Compliance training: Does CEO involvement improve completion rates?

By Ross Garner (Emerald Works) and Stuart Townend (Emerald Publishing)

Written by Ross Garner
Published 15 April 2020
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Compliance training: Does CEO involvement improve completion rates?

At Emerald Works, one of the most frequent requests we get from our clients is to involve their senior leadership team in the promotion of compliance training. The more senior, the better.

The logic is obvious: people will pay attention to this mandatory training if they’re told to do so by someone with authority.

But does this actually lead to higher completion rates? A collaboration with our colleagues at Emerald Publishing gave us an opportunity to find out.

In late 2019, we set out to design an interactive digital tool to help colleagues improve their workstations. This project was both a regulatory requirement and a part of the Workplace & Facilities team’s genuine desire to protect the wellbeing of their colleagues.

Rather than adopt a traditional ‘training’ approach, the project team designed a 10-minute digital self-assessment. This showed colleagues how to optimize their computer, chair, and surroundings, then gave them an opportunity to request further support if needed. That support could include repairs, requests for specialist equipment, changes to the working environment, and so on. A demo version of the self-assessment is available online.

Come February, we were ready to launch – and had an idea.

In the past, making sure everyone completed their mandatory training had been a challenge. This time, we’d try an approach that our clients ask for all the time: a message from the CEO.

We split Emerald’s employee population into two groups. One group would receive an email from the Workplace & Facilities Team, the other would receive an email from the Emerald Group’s CEO.

The email content was identical except for the subject line and email signature (‘Mandatory Display Screen Equipment Course’ vs ‘A message from [the CEO]’).

So, what happened? Did more people complete their mandatory training because the CEO had told them to. Maybe, but not by much.

On the day the email was sent out, 43 of 222 people in the ‘Workplace & Facilities’ group completed the self-assessment (19.4%). 45 of 220 people in the ‘CEO’ group did the same (20.5%). A very small difference and not statistically significant.

After a month, 112 people in the ‘Workplace & Facilities’ group had completed the self-assessment (50.5%), while 122 in the ‘CEO’ group had done so (55.5%). A bigger difference in the two groups, but still not statistically significant (for the statistics nerds, p = .292, using the test of two proportions).

What does this tell us?

Across the Emerald Group, having the CEO ask people to complete mandatory training, rather than the Workplace & Facilities team, didn’t seem to make much of a difference on completion rate in the first month after launch.

Of course, every organization is different. A study at Transport for London, where employees were asked to complete a compliance course via an email from the Head of Customer Service, did find a statistically significant result.

It is possible then that how people perceive mandatory training, the format of that training, how employees access it, and employee perception of the senior team, are all likely to have an impact. Other factors might include leadership style, and whether the norm was to ‘ask’ people to do something rather than ‘tell’ them.
But we shouldn’t assume that getting the senior team involved is going to be the silver bullet that makes people care.

Instead, we should focus on making a real difference in people’s working lives by designing experiences that help them.

Since the DSE self-assessment launched, Emerald have received requests for five new office chairs, four lumbar supports, three footstools, three standing desks, three monitor stands, four wrist supports, and a new keyboard.

Those are requests that help our colleagues work more comfortably, with less risk to their bodies. And, of course, they don’t include those colleagues who made their own adjustments to their set-up, based on the self-assessment advice, to make sure they could work more comfortably.


If you’d like to find out more about our off-the-shelf compliance courses, you can find details on our product page. Thanks to the Emerald Group Internal Comms team for their help with this experiment. Note that this experiment took place prior to the coronavirus lockdown, such that most participants were office-based.

About the author

Ross Garner

Ross Garner

Head of Learning Experience
Ross has been working in L&D for seven years and he heads up the instructional design team at Emerald Works. In 2019 he completed a Masters in Digital Education and was named Learning Technologies’ Learning Designer of the Year. He is also one of the hosts of the Good Practice Podcast.

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