We all know the scene but choose to ignore it – a senior employee or manager is taking an online training course and is talking on the phone, writing emails and basically ignoring the training session. Why? Because it has no importance to the employee’s job. It is irrelevant but something he or she has to complete. A check the box task if ever there was one.

The picture becomes even more disturbing when in the aftermath of a bribery or price-fixing allegation outside counsel usually hears that the perpetrators attended the training, paid little attention to the training but continued to flout the law to carry out some illegal scheme. The training message clearly did not get communicated nor was it viewed as very important.

How does a company change this dynamic? How does a company use training as not only an important opportunity to inform employees about what the law requires or prohibits, but relies on training to reinforce a company’s commitment to ethics and compliance?

Training does not exist in a vacuum, nor can it be expected to operate as an internal control. By definition, training does not ensure compliance.

Training provides three important functions: (1) awareness; (2) learning; and (3) reinforcement of company culture and ethics. These purposes are not achieved by offering an off-the-shelf training program, labeling it training, and then patting yourself on the back for creating a training “program.”

A successful training program is one that plays a critical function in advancing a company’s culture of compliance and ethical values. Training is one of several important elements of a compliance program. Notwithstanding this holistic view, when it comes down to it, training can only be as good as the overall culture in a company, which is established by senior leadership and reinforced throughout the organization.

In the absence of a culture of compliance, training is unlikely to have positive impact. Without leadership commitment and communications to reinforce the importance of training, a chief compliance officer’s training program is likely to fall on deaf or distracted ears. You can impose all the requirements you want on managers and employees to attend training but if they do not see training as an extension of management’s commitment to ethics, managers and employees are likely to ignore or discount the value of the training program.

In the perfect world training is a critical way for a compliance program to inform managers and employees of the commitment to ethics and the relevance of ethics to their day-to-day job. Making the program interesting, accessible and relevant to employees is a challenge. When it is seen as a part of an overall culture, training can be more easily translated to each manager and employee.

Companies are devoting more time to improving the content of their training programs. Some chief compliance officers employ game show strategies or offer interactive content to liven up the training session. These devices are improvements over a boring and dry legal presentation.

The best training programs, however, are not necessarily the most entertaining. Training content has to be carefully tailored to the leadership message around compliance and the audience. So long as the content is reflected in the tone of senior leadership and their actions to reinforce that tone, a training program offers a unique opportunity to reinforce that tone and advance the integration of the tone into day-to-day operations.

If a training program is viewed as a “necessary evil” or a burden to managers and employees, you can ret assured that the company’s culture is suffering from serious weaknesses. On the other hand, if a company has a strong culture and wants to make sure that everyone understands the culture, training should be an opportunity to ensure that everyone understands the requirements and embraces the company’s culture by adhering to its message.