More Effective Compliance Training Through Storytelling

Training that you’re required to take for your job – think about things like safety training, anti-sexual harassment training, fraud prevention – can be some of the most difficult training to complete. Will any of this stuff really happen to me? Yeah, I get it that the company needs to make sure all its bases are covered, but does it have to bore me to tears while covering its bases?

In late August, the Association for Talent Development will be bringing thousands of training professionals together, in-person, for its annual International Conference and Expo (ICE), and Rance Greene will be leading a presentation on how to transform your organization’s compliance training through the power of storytelling. Rance is the author of Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories that Train, and we recently had an opportunity to come together and discuss his upcoming presentation.

If you happen to be headed to Salt Lake City for ATD ICE, you can find Rance’s presentation on August 29 from 10:30am – 11:30am.

Transcript of the Conversation with Rance Greene

Brian Washburn:  Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a weekly podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, Co-founder and CEO of Endurance Learning, and I am here today with Rance Greene. Once again Rance is returning to talk to us; Rance is a story designer, he’s the author of Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train and he is also the owner of www.needastory.com. Rance, thank you so much for joining us today. (Editor’s Note: Don’t miss our last conversation with Rance Greene, Storytelling as a Learning Device)

Rance Greene: Thank you, Brian. It’s great to be here with you.

Brian Washburn: Well, I’m excited to have you back. And I’m excited to start this series about– just kind of previewing sessions or speakers that are going to be speaking at the Association for Talent Development’s International Conference and Expo (ATD ICE), which comes up at the end of August. I’ll be there speaking as well.  I’m really excited to talk to a variety of people because oftentimes when you speak at a conference, you’re focused on your own conference presentation. You don’t think too much about what else is happening. And you’re doing a session on compliance training and storytelling.

6-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: And before we get into that, why don’t we do as we always do here – introduce ourselves with six-word biographies along this topic, and then I’d love to jump in here. So when I think of this idea of storytelling and compliance training, I kind of come up with a story in my mind, six words long, that says, “Compliance training usually checks a box”.  How would you introduce yourself, Rance, in six words on this topic?

Rance Greene: That’s very good, Brian. I think that you captured a lot of people’s thoughts there. Mine is, “It’s a captive audience – tell stories”.

Brian Washburn: Ooh, yes.  And so let’s just get right in here. But before we jump into your ICE topic, can you– your thing really is storytelling. So can you take a little bit of time and just lay the foundation for us? What advantages does storytelling bring to a learning experience?

What Advantages Does Storytelling Bring to a Learning Experience?

Rance Greene: Sure. In training many times the subject is complex, abstract or even if it’s a simple step-by-step, training tends toward just giving the facts. So showing learners the correct way to do things, and often eliminating the context of all those gray areas that are involved in the new skill being trained.  But stories force us, as designers, to bring what we’re training on into concrete reality –  which takes some thought. But it benefits the learner because they master the skill and they understand why it’s important for them to master that skill – because they’ve experienced the emotional impact of a story in training.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, I love this idea that really stories kind of bring people from the conceptual to the real, pretty quickly. So, when we think of storytelling, like lots of people say, “Oh, I like to tell stories”. And it’s been my experience that there is a big difference between someone just telling a story and a story that is effective for learning.  Can you share with us what you would say are some of the key features of a good story?

What Are The Key Features of a Good Story?

Rance Greene: Sure. And when people say, “Hey, I use stories”, a lot of times what they mean is, “I tell stories from my own experience”. Those are great. I think that people should do that and it’s awesome. To really make those stories even more powerful and to design stories for training, I focus on two key elements of storytelling: relatable characters and strong conflict. And I use those adjectives in front of characters and conflict, because I really want to make a point that the characters that are in that story must be in some way– the audience must have some empathy for those characters. They need to care about them at some level. And I use the word “strong” for conflict because I want designers to understand that the conflict needs to be as strong as possible. And I think of the two, it’s the conflict that’s the most difficult for instructional designers in particular, because we are so focused on giving a great experience to the learner, and an “ease of use experience”, “this is how you do it” experience.  But if we introduce conflict into that story, we open the opportunity for the learner to actually wrestle a little bit with the concepts before telling them how to do it, and give them opportunities to self-discover those principles, which is really a respectful way of training.

Brian Washburn: Yeah, and I love having structure, and it’s not a complicated structure, right? You’re talking relatable characters and strong conflict – you’re not just talking about oh, your experience, right?  And it’s pretty common for people to complain about having to take required training. But what specific problems do you think can be addressed if you bring storytelling – especially storytelling like you’re talking about – into compliance training?

What Problems Can Be Addressed By Bringing Storytelling Into Compliance Training?

Rance Greene: Oh, you are so right, Brian. (LAUGHING) The dread that people have of compliance training.

Brian Washburn: Mhm, yup.

Rance Greene: And, you know, I think a big reason why many people absolutely dread that is because designers absolutely dread compliance training. And to some level we haven’t yet, as an industry, fully embraced the value of required training. We have a captive audience. They have to take this course. Therefore, the effort that we put into it should be focused and story-centered. Because stories take us out of the realm of awareness — which a lot of times compliance training is often referred to as awareness training — and help stakeholders put their policies in terms of application. So this is what it looks like to violate our privacy policy. These are the consequences to the business, to your team, to you. And more importantly, this is what happens to our culture when you do this action in violation to our privacy policy. And so those problems of dreading compliance training as a designer have a ripple effect in that it turns out to be a bit more not actionable. It’s just like, “They just need to know this stuff.” And so a story-based compliance course takes it out of that realm and really gives people something to do as a result of the training.

