Re-Framing Compliance to Motivate Employees

A few years back, I was required to complete sexual harassment training. Even as a female, I didn’t want to do the training because I was just so busy with other things. But it was required, so I did it. The video was informative and used scenarios to teach the laws that I should obey. But what was missing was the “why” — and by simply answering the “why” question, this training could have been very motivating to me as an employee.

As trained ethicist, I have no doubt that companies would benefit greatly by providing a values-based framework for their compliance training. Compliance shouldn’t just be about telling people “do this” and “don’t do that.” It needs to be set within a larger framework of ethics and corporate values.

One approach that could be very helpful would be that of Narrative Ethics. Narrative Ethics argues that people’s behaviors are formed through narrative–seeing their own story as part of a broader narrative. For example, my parents told me stories about the kindness and compassion of my grandparents. These stories shaped me to believe that kindness is core to my identity w/i my family and to my very self-identity.

Here’s an example for sexual harassment training in a corporate context:

“At this company, our people are our most important asset (or some other stated corporate value like integrity). Throughout our history, women have made major contributions that have kept us competitive and profitable. For example, Jane Doe did such and such. Sally Myers helps us do this and such. For this reason, we want to create a workplace in which women thrive.” Then start the specific training.

Answering the “why” question ties compliance training back into corporate values. It shapes the culture of the organization. And by providing narratives to inform and illustrate the “why,” people begin to tie their own stories into the larger corporate story. A female may think, “I’ve had some challenges in past companies but now I’m in a place where my contribution is valued!” I think such an approach could be incredibly motivating and beneficial. (Of course, the training needs to be honest about the culture or values or it will only create cynicism.)

Do you think this could be effective? Has anyone seen ethical framing done well?

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