Compliance Communications Blog

Brevity Tips For Compliance Professionals: If I’d Had More Time, I Would Have Written Less


more_time_to_write_less_compliance_communication_best_practicesMy blog title (a misquote, by the way, and often misattributed at that*) is a frequent topic of conversation here at Compliance Wave. In fact, I heard this very phrase uttered less than 48 hours ago by the Chief Compliance Officer of a well-known children's hospital. And while it elicited a chuckle from both of us, as it always does, it's also remarkably on-point for how we communicate compliance policies.

For most of us, effective communication that is clear, impactful, and brief is hard. I mean really hard. Why is this so difficult – specifically in the realm of compliance communication? 

  • There are nuances and details vital to compliance awareness, and we see the risks. We want our adult learning audience to understand them all – today!
  • There are a lot of ways an employee might interpret a compliance policy or law, so we close gaps with an information dump.
  • To avoid alienating employees with different roles, learning styles, and backgrounds, we take a "big tent” approach -- and try to address them all at once.

Our instinct to instruct and inform can lead to 75-page PowerPoints, 2-hour staff meetings, hour-long CBT's... and ultimately, immense training fatigue.  There's a time and place for that level of detail, but if your program for compliance awareness is creating a "permanent state of partial attention" in your employees, consider some compliance communication best practices:

  1. Don't share all your ideas at once.  Multiple touches over time will let the concept sink in with greater permanence. 
  2. If you find it hard to edit yourself, turn to a colleague who's willing to give a haircut to that 1,200-word blog post on bribery or data privacy. [Alternately: Vet with someone not familiar with the topic. They'll tell you if the information and detail is getting in the way of understanding].
  3. Consider your audience, and segment them.  If half the audience is getting information that only the other half needs, you're going to lose at least half of them! 
  4. Repetition--"the mother of skill”--is a valuable tool in compliance. But if you find you're repeating a concept simply because it seems elusive or unclear, you probably haven't expressed it in its purest form yet.  
  5. Consider the purpose of the humble, but revolutionary, hyperlink.  If certain details are getting in the way of brevity, could you point to another source instead?   

I hope this doesn't come off as glib; we know just how difficult this is.  For instance, we allow four weeks to craft a single four-minute Compliance Brief video script. Extracting the most meaning out of the fewest possible words takes time, practice, and--when you're being edited--a thick skin. Yes, it would be faster and easier to combine a few engaging animations with some general narration on conflicts, social media, or trade controls, but that simply isn't good enough any more. Alienating (or boring) your employees with the "same old" or "too long" compliance communications is too great a risk to take 


*Often credited to Mark Twain, this quote is actually from Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, logician, physicist and theologian:  

"Je n’ai fait celle-ci plus longue que parce que je n’ai pas eu le loisir de la faire plus courte."
"I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter."

However, Twain did famously say: 

“If you want me to give you a two-hour presentation, I am ready today. If you want only a five-minute speech, it will take me two weeks to prepare.”

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