Corporate Horror Stories:" Videos for Compliance Training
by Webster Lithgow
Executive Vice President
Commonwealth Films Inc., Boston
"In darkened training rooms across the country, sales executives, accountants, and factory workers are watching a new type of video created to fight white-collar crime: the 'corporate horror film'." The Christian Science Monitor
The Monitor article goes on to describe the harrowing opening scenes of one "corporate horror film" - a training video titled THE SENTENCE.* In a Federal prison a former food company executive is strip-searched before entering a visitor center to meet a business reporter. She wants to interview him for a story about how a businessperson goes from grocery executive to garbage - from managing a food processing division to scraping pans in the kitchen of a Federal Correctional Institution. The video is the executive's account of how he slid downhill from unethical decisions about product labeling to criminal acts - and finally, jail. With that as an opener, it's not hard to rivet employees' attention to a training session about the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Call it a scare tactic, if you will. Many compliance officers want their people to be "scared straight" - or at least alarmed into listening very attentively to compliance training. In fact, jail terms are rare penalties for violations of regulatory laws. But most compliance trainers agree that a credible story about sentencing does get people to sit up and take notice. "If they snooze, you lose," according to one trainer. To make trainees wake up to legal compliance and open their eyes to their responsibilities, most experts advise: Tell them a story.
Dramatized story videos based on actual cases - "docudramas" in trade jargon - are the most striking new format to be introduced in compliance training in recent years. People are just naturally interested in stories about other people - especially people they can identify with and who occupy positions like their own. These videos focus on moments of decision and illustrate the consequences of wrong choices. There's nothing like seeing the message come to life in a strong story that dramatizes what happens to someone who trips over a requirement of law. That's what compliance training videos do every day in thousands of companies and government organizations around the world: tell stories that make people listen, learn, and think ethically and defensively about what they're doing.
How do videos work this magic? To start with, videos are television. For today's audience, raised in front of the tube, the TV screen commandeers attention and gives your compliance message an aura of importance and authority.
A video can demonstrate wrong and right behaviors in dramatized scenarios with skilled actors and realistic dialogue that make viewers identify with people and situations depicted.
Videos can help employees visualize circumstances that lead to violations of law and the consequences to themselves and their company, industry, and society.
Videos bring laws to life. A video can outline points of law clearly and memorably and relate those points to the everyday situations people encounter on the job.
A video can take people places they have never been, such as a grand jury or a deposition conference room. A video can take trainees through the steps of legal procedures they've never heard of, such as discovery, document retention and production, or testifying in court.
Other benefits of videos
Evidence of Due Diligence. Compliance videos are a tool of preventive law. As such, their use helps demonstrate to a court that the company is doing its utmost to make its compliance training effective in deterring violations, as required by the U.S. Federal Sentencing Guidelines.
Consistency. Watching a video, thousands of employees get the same message delivered the same way, no matter who is conducting the session. This is critically important in compliance training where legal points must be presented accurately.
Portability. In use, videos are simple, flexible, and portable. A videotape can be played on any standard VCR, DVD, or CD-ROM player. Excellent video images can be shown to a small group (20, let's say) on any standard TV (preferably 25-inch). For larger groups a large-screen TV or multiple 25-inch TV monitors can be deployed. Audiences of several hundred or more can view a clear image by means of a video projector and screen in a darkened hall. All these units are available for rental in most hotels or conference centers.
Who should view?
Compliance videos should be shown to the widest spectrum of at-risk employees. For a compliance topic like sexual harassment that would mean all employees. A video on a topic like foreign corrupt practices might be viewed only by employees negotiating concessions or managing projects in foreign countries. Foreign employees of companies doing business in the U.S. ought to be shown videos on a number of compliance topics to prepare them for encounters with the American legal system.
In some cases managers and supervisors should see a different version of a video than the one shown to their employees, because their issues and perspective may be different. Or the training leader may point out details in a video that apply to managers. For example, in showing the sexual harassment video THE WRITING ON THE WALL*, managers should be made to focus on the way the supervisor in the film fails to deal effectively with harassment complaints; general workers should made to focus on the unacceptable behaviors that brought on the complaints and their consequences.
Others who may need to receive compliance training include vendors, consultants, temporary employees, and personnel at subsidiaries. In the case of foreign subsidiaries, it may be advisable to find videos that are dubbed or subtitled in their language. Or you might arrange permission to make your own dubbed or subtitled version.
When should compliance videos be shown?
There are four occasions when videos are especially effective. Compliance videos make a strong impression as part of orientation training for new hires.
In any periodic compliance review or refresher session, a video will freshen an oft-told tale.
In preparation for an event such as a trade association meeting, a video can give a firm warning about "risky business" like participating in a conversation that violates antitrust laws.
Showing a video is effective when it becomes necessary to update people about new laws, changes to existing laws, or current cases that impact an industry.
Using video in a training session
The typical compliance training session lasts up to 50 minutes, with 10 to 20 people meeting to learn about a single legal subject. Into that 50-minute "window" the trainer must fit an introduction (5 minutes), a video (20 - 25 minutes), q & a and a wrap-up (20 minutes), and allow time to get one group out of the training room and the next group in, cycling six or more sessions a day.
Employees may view training videos in a high-tech media-equipped training center, in a bare-bones departmental conference room, a small classroom, a hall at a convention center, at individual work stations, or even home alone. Some companies hold half-day or all-day conferences on several compliance or ethics subjects, with a video for each topic. Or a compliance officer may be given a slot (perhaps 40 minutes) on the agenda of an annual company event such as a sales conference, where a video adds life to a legal briefing that might be dry even if accompanied by a PowerPoint™ presentation or overhead slides.
Training session format
Some videos stand-alone and can be viewed by employees on their own. For example, the video YOU'RE GOING TO BE DEPOSED* demonstrates, virtually without the aid of a presenter, how to testify at a deposition. The 40-minute video is self explanatory. Many lawyers hand the video to a prospective deponent and say: "Take a look at this video at home, and then come in and we'll talk about your deposition."
Trainer's Introduction: Most videos, however, no matter how dramatic, work best as part of a program. First, the training leader's introduction localizes the message to the concerns and exposures peculiar to the company or even the department. The training leader should point out any details in the video that may differ from conditions at the particular company.
The Video: The video arouses interest, often by making viewers experience how non-compliance might affect them personally. Some videos tell one story that must be shown uninterrupted to make an emotional impact on the viewers. Other videos present a series of vignettes that can be paused for discussion at specified intervals in the tape.
Generic Compliance Videos: Many organizations purchase a professionally produced video - a so-called "generic" training tape - from a catalog and then customize it with their own introduction and wrap-up. The company might tape an introduction and conclusion by the CEO or General Counsel or both. These so-called wrap-arounds or book ends relate the generic video to conditions and legal exposures peculiar to the organization or its industry. Any such video alteration would be arranged through a licensing agreement with the producer/distributor.
Discussion: Following the video, the presenter may lead discussion and answer questions that deal with specific situations trainees may encounter.
Documentation: To maintain a corporate record of compliance efforts, trainees often are asked to sign statements that they have completed the training and understand and will comply with the rules that have been presented.
Post-training reinforcement: To reinforce post-training-session awareness, most trainers hand out pocket-size pamphlets or study guides to each trainee. Posters and desk novelties are other effective reminders.
* All videos mentioned in this article are productions of Commonwealth Films Inc.