Is this compliance story too close to home?

by Viv Cole on August 4, 2014

Learners are used to compliance e-learning. Anyone in a big company is used to having several mandatory modules a year to complete so the game becomes “how can I do this as quickly as I can and get my tick in the box?”. Left unchallenged, this leads to a mentality of “this stuff does not apply to me and would never happen here”. So what better way of puncturing this complacency by explaining a real life story that happened to your organisation where regulators handed out significant fines (over £1 million) and people got fired? Or so I thought…
In the past two years I’ve suggested including relevant real life stories to three different clients to whom this applies. The results of this mini-poll are that one dismissed it out of hand, one went for it and one whilst initially keen had the idea squashed as it moved up the chain of approval including their legal department. I’ll recap some of the pros and cons of including a real life story in your e-learning.


  • Showing people that non-compliance has consequences is way more powerful than talking hypothetically – real life stories have impact!
  • The story is already in the public domain, why would it be taboo to mention it?
  • e-learning is for internal use within your organisation. Your people are already trusted to handle plenty of confidential information, why would you not trust them with this? What’s different?
  • If comfortable for this incident to be referred to on a training course or in a face to face presentation, why not in e-learning?

Cons (these are not direct quotations):

  • “That was very embarrassing. We handled the news impact at the time by briefing staff to keep quiet about it and to whom to refer people if they were asked about it. There’s no advantage if anyone is reminded of this incident.”
  • “I can see this might be useful, but I don’t want to be seen to be the person who has signed this off.”
  • If we admit that we got this wrong, we might be opening ourselves up to further litigation/ regulatory scrutiny.
  • If we highlight other organisations where there have been compliance breaches, this may damage our future relationships with them and we can’t be seen to be ‘bad-mouthing’:
    • customers (or potential customers) as they might not want to work with us:
    • suppliers, because it may damage our relationship and  look odd from a corporate social responsibility perspective that we are continuing to work with them
    • competitors, because we don’t want to be seen as ‘knocking’ them and perhaps they will retaliate in a way that damages us too.

Ultimately it’s a judgement call for leadership. What level of openness and honesty is the organisation comfortable with? Who stands to lose political capital if the story comes back to the surface?

As L&D you’ll know how your organisation reacted to the incident at the time. How much appetite do you have for achieving better learning by putting leadership in a position where they need to make a difficult decision?

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