Compliance – Losing the "C-speak" to Compel Employees to Comply

How to articulate your compliance language to compel employees to appropriate action.


Company policies, industry regulations, laws—every business has compliance-related issues that it must ensure are adhered to by all members of the organization—from top to bottom. Many also have formal compliance officers and/or in-house counsel charged with ensuring compliance. But, despite their best-laid plans, companies often run afoul of compliance requirements, resulting in costly errors (both in terms of money and reputation) that, in many cases, could have been avoided.

One of the challenges with compliance communication is that the language used is often bureaucratic, full of jargon and legalese, and certainly not designed to engage the average employee. Yet it is the average employees that leaders need to engage. Here's how you can lose the "C-speak" and better connect with and compel your employees to appropriate action.


Stories resonate with people; policy language rarely does. “The most effective executives connect compliance with customer care," says Jeff Skipper, CEO of Jeff Skipper Consulting, which focuses specifically on helping leaders achieve breakthrough results. Leaders who avoid C-speak and “uncover or craft stories that help employees understand how adherence to regulation and rules makes for a better customer experience, better community or better world," he says, can more effectively get their messages across.

It's about providing a clear line of sight between the "must do's" and "why we do" and tying that to your company's mission.

The healthcare industry offers a good example of this. HIPAA—the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act—provides privacy standards to protect patients' personal records and health information. It's a requirement that the industry—and its leaders—take very seriously, and one that is directly tied to the mission of most of these organizations: "providing exceptional patient experiences."

Through examples, stories and a relentless drumbeat that emphasizes the importance of privacy for every patient, senior leaders set the tone for expectations that drive down through the organization. It's a simple message—"we don't share anything about our patients without their express permission." That doesn't have to be muddied up by the formal language of the rule. It's a message that can be supported by real patient case studies, testimonials and even your C-suite's personal examples.

Keeping it Short and Simple

Keep it short and simple (KISS) is the best way to deliver critical compliance-related messages to your employees. While organizations will obviously have formal policies and documents that must be provided to employees, these can—and should—be augmented with more appealing, easy-to-understand messages that can be conveyed through a wide range of other channels, starting at the top.

You and your senior executives set the tone through words and deeds. You're likely exhorted to "walk the talk," and with good reason; employees respond more to what they observe and experience than to what they're told. So, first and foremost, the C-suite needs to lead by example and be the CMBs—chief message bearers.

Don't leave the task of communicating compliance-related information to the HR department, the compliance officer or corporate communications. They can support the messages to help reinforce them throughout the organization, but you and your C-suite should be front and center sharing information in compelling ways. Here are two simple ways to do that:

  • Share customer comments and communications (both positive and constructive) that clearly relate to company mission and compliance. Positive comments in support of compliance-related issues can be powerful, but they shouldn't all be positive. Sharing examples of situations where the company didn't live up to customer expectations can be equally powerful and can help to illustrate that the organization takes compliance seriously.
  • Translate corporate speak into condensed, easy to understand language. As with the HIPAA example, C-suite leaders can look for opportunities to translate C-speak into simple messages that tie mission to action. Something that everyone can easily understand and stand for in their daily jobs.

Your internal communications and compliance departments play an important role in helping create these messages that can be shared across the organization through a variety of channels—ranging from email to video to podcasts and more. However, the C-suite leads the charge and can make these messages more powerful through personal support and actions.

A Three-Pronged Approach

Braden Perry is a litigation, regulatory and government investigations attorney with Kansas City based Kennyhertz Perry, LLC. He recommends a three-pronged approach to ensuring that compliance-related communications reach their mark: create the right environment, get top-down management buy-in and be consistent.

Creating the right environment, he says, means first and foremost being proactive. Too often, regulated companies he says are reactive—"they do not anticipate issues but wait for issues to arise and then act or react." Instead, he says, organizations should be proactive—"forward-looking, not only in anticipating issues that might arise, but in having clear directions and goals."

The C-suite sets the tone from the top of the organization down. “The commitment of senior management and the effectiveness and tone of their communication to their staff is pivotal to the success of the compliance program," Perry says. An important C-level role that can aid immensely here is the CCO—chief communications officer, he says.

Consistency, says Perry, requires the application of policies to everyone, equally. “Don't allow biases or alliances shape the way you implement or monitor the compliance program," he cautions. “Playing favorites or turning your back on certain practices erodes the respect within the organization."

If you’re interested in learning how Adecco can be implemented in your workforce today, contact us here.

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