Developing a Strong Compliance Communication Strategy

Developing a Strong Compliance Communication Strategy

This article was updated on August 27, 2018.

HR leaders play a critical role in compliance communication efforts. Every new employee must be trained in the organization's policies, and existing employees must remain aware of those same policies, but that doesn't mean compliance communication is as simple as sending a memo or putting together a fun compliance training video.

Having strong policies in place is a good start, but that initial work is meaningless if employees aren't aware of them. Consistent, effective communication is hugely important. How can HR leaders take the lead in proliferating this thinking across the organization?

Dump the CBT-Only Approach

The days of having everyone in your organization watch a training video and then take an online test (i.e., computer-based training, or CBT) to assure they've understood your compliance program are gone. This CBT approach not only lacks consistency, but it treats compliance as something that can be forgotten about once the test is over. There's no substitute for sophisticated compliance communication that fosters a holistic culture and consistent mindset of compliance.

Use Multiple Communication Channels

The communication style that an HR leader might use to discuss compliance with a CFO or other C-suite executive is not the right style for talking about the subject with an entry-level employee, for example. One size doesn't fit all: The message and the channel should be carefully customized to the target audience, and finding the right mix of messages and channels for each of those audiences is essential. While a formal meeting to communicate compliance processes might be a good fit for administrative offices, messaging via a newsletter or bulletin board might be better suited to reach production workers.

Make a list of all available communication channels, and start sending content to targeted internal audiences. As Kris Martino, a global communications manager, explains on The Compliance & Ethics Blog, "Communication at our company is embedded at multiple levels ranging from top-level management all the way to our line workers." Martino's firm uses a global compliance meeting to communicate with all its compliance professionals, while it reaches line workers through daily emails, posters and intranet.

Stay Consistent and Accessible

If you overload people with policies, they're less likely to retain compliance information. Keep things short and simple: Break messages into smaller portions, and transmit them gradually over time. Instead of devoting a whole edition of the company newsletter to compliance issues, for example, why not give your HR leader or CFO a monthly column to raise awareness? You could leverage your organization's intranet page, perhaps by putting together a compliance blog series or monthly videos. Piggybacking compliance messages onto monthly all-hands meetings or town halls is another good example.

The goal is to be consistent, and consistently accessible, in all your compliance-related messaging. Joel Rogers, CEO of consulting firm Compliance Wave, addresses the topic in his blog post Rethinking Communications: 5 ways to boost the effectiveness of compliance communications, "Look to offer short, non-intrusive interactions that can easily be incorporated into your employees' workday and that appeal to all learning styles (e.g., visual, auditory, reader/writer, and kinesthetic learners)."

Coordinate With Your CFO and Other C-Suite Execs

You're likely better off using existing resources rather than investing in new ones, and the best way to piggyback off other business leaders is by taking advantage of any natural opportunities that result from talking with them. For example, if one department has a webpage on the organization's intranet, coordinate with that department's communications people to send compliance messages through that intranet page. If a department has a monthly meeting, ask to be invited to share compliance news.

At the same time, don't be afraid to venture out on your own to get your messaging out. Analyze existing communication structures, and leverage them to promote compliance communications that reach as many people as possible. If it turns out that you need to invest in independent resources, such as initiating a company-wide compliance conference, then work with the CFO in defining budgets and defining costs versus benefits.

When speaking to other department heads, you want to come fully loaded with sound arguments for undergoing the initiative. Start by talking about how effective compliance communications can save you money, not only because it will reduce regulatory penalties and protect business reputation but also because it reduces training costs.

Moreover, your compliance communication efforts need not be expensive, as The Compliance & Ethics Blog argues, especially if you make use of existing communication channels. Borrowing compliance resources from other departments is perfectly valid, since compliance is something that cuts across the entire organization.

Setting up an effective compliance communications plan is an important component of any organization's compliance efforts. The more consistently you put compliance needs and requirements in front of employees, the more likely you'll have an entire workforce in lockstep.