How is Compliance Training Different from Other Training?

How is Compliance Training Different from Other Training?

Compliance training is a fact of life in most U.S. businesses today. Beyond the mere fact that it is mandated by law, compliance training is the single most important tool for maintaining a safe, productive workplace.

While the tools for delivering compliance training might be the same as for any other kind of training, your organization’s approach can’t be. There are some key ways in which compliance training is different from, say, soft skills training. Understanding those differences helps to maximize the impact of your training and move beyond merely checking the box.

What is Compliance Training?

In its most basic form, regulatory compliance training gets employees up-to-speed on topics, usually of a legal or ethical kind, that are required by law. Typical examples are anti-harassment training, HIPAA compliance and privacy, discrimination, family and medical leave, safety, and hiring practices. (You can see a full list of compliance training topics here.)

Compliance training should be much more, though. Yes, one can technically meet compliance requirements by showing a video annually, dusting off your hands, and proclaiming “Done for the year!” But compliance also conveys the culture and personality of your organization. It teaches employees how to perceive and think through situations that might occur. It gives them a sense of what your organization cares about—and who it cares about.

More to the point, compliance training is the way in which you and your leadership create a work atmosphere. Do your employees feel safe? Are they willing to collaborate and share? Are they aware of what kinds of conduct are appropriate, and which are not? Here, your compliance training sets the tone.

Why is Compliance Training Important?

If your compliance training sets the tone for your workplace, it is incredibly important. As a CEO myself, I spend a good amount of time thinking about what a safe, productive workplace looks like, and then creating that kind of workplace for my employees. Every day, I can see how it pays off.


The ultimate goal for any compliance initiative should be to create a safe, productive workplace. This often requires an actual shift in the company culture. The proper training can be the start of that shift, if you approach it in the right way.

How is Compliance Training Different from Other Types of Training?

Compliance training differs from other training in some important ways. If you understand these differences, you can create a compliance training program that is more effective.

Compliance training is required. For most topics, compliance training is required by law. It is not a “nice to have” but a “must have.” This can be a blessing in disguise: If you are required to deliver compliance training, it means you have to have the right training tools and programs in place. Once those are in place, getting those skills training topics that are “optional” is just so much gravy.

It’s (usually) an annual requirement. For skills, training continues until the learner has demonstrated a certain level of mastery. With compliance topics, state and federal laws often require a “refresher” course every year. Between repeating content and the highly legal and complex nature of these topics, it’s easy for compliance training to get boring. Effective compliance training requires HR professionals to find ways to make the content more exciting and engaging.

Its value must be proven. Imagine one of your employees elects to take an online course in mastering Excel. Or speaking in public. Or communicating with the C-suite. We can immediately understand why that employee is taking that course. There is a personal need, something that employee wants to do, and he or she is working on the skills needed to do it. That’s not going to be the case with an anti-harassment course, or a course on medical leave. That means you’ll have to work extra hard to demonstrate the value of these courses. For example, explain how anti-harassment policies help make a workplace where people feel valued and safe. Show how training about medical leave policies ensures a fair system for everyone while maintaining a healthy workplace. It might take some creativity, but every topic should be able to answer the question “What’s in it for me?”

Compliance training requirements and specifics are state specific. Yes, different states have different requirements. They also have different laws, and so the specifics of each course can be different from state to state, too. To be fully in compliance, you will need to be aware of your state and local requirements, as well as federal ones, and be ready to tailor your training appropriately.

Compliance Training Can Dovetail Nicely with Other Topics

For the ultimate in best practices when it comes to compliance training, set up your program so that compliance topics are on a continuum with other important but “optional” topics. This helps both kinds of training feel more natural and extends the learning beyond just mere checkbox compliance.

For example:

When compliance training is offered alongside other forms of training, employees will see it as one single benefit (more training to get ahead!), not just one more chore to grind through (ugh, I have to stop what I’m doing and take this course…).

The HSI Approach to Compliance Training

When we put together our library of compliance topics, we made sure to consider all the ways in which compliance training is different. That’s why you’ll find compliance courses that are:

Here’s just one example I love to point out: Our course on “Understanding Harassment.” It shows several examples of harassment, with background colors alternating between white and gray to show behavior that is appropriate, and behavior that might not be appropriate. A mildly offensive joke, a put down. These visual cues, along with a carefully crafted script and up-to-date information, make for a more understandable and engaging piece of training content.

Yes, compliance training sure is different from other kinds of training. Recognizing these differences is the first step to making compliance training more effective. In short, you’ll have a program that not only dovetails with other training topics, but that can be a catalyst for positive change in your workplace. You’ll demonstrate what you care about…and who.

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