In the first two blog posts in this series, we looked at how compliance program priorities are shifting in response to two trends:
- Regulator focus: Increasingly, prosecutors are less impressed with perfect paper programs and are asking: Are your efforts really working? How do you know? Have you measured the impact of your compliance efforts? Can you show that employees are responding?
- Digital revolution: As modern “digital natives,” we’re all drowning in information — and we’ve developed the ability to quickly screen out anything that doesn’t seem relevant or important. At the same time, professional content marketers are producing “clickbait” that’s scientifically engineered to capture people’s attention. All of this is competition for your compliance material.
Traditionally, most compliance content was intended to inform and educate. This was appropriate — since much of this information hadn’t been routinely shared with employees before.
But today, your content has a bigger job to do — not just informing employees but persuading them. That’s a big change.
In a recent webinar for SCCE, Meghan Daniels and I talked about 5 steps that companies can take to create better Codes and compliance materials:
Five Steps to Instantly Improve Your Code — Or Any Compliance Content
Step 1: Rethink the Organization
Traditionally, Codes were organized as a list of topics — more or less the compliance officer’s mental checklist: bribery, insider trading, conflicts of interest, etc.
But if your goal is persuasion, you’ll do better if you ground the Code in language that’s compelling and relevant to employees.
See if you can establish an overall theme that’s bigger than any one individual topic — some catchphrase or message that will resonate with employees. Then tie individual topics to this theme.
If you connect the Code to larger business initiatives or culture points, it will help with the positioning — following the Code is not separate from doing your job well, it’s PART of it.
Some Codes that do this well include:
This can be surprisingly hard for people used to communicating in a more formal way.
If you’re an attorney or compliance professional, you are probably used to taking in massive amounts of information — it doesn’t feel arduous to you.
But the average person is used to the way people communicate online, which is personal and brief. (A recent study found that human attention spans have dropped to eight seconds — shorter than a goldfish).
And the more normal this brief, personalized communication becomes, the stranger your disembodied corporate boilerplate will sound to the average person.
Recently, the Silicon Valley writer and VC Paul Graham had a good blog post explaining how you can make the transition to more conversational language.
If you’ve been drafting formal “Our company is committed to integrity” sentences, this one change alone could revolutionize your compliance communications.
Step 3: Think in layouts
In addition to writing simple, easy-to-follow body copy (see #2 above), great Codes amplify and expand on that material, using callouts, Q&As, and resource guides.
Using this type of supporting material can:
- Add visual interest — new, separate content elements create the opportunity to vary the visual styling, creating a page that looks pleasing and balanced.
- Keep the content conversational — don't include details like protected characteristics in the main text; break them out as standalone bulleted lists.
- Bring Code standards to life — by giving real-life examples or answering FAQs, you can help employees see how these principles and standards can apply to their actual work.
Finally, breaking the content into short, easy-to-digest chunks creates a document that’s easier to read now, and that’s also optimized for reference later.
Step 4: Focus on practical, relevant guidance.
When you're writing the content of the Code, we recommend that you give most of the space to practical, relevant guidance — or as a colleague of mine used to say: “Not what the law says, but what the law means.”
I’ve worked with companies who admit: Yeah, even when our employees go read the Code, they’re not sure what they’re supposed to do.
To keep the Code a useful document for employees, try these approaches:
- Try writing a bulleted list of things employees should do or not do, given the requirements in this area.
- Use the word “you” — this will force you to give guidance as opposed to just outlining legal principles.
- Explaining legal concepts and definitions is fine — but keep them separate from the main body text, and from the guidance you give employees.
- Finally, it’s fine to have overall principles or point of view statements. But keep them brief, and follow them with practical guidance.
Step 5: Connect
When you read about what persuades people, it turns out that persuasion is always easier when you’ve established a connection.
It sounds obvious, but people are more easily persuaded by people they like and trust. And they feel more connected to people who show a clear understanding of them and their situation.
So, once you’ve taken the other steps here, the final step to take is to look for ways to build a connection with employees.
Can you invite them to share input? Can employees submit potential Code covers and vote on the winner? Can you personalize some of the people in the compliance program, so that they feel like they’re reaching out to a person and not a faceless department?
Another way to connect is to give employees an identity to feel connected to — “We are like this.” (Of course, the identity has to be credible.)
These steps sound simple — but companies that manage to incorporate even just a few of these should see a dramatic change in the effectiveness of their communications.
If you’re interested in learning more, the recording is available for purchase from SCCE here: