Recently, I sat down with a colleague who works for a financial services firm. He was clearly anxious, so I asked him how he was.
“Not so good,” he said. “I’m under the gun. I’ve got to finish 17 online compliance courses ranging from financial transactions to ethics and discrimination and harassment training. Unless I finish by midnight tonight, I won’t be eligible for a bonus.”
He said it was going to be a long and tedious night. “I just sit there and click, click, click, one course after the other. My hand gets so tired.”
I asked him what he learns.
“Nothing, really. Like everyone else, I’m just trying to get through this stuff. We all just want our bonuses.”
Who really benefits?
No one seems to question that delivering learning like this accomplishes little, if anything, and consumes more and more of our workdays.
Later that same day, I spoke with a very close friend. He works for a major industrial manufacturer and takes a lot of online courses, too. “I click through as fast as I can,” he told me. “I can usually pass the quizzes, even if I don’t pay attention. It’s pretty much a joke to all of us. I take each course the last day that I can. I just want to make sure I’m not on a list for non-completion.”
“Once the training is completed,” he said, “the plant manager never mentions it again unless there’s a problem.”
Who really benefits from training delivered in this mindless way? Is it the employee who gets his bonus or is it the organization that can show that it delivered information to employees in the event of a lawsuit?
Certainly, the employee doesn’t benefit from receiving raw training content stripped of underlying context, values and follow up.
Workplace behavior is the real problem
This type of “click-click-click” training is designed merely to give employees legal information and document that they received it through an automated tracking system.
We all know that information alone doesn’t change behavior. If it did, none of us would smoke, eat junk food or get speeding tickets. Is it any wonder then that workplace behavior and lack of compliance with specific rules and policies continue to be problems?
To change the behavior that disrupts the workplace or breaks the law, we need to provide motivation to change for reasons that are important to the learners, along with simple principles to follow.
Leaders must reinforce learning
Finally, these messages can’t be just delivered as one-time or annual events. Leaders need the skills, action steps and tools to continually refresh and reinforce these messages as they would with any internal communication campaign.
This isn’t a flaw with online ethics and compliance training or online harassment and discrimination training. E-learning can be extremely effective reaching masses of individuals with accurate, timely information and a consistent message.
But if the way that learning is launched makes it seem like an unimportant, check-the-box ritual, if it doesn’t have ongoing leader support, and if it’s not based on memorable principles, don’t count on it to do much of anything – except maybe to ensure that employees are eligible for bonuses and that your organization has potential defense documentation for claims you might have completely avoided in the first place.
Stephen M. Paskoff, Esq., is the founder, president and CEO of ELI®, an Atlanta-based training company that teaches professional workplace conduct, helping clients translate their values into behaviors, increase employee contribution, build respectful and inclusive cultures, and reduce legal and ethical risk. Mr. Paskoff’s Ethical Workplace blog also appears weekly on the Workforce Management website