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Curbing Wasteful Compliance Training

February 22, 2012
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Related Topics: Teams (Building), Employee Career Development, Management Skills and Development, Strategic Planning, Training & Development, Legal
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I’m writing this blog as I sit in a cavernous auditorium with 14 other Georgia attorneys.

The lawyer in front of me is doing a crossword puzzle; the lawyer to his left is scanning her Kindle Fire. Several are sending emails; one’s reading a crime novel, another, a newspaper. One is soundly asleep.

The remaining three or four people are watching a panel of distinguished attorneys discuss regulatory issues via a live video feed. The presentation reminds me more of a college lecture than a professional seminar.

Most of us in this room are scrambling to complete our compulsory legal education hours for 2011. By the end of the day, we will have accrued six hours of course credit, half the number we need to maintain our deeply valued bar licenses.

Each of us paid $200 to attend this session, which is being delivered at 19 other sites. Assuming roughly the same turnout at each location, we will have collectively paid $60,000 and invested about 2,400 hours or so of time today, a solid work year for a productive attorney.

Just in Georgia, thousands of lawyers go through this drill every year. We’re like millions of employees who plant their bodies in front of a droning instructor, an online click-through course, or a remote broadcast needed to complete required programs and qualify for bonuses or perhaps even just remain employed.

This experience reinforces my belief that a lot of required training wastes money, time and attention. How much? I’m not sure.

But according to the American Society for Training & Development’s 2011 State of the Industry report, employers spent $171.5 billion on all employee learning and development in 2010. About 10 percent went for compliance and mandatory learning.

If even a small percentage of that training is ineffectively delivered, American businesses are wasting a massive amount of resources and missing vital opportunities to mitigate risk. Maybe part of the fault is with learners like me who find it difficult to pay attention to droning professionals. But those who require others to complete such training should bear responsibility of providing an opportunity that is meaningful and engaging.

I’ve spent the last hour wondering what would make this a better experience, cost less and help lawyers (or others going through similar training) actually apply the key principles more effectively on the job. Today’s lessons confirmed what I’ve thought for a while:

• Learning must apply to real responsibilities and risks rather than obscure, abstract contingencies.

• If learners need to absorb raw information, make it available in written form (online or hard copy). Have them document receipt. Follow up with periodic reminders and provide ways for them to ask questions and get answers. This will keep concepts alive better than a single yearly event.

• Figure out a few key themes for any lesson. Repeat them during the event and later so participants remember what’s most important.

• Skill and follow-up are needed to avoid and fix real compliance problems, not just legal or regulatory knowledge. Build learning sessions so participants observe and practice key behaviors rather than passively receive information.

• Keep learning alive after an initial event by providing participants with:

—Periodic reminders about key risks or main issues addressed in the training. It’s easy to forget danger signals and stay trapped in old ways of doing business. Reinforcement will help people maintain the new skills or processes you want them to be using.

—Handy demonstrations or simulations showing how to apply key skills.

Aren’t most of our key workplace lessons based on a few key principles that we’ve been taught and then had reinforced on the job? That’s how mandatory training should be designed, too.

Stephen Paskoff is a former EEOC trial attorney and the president and CEO of Atlanta-based ELI, Inc., which provides ethics and compliance training that helps many of the world's leading organizations build and maintain inclusive, legal, productive and ethical workplaces. Paskoff can be contacted at info@eliinc.com.

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