  • Your actual Code, annotated: For years, we’ve been including certifications in Code courses, asking employees to “click here to certify that you’ve read and understand the Code.” Now digital Code technology has transformed the Code from a PDF or Word paper document to a live, digital product that can link to — or even be incorporated into — other workflows and resources. Some digital Code technologies even allow you to package up the Code and roll it out via an LMS. So… what if your Code course — especially your new hire Code course — could be your actual Code, perhaps annotated with explainer videos and checkpoint questions? What if, instead of just asking for a good faith certification, you could literally make each Code page or section mandatory? Curious to learn more? Click here to see the Rethink Compliance digital Code, and click here to see the course version of it.
The Rethink Compliance Code of Conduct Course
  • Not a course at all. A few years back, I worked with a company whose employee base had gotten tired of online training. So instead of creating yet another course, the company turned its annual compliance training into a manager-led live training that they delivered in “waterfall” style throughout the company: The CEO delivered the training to his direct reports, they delivered it to their direct reports, those people delivered it to their direct reports, and so on down the chain. The approach reinvigorated their compliance training — it got managers involved, it led to manager and peer discussions about how the Code actually applied.
  • For your company, for your Code: What’s the goal?

    Do you need one course or more than one? Does a new hire need the same message as an employee who’s gotten annual Code training for the last 10 years?

    Start by asking yourself:

    • What does my Code course need to accomplish?
    • Where is my audience and where do I want to take them?
    • Knowing that, what’s the best way to get there.

    The possibilities don’t stop there, and you don’t need to figure it all out on your own. If you need help brainstorming, feel free to give us a call. We’d be happy to have a no-strings-attached conversation.