Things I learned for compliance by parenting teenagers

Why can it be so challenging to get your teenagers to work for school, eat well, not stay up until the wee hours, help around the house and stay out of trouble?

Teens must find out who they are and what they want to do with their life. Therefore, they strive for autonomy. Yes, this is their job and mission as teenagers. Only by becoming an autonomous person separate from your parents, you become an adult. If teens would stay obedient and compliant, they would stay in child-mode.  They must find out by themselves how to make good decisions. This is extremely tough for parents, because you want so badly to spare your kids from making stupid or even harmful choices (e.g. smoking, drinking, drugs and worst).

Furthermore, it is part of the teenage mission to push limits and challenge their parents’ worldview, because their world is different than that of their parents. Without this intergenerational dissent we all would still be stuck in the conformity of the 50ies.

Finally, teenagers live in a different time zone than their parents. The parents care for the long-term success and happiness of their kids. They know that you must put in the work to succeed. Teenagers live in the present of preferably instant gratification. Why stay home and study for an exam, if you might miss the fun a great night-out or gaming with your friends? If you work in compliance all these dynamics of potential conflict and resistance should already sound surprisingly familiar:

It is all about autonomy, short-term wins, different values and agendas!

A bit like parents, compliance needs to tell the people in their company what to do and what not to do and this can re-create very easily the rebellious teenager mode. 

How to avoid the rebellious teenager mode? Use Irritation or Agitation?

To get your people’s cooperation you can, of course, use “irritation” – that means annoying them with control processes, external incentives, or sanctions. This can be effective, but only works on a short-term basis and is most of the time not sustainable. It takes a lot of energy and needs constant reinforcement. Like with teens pushing your agenda on your people will most likely create resentment instead of voluntary engagement. Yes, there need to be sanctions for violations, but never forget that people resist taking responsibility when they feel threatened. Consequently, you should never overdo that dimension of compliance.

The alternative is using “agitation” – that means trying to win people’s voluntary commitment by explaining WHY compliance is important to them and making it part of their agenda. The magic formular is: Make it about them and be very curious of their context and mindset.

This means that you need to do your research and find out what could motivate them to engage for compliance.  

The magic question is: What is going on for them?

How can you do that? You need to understand that compliance can easily be perceived as an annoying limitation that threatens people’s autonomy and their desire for win deals (aka short-term gratification). In addition, employees and managers in today’s hyperconnected world have a lot on their plate and compliance is usually not the top concern on their agenda. Like teenagers they want to defend their autonomy, push limits, take risks and are much more focused on making their numbers in the next quarter than on the long-term success and reputation of the company.

Let me walk you through an example: Let’s say your completion rate for the compliance elearning is down and you need to get it up again.

You could irritate people to do their eLearning by writing them frequent reminder emails and shut off their computer if they miss the deadline for the second time.

Would that increase training completion? Probably?

But would it also increase your people’s buy-in and learning? Most likely not!!

It is an open secret in the compliance community that people find smart workarounds like letting interns do the training for them or circulating the list of right quiz answers, so everybody can complete the training faster and without thinking.

Do not take the bait and assume positive intentions!

Here the first crucial step is not getting triggered and judging people. Do not tell yourself a negative story like “Nobody cares about compliance here!” You can always tell yourself a better story that also might be true like “Maybe our training is no longer up to date?”.

Then get very curious (not furious) and find out what is going on for them:

  • Is your training useful and relevant to your different target groups?
  • Are they overwhelmed with too many other eLearning programs they must do?
  • Are their superiors giving the good example or are they also ditching the training?
  • And most importantly: Do people understand WHY doing their training is important for them and the company?

Do not hesitate to go out there and talk to people to find out. Only based on this information, you have a much better chance to solve the problem and use agitation instead of irritation.

Maybe you can use frequent micro-learnings that are customized to your different target groups. If you are overwhelming people with long training sessions that are not relevant for them, it is no surprise that they do not see the value of it for them.

You could find better ways to coordinate the time slots for your eLearning with all the other training obligations, so that people are not pressured to do all their different trainings at the same time.

You should find ways to convince your leaders that they need to be role models of training completion. The research is clear on this: leaders that are seen as ethical role models have happier and more productive team members that stay with the company longer.

If it is not their own agenda, they will not do it!

The overall aim is that training completion should become part of their own agenda – not yours. How can that be done? The best way is to tap into your people’s values and give them a convincing WHY. Saying that compliance is important to avoid legal trouble will hardly ever win your people’s hearts and minds. Saying that compliance is important to show what kind of company we want to be is much more powerful.

With this approach you are leveraging the internal forces of human motivation. Science tells us again and again that this is the better way to get commitment than working with incentives or sanctions.

So go out there and work on the relationship because rules without relationship almost automatically create rebellion.

Bonus: it is so much more fun than being the corporate nagger!

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