When faced with a need to change, organisations and leaders often have an important decision to make – “is this system/ process/ activity going to be about compliance or choice”.  The answer to this question can have major cultural implications, so it’s worth taking a moment to stop and think.

This morning, one of my clients sent me on the obligatory ‘Compliance Training’ modules.  The name says it all.  If you’ve worked in a large organisation you’ve probably been exposed to something similar… employees groan and roll their eyes, leaders chase for weeks to make sure everyone has completed the training, and someone in HR or Risk proudly reports to the board that we have ‘100% Compliance’.  But for what benefit?

By attending the training and answering a few questions I’m now considered to understand the content and the organisation is considered to be compliant.  The suggestion is that I now understand what is expected of me.  The reality is that I’ve just shown I can comply with an organisational directive to turn up and copy answers.  When I walk out of the room, I continue to behave in the way I always did.

As an employee, I’d much rather be inducted into a culture where the systems, symbols and behaviours encourage me to make the right choices. To work in a safe manner, to show courtesy and respect to my fellow employees and customers – regardless of whether someone is watching.  This would reflect a productive, safe and customer focused culture.

So what can we learn from this?

It’s important to regularly reflect on your systems and processes, and ask – “is this system about making people comply, or equipping people to make the right choices?”.

If you’re relying on a big stick approach, chances are people will do the right thing when you’re watching, but a significant proportion will choose a different path when you turn away.  Ask yourself, if people aren’t behaving in the way you want all the time, why?  How can you improve your systems to encourage the behaviour your want, rather than catch the behaviour you don’t want?

What is the culture of your business?  Compliance or Choice?