Does a compliance checklist count as “training” or “communication”?
Both, if you do it right.
In this post, we’ll break down why it matters, the difference between the two, and how Broadcat structures our checklists so they count as both—and how you can leverage that to help your program evolve from a bolt-on approach to one that is built-in to the business.
Why this matters.
Understanding the difference between “training” and “communications” matters for two reasons.
First, there’s a check-the-box element of being able to say, at least as far as you’re concerned, that you are doing both “training” and “communications.” That requires you to have some categorization of what you’re doing.
That is, the law doesn’t really define the difference between the two; the Federal Sentencing Guidelines require you to do both, but there isn’t any definition as to what they mean. So, the issue here is just being comfortable that you can say “this stuff we’re doing is training” and “this other stuff is communications” and explain the difference if someone asks—like, for example, a board member.
Second, and more importantly, there’s the reality of managing the internal politics and budgeting of things. You have to justify budget and employee time for one versus the other, and knowing the different ways to define them gives you flexibility in getting buy-in. Your organization will have more tolerance for one versus the other at different points in time, and knowing how to frame up what you want to do helps you work with that.
To that end, there are two different ways to think about the difference here: form vs. function.
The first way to cut the difference is in terms of form.
If you’re thinking about it in those terms, the world looks like this:
Training is largely formal—time-bound, tracked, e-learning or live sessions outside of the normal working environment.
Communications are largely informal—more flexible in time and delivery and largely defined negatively by being “compliance stuff, but not training.”
This is a pretty common approach. And under this definition, checklists are probably communications. They’re delivered by managers or compliance reps or via email, they’re made available as resources on the intranet, or they’re made part of a workflow or operations manual. They are not formal activities that take people away from normal work.
The second way to view the difference is in terms of function.
Regardless of format, what does it actually do? Here’s how that breaks down:
Training tells people how to do something. After training, you should be able to do something differently.
Communications tell people about something, but function as reminders or awareness-raising—you don't have a specific skill when you're done.
This is probably the better definition, as it gives you a lot more freedom with format, timing, delivery, and cost; it’s more concerned with what’s getting accomplished versus the wrapper you put on it. It also helps you be more intentional about building culture: the biggest problem with the form-based definition is that it requires training to be a bolt-on that you do outside of regular work—which makes it hard for employees to view compliance as built into their work.
Also, this more functional definition is going to be a lot more consistent with what you'll find in our interview with the DOJ’s former compliance expert, so there’s that.
Under this definition, checklists are training, because they tell people how to do specific things compliantly. That’s pretty straightforward.
How to use checklists to go from bolt-on to built-in.
The magic of the compliance checklist, at least how we do them at Broadcat, is that it can count as both. The format feels like a communication, while the substance acts like training, so you can describe them as either depending what you're trying to accomplish.
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That’s even more clear if you deliver them the right way.
For example, you can power-up our behavioral checklists with talking points and emails for managers to use in distributing the checklists to their teams. These additional materials give employees context for why the checklist matters and how it ties to company values, which lets the distribution act as a “communication” event while the substantive checklist acts as a “training.”
And the really nice part about this is that it lets you lighten the “formal” training load over time, evolving from a bolt-on to built-in approach to compliance.
It’s pretty easy to get started with checklists and flowcharts and job aids as a “communications” strategy. They take up little employee time, have obvious business impact, and are lower-cost—it’s just much easier to sell them to leaders than another hour of training.
That gets you in the door.
And then, once folks start engaging with them, you can start reframing them as training—by talking about what they do, not their format—and use them to make the case for ramping down your “formal,” outside-of-normal-work training load, because you’ll have data points that support it.
Basically, they let you reposition your team as more business-friendly without having to make a big dramatic change. You add them to what you’re currently doing, and then use them to pivot towards a more operational, business-friendly approach as you get results.
A rose is a rose.
Here's the takeaway: don't get hung up on nomenclature when it comes to something as useful and game-changing as checklists. Instead, call them whatever you need so you can accomplish your goals, get needed budget, and transition your program from bolt-on to built-in. The beauty of checklists is that they're super flexible and incredibly useful—whatever you call 'em.