Learning & Development Blog

How to Develop a Strategic Plan for Compliance Training

If you’ve read our other blogs on this topic, you know that elements of a good compliance training strategy include tailored training, well-defined goals, focused instructional design, and predetermined metrics. It should also provide comprehensive communication and ongoing refresher training. While these are essential elements of any training program’s strategy, they alone do not constitute a compliance training strategy.

To understand what those missing elements are, it’s important to understand what a compliance training strategy is, and what makes it different from other approaches.

What is a compliance training strategy?

When dealing with regulatory requirements, you need to start with the words. For example:

  • What does the regulation say?
  • What words describe the requirement?
  • How does the regulation define those words?

For that same reason, let’s be clear about our definitions.

definition of compliance training

When referring to compliance training, we mean how employees learn about laws, regulations, and company policies that impact their work tasks and activities.

When we discuss training strategy, we mean an action plan based on learner outcomes and focused on short- and long-term organizational goals. This strategy ensures employees receive the training needed to successfully and productively do their job.

And when we say “compliance training strategy,” we’re referring to a documented and actionable plan for providing mandatory education in alignment with the business’s goals.

This goes beyond merely leveraging basic instructional design and project management elements.

Why have a compliance training strategy?

Organizations create and execute compliance training strategies to help them stay in compliance with the regulatory body or bodies that govern them. These strategies typically focus on training employees to avoid and detect violations that could lead to some sort of legal liability.

Some organizations, however, tack loftier goals onto their compliance training strategy that sound something like this:

  • “Nurturing a respectful workplace”
  • “Adding business value”
  • “Creating a competitive advantage”

That’s great and all, but when it comes to compliance training strategy, the bottom line is that the organization complies with the rules or regulations that apply to them.

What separates compliance training strategy from the others?

One big difference.

Everyone hates compliance training.

I don’t just mean the employees who have to take compliance training. But, also, the business leaders whose employees must take it.

Both employees and employers dread the word.

No matter what anyone tells you, managers responsible for profit or productivity hate compliance training because it’s mandatory. To them, it’s an activity that takes away employee time from generating revenue, and that hurts their bottom line.

You may be thinking, “What’s the big deal?” It’s just a couple hours of training. How disruptive could that be? It might not be that big of a deal if we were just talking about ten employees.

But think about the cost to a company with 1,000 employees required to take the training. If each employee must complete five hours of compliance training per year, that amounts to 5,000 hours of seat time.

That comes at a cost. I don’t just mean the dollars spent on the training modules.

  • It’s the cost of employing two or more full-time personnel who manage compliance training content, delivery, and tracking.
  • It’s the cost of 5,000 hours of employee salary, which in this case roughly translates to the cost of employing nearly three full-time positions.
  • It’s the opportunity cost of 5,000 hours that your employees won’t be generating revenue. If we’re talking about sales reps, can you imagine the volume of lost sales while their butts are in seats?

As you can see, compliance training is a cost center. If you are responsible for running a business, you want to minimize your costs. Given this, if you are responsible for compliance training, you want to devise a strategy that minimizes costs as much as possible.

compliance training strategy

In addition to that, you may feel pressured by business unit leaders to compress seat time to the smallest allowable amount. You may be allotted a nearly nonexistent budget for providing necessary training. And in some cases, you may be expected to deliver content that employees won’t hate.

This is what makes developing a compliance training strategy different from developing other training strategies.

Your goal is to execute a strategy that delivers the shortest, cheapest, and most engaging training possible while satisfying your organization’s compliance requirements.

With this in mind, let’s consider a straightforward, methodical approach to developing a strategic plan for compliance training.

Start with the regulation.

This is a compliance training program, so the first step is to read the regulations.

Remember what we said about starting with the words when you deal with regulations? This is what we meant. Before doing anything else, read the regulations and associated rules, standards, guidance, company policy, and procedures, etc.

Read it closely. Your objective is to get clear on what the regulation requires in terms of who, what, where, when, how often, and how long.

For example, look for answers to questions like these:

  • Which job roles are required to take this training?
  • What content does the training need to cover?
  • When do they need to take this training?
  • How often do they need to take this training, i.e., frequency?
  • How long should the training last, i.e., what is the required duration?
  • How much must be synchronous versus asynchronous?

Once you’ve answered these questions—or gathered these requirements—you can move to the next critical step in developing a compliance training strategy: the needs analysis.

Conduct a compliance training needs analysis.

A needs analysis helps you methodically identify training priorities and subsequently develop a training plan. This process involves gathering, analyzing, and synthesizing data to uncover training needs to address in your training strategy.

After reading the regulations, consider the current regulatory environment. Look for any changes to industry rules and regulations that could drive the need for employee training. Similarly, consider organizational policies and procedures. What recent or upcoming changes should be addressed in the training content?

Next, look at your organization’s business lines, business units, and job roles in scope for compliance training. Consider the job functions of each role and the knowledge required to perform associated tasks and activities. Are there any knowledge gaps, or new or different tasks or activities that should be addressed in the training content?

Gather company data that could inform the training content.

The data you gather depends on the industry, the organization, and the job roles. You might need to find out if any reportable events or disciplinary actions have been linked to the organization or its employees since the last compliance training. Or, you might have to gather information about any customer complaints, performance management issues, disciplinary measures, litigations, arbitrations, or regulatory actions associated with the organization’s employees.

If you aren’t sure what data to gather, go back to the regulation and put your regulator hat on. Ask yourself, “If I were an auditor, how would I know if the company is meeting the intent of the regulation?” The answer to this question should point you in the direction of critical data for your analysis.

What story does the data tell?

As you analyze the data you’ve collected, identify short- or long-term patterns or other red flags that could indicate a training need. Once you’ve identified these, you’ll want to follow up with representatives from affected business units for more context to validate whether there is a training need. Related to that, you’ll also want to solicit input from employees regarding potential training issues to address in the plan. Not only will employees be able to validate the training needs you’ve identified, they’ll be able to help you target specific objectives to be covered in the training.

Start making decisions.

Based on your data analysis and findings, you can begin to prioritize training needs based on how closely those topics support business initiatives, the number of business units or job roles with a particular training need, and any urgent compliance issue that will be on your regulator’s radar. Once that’s accomplished, you can identify the training topics, learning objectives and evaluation metrics to build out your compliance training strategy. You can sort out topics that apply enterprise-wide versus those that apply to specific business units. This is also where you can highlight the need for differentiated or targeted training based on job roles.

Don’t forget the implementation plan.

The last part of your strategic compliance training plan covers implementation. That is, how you intend to design and develop the curriculum, communicate the training requirements, launch and track the training modules, and measure the success of your training plan. This piece is critical to getting it all done for the current year and being able to get it done faster and better next year.

Short, cheap, engaging, and compliant.

It’s important to remember that a compliance training strategy is different from other training strategies. What makes it different is how organizations feel about it.

Organizations hate compliance training. And for that reason, compliance trainers must execute a strategy that delivers the shortest, cheapest, and most engaging training possible while satisfying their organization’s compliance requirements.


Is this the process you follow to develop your compliance training strategy? What do you do that's different? Tell us in the comments.

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