Training is one area where the Sentencing Guidelines give us specific information about what’s expected for an effective program. Is your training program clear? Does it effectively communicate the company standards? Is everyone meeting these standards?
Another important effective training issue is coverage. Who is receiving it? Does it include remote employees? Does it include management, the board of directors, etc.?
The Guidelines specify “periodic” training but does not define this term. What does it mean?
How can an organization test to find out if it’s training is practical? One way is to select a sample or focus group. And we’ll discuss a few more.
Keep your training effective, periodic and practical. Periodic doesn’t mean once and it’s done, it means periodic. Practical means testing to ensure that the program is working. And finally, use consistent and interesting methods to ensure effectiveness.
Three Questions with David Searle, Chief Compliance Officer and Associate General Counsel at Bristow Group
What do the Sentencing Guidelines say about training?
Training is one area where the Sentencing Guidelines give us specific information about what's expected for an effective program. Training must be effective, periodic and practical. It must succeed in communicating the company's standards to the broadest possible audience. Terms like “clear, concise and interesting” are often applied to training programs that are developed to communicate these standards. Unfortunately, often the training is not “clear” and this can have serious consequences. For example, a few years ago we worked with an organization to develop its program on conflicts of interest. Interestingly, this company specifically allowed for and discussed the hiring of family members and close friends. This was a family-owned business and it would have been impossible to have a conflicts-of-interest policy that forbade nepotism. Indeed, the C.E.O.'s daughter was a General Manager, a well-known fact within the company. While working with this company we discovered that their “off the shelf” training procedures specifically stated that they could not hire family members no matter what. This was an obvious and unintended oversight. So, in the code of conduct training’s module on conflicts of interest there was a provision that directly conflicted with what the actual policy of the organization was. This sort of thing happens more frequently than you might imagine particularly with the proliferation of off-the-shelf, standardized-type training programs.
Another common scenario is when you have a company that has been acquired, or one with several separate subsidiaries, one of its divisions may have policies, procedures, and documents that are in direct conflict with its other divisions. Clear communication must be included not only in the required training but also in any written standards or informal communications that might be out there.
When we talk about clarity and effectiveness much of it comes down to consistency. It is surprising the number of times that inconsistencies occur that cause confusion for the employees and others who are receiving that information.
Another important effective training issue is coverage. Who is receiving the training? Does it include remote employees? Does it include management, the board of directors, etc.?
Indeed, the Sentencing Guidelines specifically say that the people to be trained include members of the governing authority, (the board of directors), high level personnel (management and executives), substantial authority personnel (those responsible for the program) and the organization’s employees and “as appropriate” its agents. If you have a substantial number of subcontractors, agents, and other third-parties who do work on behalf of your organization the Guidelines specify training for these individuals as well.
I have worked with several organizations over the last few years that have had a substantial population of agents, distributors or other third parties that to the outside world looked like they might be part of the overall organization. To have an effective training program organizations must consider anyone who may be representing the organization and the appropriateness of also training these individuals.
The Guidelines specify “periodic" training but does not define this term. Periodic means at least more than once. There are many organizations that have a good on-boarding process where they do code-of-conduct training for their employees but afterward there is no follow-up employee training. This is clearly not “periodic.”
Another thing that deserves attention, particularly if you are a government contractor, is that training may be specifically discussed in the contract. You might be certifying to the fact that you provide periodic training on your code of conduct or other standards. You need to make sure you know what has been agreed to under the contract. I know of at least one contractor that had to scramble after an audit to catch up on the training of all its employees because it had certified training on a periodic basis to mean no less than every three years.
Lastly, the guidelines specify practical training. To me, this means that there be must be adequate time devoted to the training program. Too often we find organizations scrambling at the end of the year trying to get training completed. This places time pressures on both the compliance group and the employees. This is not very practical.
Also, in talking about practicality we need to ask does the training work? How do you know that it is working? We have all heard stories, or may have been in a company, where the training just runs in the background and people aren't really paying attention to it. This is particularly true if it is an online training course. This isn’t practical or effective.
How can an organization test to find out if it's training is practical? There are a couple of ways. One way is to select a sample or focus group--a representative group of individuals--and ask them their impressions about the training and test their knowledge over subjects covered in the training. Another method is used by some organizations that take a broader-based approach about testing. Six months to nine months after the training a knowledge survey is conducted. Specific questions answered by a large group of people about the content of the received training helps the company understand if employees are retaining the information learned in training.
I think that if you pay close attention to consistency, to what's being communicated and if you do so on a periodic basis, followed by testing you will be much more involved in the nuts and bolts of your training program. You will also have a much better idea if it's effective under the Guidelines’ standards.
Keep your training effective, periodic and practical. Periodic doesn't mean once and it’s done, it means periodic. Practical means testing to ensure that the program is working. And finally, use consistent and interesting training to ensure effectiveness.
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