What your employees really think of compliance. [Thoughts from a sales guy]
"Not to sound too jaded, but compliance training is about reducing legal risk to the company because of the poor behavior of an employee."
- A high performing senior sales rep at one of the largest tech companies in the world
Ouch, yeah? Unfortunately, if you ask your sales / bizdev / commercial professionals how they view what compliance does, this is going to be a pretty representative response.
That's one of the reasons we wanted to feature a post from our very own Senior Account Executive, Taylor Edwards. He's sold for large, publicly-traded companies and small, venture-backed startups, and he's been successful at them all—he's historically been a top performer.
He and his family are photogenic, too!
Taylor is one of the most thoughtful guys I know, so when he has insights to offer about compliance, I listen. And because Taylor came from outside of the compliance industry, he doesn't have all the baggage of what compliance is *supposed* to be. Instead, he can tell us how salespeople and other employees really think and interact with compliance programs.
And importantly, he is an extremely conscientious top performer. I don't ever worry about putting Taylor in front of y'all because he not only wants to do his job with integrity—literally everyone says they want that—but he puts in the time to think through how to do it.
Practically, that means Taylor is your best case sales rep—the kind who will put in more time than most to figure out how to do something the right way. And it means that when he gives you a critique you should listen, because if you lose the Taylors of the world then you've lost your entire sales team.
Alright, take it away, Taylor!
Let me start off with a confession.
I’ve never read a Code of Conduct or compliance policy (prior to joining Broadcat). When training was required, I confess to pressing play on a video and tuning out until it was finished, or rushing through slides and modules until I could guess my way through a quiz at the end.
And guess what: The vast majority of your company outside of the ethics and compliance team is just like me. Especially the sales team.
Sales teams’ primary exposure to their org's compliance function comes in the form of training and awareness. But most of the time, it takes the shape of a classroom-style environment, where sales teams are expected to sit and receive instruction about the ins and outs of Codes of Conduct and abstract legal principles like bribery, the FCPA, working with third parties, etc.
Whether that instruction comes in the form of live training, videos that must be watched, or visually “fun” (but required) online modules, we're still made to feel like we’re in our mandatory sophomore civics class. And we remember about the same amount.
We think of it this way because it’s not applicable to us. The Code of Conduct training doesn’t seem applicable because we believe we’re never going to break the law and don’t expect that we’ll need to report misconduct of others either. And lessons on anticorruption don’t seem relevant because the concept is abstract and we (once again) tell ourselves, “This isn’t all that important to me—I don’t bribe people.”
Basically, it doesn’t feel like I’m getting training on how to do my job. It feels, once again, like I’m being forced to sit in a classroom on a general ed course that I have no interest in.
And when we're in that situation, the sales team starts to think to themselves (cue bubbling up thought cloud):
“Surely the compliance team knows that I’m never going to memorize this stuff, but they do it every year and they make me sign these disclosures or mark that I’ve completed the training. So this must be one of those things that our legal team requires to reduce their liability when that shady rep on Dave’s team finally gets caught doing something wrong.”
And THAT'S how we get to the quote at the top of this post.
Your sales team (and frankly, much of the rest of the company) views your compliance training as a comprehensive liability-shifting exercise. So it becomes a negative feedback loop where we pay less attention to training—or try to dodge it—only for the compliance team to put further measures in place to ensure people sit through it and generate completion records.
Sounds pretty pessimistic, right? Jaded, even? You’re right, but that’s where most companies are.
So how can we move it in the other direction?
I've got a couple of tips.
1. Be ruthless.
When it comes to eliminating content and courses from your training requirements, that is. Do you need to do a Code of Conduct training or annual training? (Well, you don’t according to the DOJ.) But if your board still insists, then cut out the fat.
A sales rep likes me needs to know three things, and three things only: 1) What the Code is, 2) When would someone like me need to consult the Code, and 3) Where can I find it when that day comes. That’s a 15-minute training, max.
2. Work backwards.
When more specific training is necessary, work backwards from the actions people take, not forwards from the laws you're trying to follow. (That's solid advice that we got from Hui Chen in our in-depth interview with her.)
For example, your team is never going to remember what "FCPA" stands for—they don’t need to! But they *do* need to know what kind of gifts would or would not be appropriate when working with a potential client. A company gets in trouble when employees do something wrong, not when they can’t pass a quiz administered by your LMS. So focus on action, not on knowledge.
This leads to the last point.
3. Break it down.
Compliance is an open book test, so break down whatever guidance you can into easy-to-follow reference resources.
For instance, you might be able to eliminate your anticorruption training entirely if you provide sales reps with simple checklists to follow any time they go about a task that could otherwise run afoul of policies. If you have a gifts and entertainment policy, turn it into an easily-referenced one-pager that lists out what’s okay, what needs approval, and what’s never okay.
In short, give your employees the tools they need to do their jobs compliantly WHILE they're doing their jobs.
Want simple training, checklists, and reference guides that your employees will appreciate? Join Compliance Design Club!
Compliance can and *should* be a respected part of the larger organization.
Of course, Broadcat can help you with the kind of training and resources that show compliance isn't an exercise in shifting liability. So if you’ve never thought about it until now, book some time to chat with us about how we can help you implement an employee-first training program.
If you're not ready to work with us yet, follow me on LinkedIn—and don't worry, I never sell over LinkedIn, just network and write. I've got more insights into compliance training from the perspective of a customer-facing employee, and I'd love to hear what you think about them.
In the meantime, we can definitely agree on one thing: Compliance can and should be a respected part of the larger organization. But earning that position requires showing respect for your employees’ time first, and that's done by ensuring that training is only mandatory if it helps people do their jobs in a more compliant way.