The Department of Justice is Talking About Shorter, More Targeted Training—Why that Matters and What it Looks Like.


Post By: Ricardo Pellafone, Founder, The Broadcast

The Department of Justice revised their Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs early this month, and one of those changes was a call-out to shorter, more targeted compliance training.

If you’re familiar with Broadcat, you know that this is what we do, and so I get it if your first response is that I probably read that in Convenient Vendor News (my favorite publication). So here’s analysis on this from the law firms of Latham and Watkins, Sidley Austin, Paul Hastings, and industry analysts Gartner.

In short, this is a real thing. And in the rest of this post, we’ll unpack why it matters and what it looks like to do it.

Why this matters.

Because shorter, more targeted training is more effective, more business-friendly, and cheaper. All three of these things are important to any business, but even more so right now.

It’s more effective because targeting lets you get far more specific and more instructive than generic all-employee stuff.

It’s more business-friendly because targeted training means that the business-people don’t have to figure out how general principles apply to their jobs; they just actually get trained on their jobs.

And it’s cheaper because (1) it costs less to produce than overwrought, long-form stuff, whether made in-house or purchased from a vendor and (2) it costs less to deliver, because you have to pay employees to sit through compliance training.

“OK,” you ask, “if that’s all true, why have we all focused on long-form, school-style training for so long?”

Well, because the DOJ was kinda vague on what would “count.” So even if you (or more likely, your general counsel) personally believed that doing hours and hours of top-down training was pointless overkill, you didn’t want to be the person who got rid of it and then got blamed for getting blasted by the DOJ. That’s self-preservation 101.

And so, yes, even though the DOJ has been hinting at shorter, more targeted training for years, there is a big difference between a theme you have to extract from the nuances of interviews and enforcement actions and something that is explicitly set out in the Evaluation of Corporate Compliance Programs.

And now it’s there.

What shorter, targeted training looks like.

OK, so shorter and targeted. What does that mean?

First, note that “shorter” and “targeted” are not the same thing. Targeted stuff tends to be shorter, but the opposite isn’t true. Most of the short-form stuff and micro-learning you’ll see in compliance isn’t targeted at all—it’s just a more high-level version of the generic long-form stuff it replaced. That’s not what you’re going for here.

“Targeted” training means thinking about specific audiences. Instead of “all employees,” think about audiences like “sales” and “finance” and so on, and how your risks apply to them. That’s targeting.

Both sales and finance need to know about corruption, for example, but they need to know different things. Focusing on the “how it applies to them” part will inherently let you make things massively shorter—you’re not trying to explain everything to everyone, and you can leverage the context about how your specific audience works.

Practically, this means your end product will feel more like “compliant job training” than “compliance training,” which is also how you’ll solve the problem of employees complaining about having to do compliance training. That is, the issue has never been that your employees needed more videos or fun doodads to click on; it’s that the training didn’t have any obvious connection to their job and it made them do all the work of figuring out how to apply it. Targeting fixes that by putting it in their context.

This also lends itself to measurement in more meaningful ways than generic, untargeted training. Because you are training people on specific parts of their jobs, you can measure the impact of your training by looking at how they perform that part of their job.

All good so far—so what’s the catch?

Well, this is harder to make. Not more expensive, but harder.

It is easy to make generic stuff: I can write a presentation on general anti-corruption in an afternoon because I only need to understand the broad strokes of the law. I don’t need to know much about my audience or business because I’ll just say it’s their job to figure out what it means for them once I lay out the elements of a bribe.

Making something targeted, on the other hand, means I have to understand the law, what my target audience does day-to-day in my specific business, and how it applies to them so I can create something from their context. It requires mastery of the law, business process, and a high level of precision in drafting, layout, and design.

Anyone can summarize the FCPA in a video or slide deck; telling a sales manager what to look for in an expense report to catch red flags for bribery is another thing altogether, and translating that into a short format is even harder.

But this is why in-house compliance teams exist.

No company needs to employ full-time employees who just buy generic off-the-shelf training and add their company’s logo to it—that can be done by a contractor or consultant. The role of the in-house compliance team is to know how their business operates so they can target the right people with the right information…which inherently will make that information shorter.

That’s where businesses see value, and where they understand their compliance team as true business partners. And this new guidance gives you the freedom to focus on exactly that.