Ethics, Entertainment & Influence


This Article originally appeared in SCCE’s Compliance & Ethics Blog


This is a great time of year to reflect and think about how we can improve ourselves and our organizations. Well, there is a surefire way to have more of an impact in your organization.

Have More Fun!

Flexing your creative muscles, being more entertaining with your training and communications, having a sense of play and a willingness to try new things, is the most effective way to increase your influence.

Here’s a hard truth. When it comes to ethics & compliance, reputation matters. Dr. Rob Cross and his associates from the University of Virginia published studies about collaboration in the workplace and they talk about “energizing interactions” and “de-energizing interactions.” In short, people like to be around those who uplift, encourage, engage others, and offer possibilities. Conversely, they tend to avoid those that are negative, don’t listen and are downers.

“It’s time for your ethics and compliance training!” You can almost hear the groan coming through the computer. Words like “ethics” and “compliance” are toxic to employees. Their eyes glaze over. Most think it doesn’t apply to them and they simply tune out. Have you heard the term “active listening?” Well, when it comes to these serious, difficult workplace behavior topics, they are actively NOT listening.

This reputation has been earned by pushing policies written in legal-speak and a long history of mandatory, boring, bloated training where not only do employees not learn anything, they actually come away with the impression that we don’t care. In fact, the whole e-learning format, with the monotonous voice over, stock photography where you can’t advance to the next screen, signals that it’s NOT important. They think we’re just pushing liability onto them and wasting their time.

These trainings tend to be the primary calling card for communicating with employees. It’s like you’re a restaurant and you’ve spent all this money putting up a fancy sign, hiring expensive chefs, shopping for the best ingredients, buying expensive place settings and cutlery, and spend months preparing healthy meals and then you hire Door Dash to pick it up, bike over and throw it over the fence saying, “enjoy your food…eat it before the end of the day or we’ll be back to remind you!” But at least you’ve tracked it! #sarcasm

The way most organizations train and communicate with employees is the veritable definition of a de-energizing interaction and therefore employees simply avoid the finger-wag, the speed-bump, the red-tape, the office of “no.” This is a problem that deserves our attention. It doesn’t really matter if they are educated about the rules, because employees do not speak up to ask questions, bring problems forward and raise concerns when they are annoyed, apathetic or afraid.

Yet, this terribly ineffective approach still garners a big part of the time and budget. And no, outside of some state laws here and there, most of this training is not a requirement. It’s just the way most companies have learned to do it. Even the DOJ has emphasized communication & awareness and shorter, targeted training. They look for “effective programs” and leave it up to us to figure out what that means. So again, why do we keep doing things that we know don’t work and make us less influential with the people we’re trying to reach?

I would argue that the most effective way to mitigate risk and increase impact is to create a welcoming, approachable, trusted support system. And the best way to do that is to be more creative, more playful, and more entertaining! We all know that a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. Comedy, music, storytelling, suspense, gaming are all proven techniques that activate both parts of the brain, and perhaps even more importantly, there is a halo effect. Employees appreciate us and are more likely to trust us, to listen, engage, ask for advice and support.

We need to create better PR for the ethics and compliance brand. A marketing and advertising mindset can help. Yes, please make your training shorter, more creative and fun. But, if you really want to create an atmosphere of trust and support, we can’t rely on a once a year or even quarterly training. We need to be advertising our help and support everywhere we can, as often as we can. We want our integrity and speak up commercials in high rotation. This is where entertainment is most helpful. In a noisy environment, if we’re interesting, entertaining and fun, we’ll get real estate and airtime on more communication channels, we’ll get increased frequency of our messaging and we’ll have a greater likelihood that others (Leaders, Ethics Ambassadors, etc.) will help carry these important messages forward on our behalf. Being entertaining with how we train and communicate will give us increased visibility, approachability and influence. 

Entertainment increases our influence!

Don’t get hung up on which creative techniques are the right ones because there is no single way to engage a multicultural, multigenerational, global, diverse workforce. The best way to engage the most people over time is through variety and surprise. Mix it up. Try new things. It’s freeing. It’s more effective. It’s more fun.

Remember, even your serious, buttoned-up, non-smiling, profit driven leadership team goes home and listens to podcasts, watches their favorite shows, jams to music, plays games and laughs. You can have a conservative, risk averse company, working in a conservative, unfunny industry, but your conservative approach to training and communications is hurting you.

There’s a difference between having a difficult conversation and a conversation about a difficult thing. The more we borrow from the entertaining ways that we consume information in our everyday non-work lives, the more successful we will be. The issues are too important. we need to make sure people pay attention, engage and remember. So…

Be creative!

Be entertaining!

Try new things!

Have more fun!

Let’s be the playful, helpful, approachable people that we are…actions, not just words. And let’s embed and spread energizing interactions across the organization to create a social environment where employees are more likely to speak up to ask you questions and report concerns, and our business colleagues will invite us to the table to help solve problems. It’s the most effective way to make a difference in our organizations…and we get to have a good time while we do it!

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Ronnie Feldman is the President & Creative Director at Learnings & Entertainments, a learning content provider made up of comedians and entertainers with a focus on corporate risk.

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