Brian Washburn: And I think that some people may be listening to this thinking, you know what, actually, I am one of those people that just dreads being asked to put together a compliance training because people are just like, “Put it together! Get it out there!” And I’m like, “Oh, I’d really rather be doing something more creative”. But you just reframed it. And what I heard you say is we should embrace the opportunity and not, kind of be annoyed with the request, right? We have a captive audience, we can show them what we got. And you’re saying, “Let’s bring some stories in here”. Some stories that people can relate to, that makes it concrete, that they can think, “Oh yeah, I guess you know, I didn’t think it would be too harmful if I shared a little bit of this information with a friend of mine, just because you know, people in the offices talk. But I guess that is against our policy, right?”

So what are maybe one or two steps that someone listening can take in order to get started and transform their– whether it’s existing required training, or maybe they have a new request to put together a required training with the goal of strengthening the ethical culture of the organization through incorporating stories? By embracing this idea that it’s an opportunity, and not a burden?

Advice for Getting Started Transforming Compliance Training 

Rance Greene: I would give two recommendations to get started. First, define your core values through stories. Your company has core values, probably. Define those core values through stories. Compliance training is really about building a culture. And I worked for a company– I worked for Blue Cross and Blue Shield and I oversaw their compliance training. And our efforts really centered around building a culture of ethics and compliance. And so we capitalize on that opportunity, not only in our training, but also in our communications. You look at our culture scores, and ethics and compliance was always rated number one because of the effort that we put into the story. And people remembered the stories and connected. Whenever they were in an ethical situation, they remembered those stories.  And so define your core values through stories. Is your core value– you have a core value of integrity, what does that mean? There’s a lot of gray there. (CHUCKLING)

Brian Washburn: Mhm. Yup.

Rance Greene: So define it by telling a story of integrity. Secondly, develop strong relationships with stakeholders, and hold them to the task of creating an action list – a list of actions that people should do as a result of training. And if they’re having trouble doing that, involve them in the storytelling. Ask them, “Okay, well, what does it look like for somebody to be aware of our privacy policy? What does that look like?  Let’s talk about Brenda. Brenda is about to–  what situation is she in where she’s about to violate this privacy policy?” And go help them to walk through that story because we know it – stakeholders don’t always know their own processes well enough to put them in a logical order. And that’s why we are there to help.

Brian Washburn: I really appreciate how you just framed that in terms of an action item and finding out and asking, “What should people do?” not, “What is it that people should be not doing?” So when you think of a typical sexual harassment training, right? It’s a bunch of scenarios of things that really people shouldn’t be doing. But what should people be doing? Right? What is the behavior you’re looking for if there is something that comes up? And I think that your conversation and your advice about this idea of, “Well, let’s bring a story into this” can really make it concrete, as opposed to just a bulleted list of “do this, don’t do this”. 

Rance, I’m really excited for this particular presentation at ICE. Obviously we can’t give away everything from your presentation, so we’ll leave it there. 

Get to Know Rance Greene

Brian Washburn: But before we go, we have a few speed round questions for you so people get to know you a little bit better. Are you ready for it?

Rance Greene: I’m ready, Brian.

Brian Washburn: Alright. So what is your favorite city to travel for work, now that people are starting to travel again?

Rance Greene: San Diego.

Brian Washburn: (Laughing)

Rance Greene: The seafood, man. The seafood.

Brian Washburn: Yes. What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

Rance Greene: (CHUCKLING) From, I think from, my former boss – and it was in the compliance area – and she would say, “If it isn’t fatal, it’s not a big deal”. 

Brian Washburn: I love it. I love bosses who, kind of–  you know, it puts things in perspective. Before we leave, do you have any shameless plugs for us?

Rance Greene: Sure. Well, you know, I am looking forward to ATD ICE, and one of the reasons that I’m looking forward to it is my book came out in April of 2020. So I have never had a book launch in person, or even an opportunity to sign a book. So I hope that your listeners, if they are attending ATD ICE, will shove a book in front of my face and say, “Sign this!” because I’m really looking forward to that. But seriously, if you are an instructional designer, I invite you to join the instructional story design round tables. You can find that at www.needstory.com – if you click on “Train With Stories” at my website. Also, I do workshops internally for organizations, their talent development area, and it is so cool to go in and do a workshop and just watch that department’s instructional design transform, and watch their training programs transform.  And then lastly, Brian, I would say most of my clients lately are coming to me to help their leaders become better storytellers.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Rance Greene: So if you have listeners who are doing a leadership development program, and you need help getting your leaders to be better, more effective communicators, contact me: Rance at http://www.needastory.com.

Brian Washburn: Perfect. And that book – that if people aren’t going to be at ICE, and can’t necessarily get it signed, but they still want to get their hands on a copy of it – that book again is Instructional Story Design: Develop Stories That Train. Rance, thank you so much for giving me some time. I’m super excited for this session at ICE. And I’m looking forward to connecting in-person. We’ve never met in person so I’m looking forward to that.

Rance Greene: Is that true?

Brian Washburn: That is true.

Rance Greene: Oh, wow, I look forward to seeing you at ICE then.

Brian Washburn: And thank you everyone else for listening. If you will be at ICE, Rance will be there, I will be there. Please reach out, connect with us. Maybe we can set up coffee in advance.  And for those that are listening, thank you so much for listening to another episode, which can be found on Spotify, on Apple, on iHeart radio, or wherever you get your podcasts. If you like what you’re hearing, go ahead and give us a “like”, and that will help boost our profile so other people can find us. Until next time, happy training, everyone.

Want to learn more about using storytelling in your training programs? Be sure to check out our last conversation with Rance Greene, Storytelling as a Learning Device.

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