Effective communication of compliance issues

June 3, 2014

There is nothing more frustrating than finding out your messages are falling on deaf ears; however, this is something that everyone in an organisation faces when trying to communicate something. The key is not to be deterred, and not to rely on sending out a mass email without follow-up – one-off emails are never enough.

Set out in this article are a series suggestions which should assist with communicating the salient points of a compliance programme throughout your organisation.

Develop a communication plan

As unappealing as creating a communication plan may sound, planning and being strategic about how you communicate your compliance programme can save you time and energy in the long run. You might include an initial email to concerned parties, but you need to map out how you intend to follow up that email. Will there be:

  • presentation materials
  • training
  • follow-up communications
  • posters or other communal messaging?

And if so, when is each of these going to be circulated?

Most importantly, once you have formulated a plan, stick to it. Whilst your initial communication email might be rarely reviewed, your plan should take this into account and factor in different follow-up methods to get the message across. Always consider any other means of communication you have at your disposal: Is there an internal publication you can submit an article to? Is there other training occurring within the company where you can request a 15-minute session to provide further information? Be creative – you will find there are many avenues for communication.

Cross-reference

It is always helpful to remind your audience where you have previously communicated an issue or where they can find further information. Including wording such as “Further to my article in the recent newsletter …”, “In addition to my email communication on …” or “In preparation for my training seminar next week …” is essential to provide the context of your communication and to prompt a reader to seek clarification on what you are referencing.

This is also a key aspect of reinforcing the notion of a “constant message” and the understanding that employees have on-going obligations – not only to understand the compliance issues which affect them and their company, but also to seek further clarification on any compliance directive in the context of their role. The main impetus behind having a communication plan is reinforcing the practice of continual awareness; it is important not to detract from this by compartmentalising your communications.

Spare the details

Providing a larger-than-necessary amount of text in a communication is a sure-fire way of minimising its impact, particularly if it is obvious that the text has been recycled or extracted from elsewhere. If you are referring to a policy or guideline, only extract the key points and display them in a clear, easy-to-read format. You can also direct the reader to where the main documentation can be found. The aim is for an individual to be able to quickly review your communication and absorb it as rapidly as possible. It is recommended that you:

  • use bullet points and numbering to emphasise key points
  • use clear headings for each different subject matter
  • provide direct links to relevant documents
  • use graphics and a question-and-answer or frequently-asked questions section to illustrate a point
  • give consideration to the overall imagery and layout to make your communication more appealing, eye-catching and easy to digest.

Know your audience

Whether communicating on issues such as bribery and corruption or on internal procedures such as information security, it is imperative that you provide context on the implications for an individual’s day-to-day operations. This may mean extra work in dividing up your communication messaging to different departments or groups of employees, but this is beneficial in terms of assisting the reader to have a better grasp of the issues. What might be more eye-catching to or easily absorbed by a sales representative as opposed to an operations manager?

In this sense, your communication should target what might motivate or affect the reader the most. Perhaps the most basic way of doing this is highlighting the potential ramifications of not following one of your directives. More importantly – and this might require more careful consideration – emphasise how following a particular directive might benefit that group of staff. This approach may well dictate whom you introduce your communication piece to and ensure that the communication is read and understood thoroughly.

Don’t get technical

Often with compliance messaging you are trying to communicate a new legal or regulatory requirement or perhaps some form of best practice standard. Not everyone in your business has legal training, accounting experience or extensive IT knowledge, nor might they be familiar with difficult to understand concepts such as anti-trust law. In this case, the most important part of your role is to remove the industry-specific or technical jargon and communicate in plain, easy-to-understand language.

The last thing you want to do is confuse your audience further. If you are communicating an issue which is technical in nature and it is absolutely necessary to use certain technical terms, provide a glossary with a clear explanation of how each term should be understood. Make sure you only communicate such issues or directives to people who understand (or who will need to understand) compliance elements of a particularly technical nature.

Work with other departments and company leaders

Leveraging routine communications to other departments or engaging senior business leaders or managers to deliver a message is a hugely effective method of grasping an audience’s attention. Other company departments (such as the human resources or marketing teams) often distribute company-wide directives and materials in the form of reminders or publications. Approaching these departments and seeking inclusion of compliance messaging is an extremely effective way of communicating important aspects of a compliance programme. It can also help a reader understand the compliance role in the context of other areas of the business.

Just as obtaining buy-in from senior management is vital to the success of a compliance programme, so too is their continued support through assisting with communication. Communication of compliance programme elements from a CEO, chairman, general counsel or even lower-level managers not only supports the notion of the importance of company-wide involvement, but can be critical in reaching a broader audience. It has often been found that employees are more likely to respond positively to communication from a company leader or their direct supervisor than from someone they do not deal with every day. The effectiveness of utilising leaders and managers to communicate compliance messaging should never be underestimated.

Seek feedback and revise your approach

Perhaps the most crucial way of determining if existing communication methods are effective is seeking feedback from the recipients. Simply speaking to random employees in an informal manner can reveal a huge amount about what they have understood from previous communications and whether the message you were trying to convey has stuck.

Of course, once this feedback has been received you have to utilise it. Perhaps your messaging should be less frequent, more concise, or conducted through a different medium than done previously. Without seeking feedback you will never be able to accurately spot the gaps in your communication methods, and ultimately you will have little visibility in how communication should be improved. Continual improvement is incremental to the longevity of your compliance programme as a whole.

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