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4 minute read

Time-based training requirements are the worst, but you can fix it

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: “time-based compliance training requirements—like ‘you have to do 3 hours each year’—are terrible and counterproductive.”

They send the message that the goal is to waste employee time even when your people know the stuff you’re training on. And it totally focuses on the wrong thing and feels punitive. Sigh…

(If you want to hear more about how these well-intentioned policies cause all sorts of headaches, check out this post.)

But, if you’re stuck with these lazy laws and just need to check the box, we hear you. 💕 

Here’s how to develop mandatory time-based training that doesn’t make your employees hate you. 

First, even though it’s tempting to slap a canned course from whatever training provider you use into your LMS and call it a day, don’t. This is the fastest way to burn through your political capital, and it’s likely to backfire come budget-setting time.

The situation stinks, but you have a real opportunity to focus on achieving actual compliance and making it relevant to your org, regardless of the time constraint.

Turn those lemons into lemonade!| Source: Imgur’s isai76 via

Tip #1: Instead of making your teams suffer through a full 2-hour time block, chop it up into smaller chunks of information that people can actually absorb in one-setting.

It doesn’t all have to be in the same format, either. Think about what messages and delivery methods lend themselves best to videos, short articles, leader-led discussions, one-page job aids, and online mini-modules. Pick what makes the most sense for your audience and the circumstances.

Remember, you’re not varying the message format just to say you did, you’re doing it to increase the chances that it will be comprehended and retained. 🧠 The more you think about how the audience needs to engage with the information, the more relevant and useful it will be.

Otherwise, it won’t matter how many interactive scenarios, whoseywhatsits, and laser beams you pack in there, people will speed through it and forget it soon after. 

Tip #2: Focus on behaviors, not regs

Years ago in Virginia, we had this ridiculous requirement to train everyone in a “position of trust” on the state’s conflict of interests law, which involved reading verbatim like 10 pages of verbiage. 🙄 It was so incredibly painful. While I was unsuccessful in getting buy-in, I wanted to deliver it as a sock puppet play. Why? First, I thought maybe our employees might actually watch that, just for the LOLZ. Second, there was nothing I could do to make learning about state law more helpful.


Source: YouTube’s Potter Puppet Pals: Wizard Angst via

Luckily, regulators were also subject to this torture, so they revamped the course after two years. You can learn from their mistakes by not being overly prescriptive with your content (let leaders and employees contribute to the discussion) and emphasizing the specific tasks you need learners to do to be compliant (versus giving them an overview of all the legal requirements).

Unless we’re talking about the legal team, most employees don’t need the whole song-and-dance about why a law exists and every scenario it applies to. They just need to know what to do to help your org stay out of trouble. 🚩 And in many cases, it’s as simple as “if you see these red flags, call Compliance [or HR or InfoSec or whatever]” and not a full list of potential harms, remedies, legal consequences, links to forms/systems, and all the other rigamarole that gets crammed into training.

Trust me, when your folks see the red flags in action, they’re not going to log into an LMS, search for a course, and find that link you pasted in there. They’re going to reach out to you, their manager, or someone they know in a relevant department to ask what they need to do. And that’s OK. That’s what you want, which brings me to my next point…

Tip #3: Deliver training when those behaviors occur and not on some arbitrary schedule.

This one’s probably the toughest to implement depending on the topic, but it’s the most important when it comes to making your training effective. If you can avoid making people dig through a maze of links on your website for compliance guidance so that it’s readily available as part of their workflow, you’ve solved all sorts of problems. It saves time, lessens the risk of non-compliance, and creates a rock-solid defense if an employee ever goes rogue. Three cheers for accountability! 🥳

We could dedicate a whole series of blog posts to what this looks like in practice, but here are just a few examples:

  • Sexual harassment training right before an after-hours product launch party
  • Bribery, antitrust, and cybersecurity training as part of the travel approval process
  • Fraud red flags checklist required for invoice reviews
  • Conflict of interest training integrated into guidance for hiring panels and RFP reviewers
  • Inclusion and speak-up culture expectations as part of new-manager onboarding

You don’t have to come up with all the solutions yourself. In fact, you shouldn’t try. That’s like a full-time job. Set a call with a few managers, risk owners, IT peeps, and worker bees, tell them about the behaviors you want to avoid or reinforce, and ask for solutions. 🤝 Bonus! Once they understand your goal of operationalizing the training, you’ll have a dream team to tap next time you need to brainstorm ways to integrate internal controls and training into daily work. 

Tip #4: Track estimated time for the training series in a spreadsheet.

Maybe you have a fancy LMS with Tin Can/xAPI that can track all the wonderful things you do outside the tool, but if this sounds like gibberish to you, there’s no shame in using a simple spreadsheet. 📊 If you’re stressed about recording the exact time each employee spent on every single material, other bigger issues are likely to crop up while you're distracted by these minor details.


The juice isn't worth the squeeze. | Source: FX Pictures’ It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia via

Instead, take your best guess for the time it takes to read through, discuss, and process the info in each training component, and remember: It’s going to take non-compliance people much longer than it does you to read and understand it all. It’s OK if your calculations are liberal, because if you’ve already considered tips 1, 2, and 3, your stuff is stellar and will hold up to scrutiny!

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