ATD Blog

Compliance Culture and Learning Culture Go Hand in Hand

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Recent headlines tout the idea that compliance training and procedures can extend beyond being “check the box” activities. Instead, a culture of compliance is one in which organization-wide values, norms, and expectations make compliance a way of life. 

For instance, in February, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA), which regulates firms that sell securities in the United States, announced it was undertaking a review of the culture of financial firms. FINRA identified a series of measures that would assess whether firms had a culture of compliance. The idea of a compliance culture is not unique to the financial sector, though. Not surprisingly, it also has attracted considerable attention in healthcare

Research supports that many of the hallmarks of compliance cultures are also the distinguishing traits of learning cultures. Recently, ATD Research and the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) released Building a Culture of Learning: The Foundation of a Successful Organization, which looks at what distinguishes firms with vibrant, thriving cultures of learning in which organizational values promote gaining new skills and knowledge and learning permeates all aspects of organizational life. Those who design mandatory and compliance training programs should note the following common threads between compliance cultures and learning cultures. With these qualities in place, a compliance training program may help build a compliance culture and a learning culture. 

Culture Starts at the Top: Leaders at all Levels Need to Model Behavior

In its review of compliance culture, FINRA asks financial firms for the processes employed by their leadership in establishing, communicating, and implementing culture. It also asks if firms monitor whether middle managers adopt values. Building a Culture of Learning found that organizations with thriving learning cultures were more likely to hold leaders at all levels responsible for actively demonstrating cultural values. The companies that insisted on leader accountability also had better market performance. 


Measure and Evaluate Behavior Changes

FINRA asks financial firms if they assess and measure the impact of cultural values and whether they have made a difference in achieving desired behaviors. ATD and i4cp’s research on learning cultures finds that organizations with healthy learning cultures are more likely to measure employee behavior change as a result of learning assets and programs.


What’s more, the organizations that assess and measure the impact of programs on behavior have better learning effectiveness and market performance. Changes in behavior related to both compliance and learning can be measured in many ways, including using surveys of employees and managers, observation on the job, and reviews of internal and external records.

Reward Employees for Demonstrating Cultural Values

FINRA requests that financial firms provide information on how compensation and reward practices reinforce cultural values related to compliance. Although ATD and i4cp found that only 18 percent of companies link compensation to successful application of new knowledge and skills, this practice supports a culture of learning. It also correlated with strong market performance and market effectiveness. ATD and i4cp found the same was true for providing nonfinancial rewards and recognition for learning. For more data on building a culture of learning, check out the full ATD Research report.

About the Author

Maria Ho is the manager of ATD research services. She serves as ATD's senior research program strategist and designer and provides oversight and direction for all of ATD's internal and external, industry specific, and market research services. Prior to joining ATD, Maria was a public policy researcher, data analyst, and writer at the Pew Charitable Trusts in Washington, D.C.