How to create E&C training that people will actually enjoy


What you'll learn on this podcast episode

Instructional design sits at a unique point within ethics and compliance programs, combining stakeholder expectations with the learner experience to create education that impacts how we think and act. In this episode of the Principled Podcast, LRN Senior Advisory Learning Solutions Manager Damien DeBarra talks with LRN Learning Director Alexis King about the role of the instructional designer as listener, facilitator, and changemaker. The two explore how instructional design can help organizations look inward to understand potential risks to their culture, and how learning can fill those gaps. Listen in as Damien and Alexis discuss building accountability into E&C programs and the voices needed to be part of that effort.

Principled Podcast shownotes

  • [1:41] What does a learning director do?

  • [3:09] What does being a “gap filler” look like on a day-to-day basis?

  • [7:57] Is listening an important part of the learning director role?

  • [11:04] What do organizations most often get wrong when they come to Alexis?

  • [13:50] What can partners do better in terms of managing expectations?

  • [16:05] How does Alexis value diversity for her members and courses?

  • [19:54] Has Alexis seen communications used well by her partners?

  • [21:46] What are Alexis’ top three tips for people who are interested in coming to LRN?

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Guest: Alexis King


Alexis King has built corporate ethics and compliance programs that ignite tangible culture change for more than 15 years. As a Learning Director at LRN, she collaborates with clients to create effective learning solutions for their unique needs and designs online, blended, and facilitated education experiences that emphasize learner engagement. Before joining LRN, Alexis spent more than 10 years as a Learning Manager at Interactive Services. Prior to that, she worked as a Senior Instructional Designer and Task Lead at C2 Technologies. Alexis holds an M.Ed. from the Peabody College of Education and Human & Development at Vanderbilt University. Her BS is also from Vanderbilt University. 

Host: Damien DeBarra


Damien DeBarra brings more than 20 years’ experience to the instructional design and strategic workforce planning spaces. As a Senior Advisory Learning Solutions Manager at LRN, he focuses on creating training solutions that ensure business buy-in and connect hiring practices to day-one learning roll-outs. In the last few years, Damien has helped organizations such as United Airlines, Sun Life Financial, SITEL, Astellas, MFS Investments, and SAP create 90-day action plans for their solutions and develop supporting communication strategies. He has worked with over 200 clients in areas ranging from retail to pharmaceuticals, call centers to nuclear plant manufacturing. Prior to LRN, Damien spent more than nine years as the Learning Solutions Director and Head of Instructional Design at Interactive Services. He has also worked as an instructional designer at NCALT, Electric Paper, and Epic. Damien received his BA from Maynooth University.


Principled Podcast transcription

Intro: Welcome to The Principled Podcast, brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace change makers.

Damien DeBarra: Hello. How do you build in accountability when designing ethics and compliance programs? Who needs to be involved in that effort and who doesn't yet have a seat at the table?

Hello, and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Damien DeBarra, Senior Advisory Learning Solutions Manager at LRN. Today I'm joined by Alexis King, one of the Learning Directors in our instructional design team. We are going to be talking about accountability and ethics and compliance programs and how instructional design can influence that by combining stakeholder expectations with the learner experience. Alexis is an expert in this space, having built corporate ENC programs that ignite tangible culture change for over 15 years. Alexis, thanks for coming on The Principled Podcast.

Alexis King: Thanks for having me, Damien.

Damien DeBarra: How are you doing today?

Alexis King: It's a rainy day here and that's a little unusual for this time of year, but we're managing. I'm hoping the sun will come out soon.

Damien DeBarra: Okay. Well, it's raining in London where I am, which is not unusual for any time of the year. So, Alexis let's start it with a really obvious question. What does the Learning Director do?

Alexis King: In a nutshell, I would say that Learning Directors are these purposeful and strategic gap fillers. So organizations have these gaps that they identify, in terms of performance or knowledge or culture or attitude, and we're there to help them figure out what are those gaps and what are, most importantly, their behavioral implications. We help them distinguish between what can be adjusted through a training style intervention and what kind of lies beyond that, and then we work collaboratively with these partners to fill those gaps through formal and informal learning and its various forms. The focus really is, not on the type of the intervention, but that the intervention is relevant, creative, efficient, and effective. And as the Learning Director on my team, I work with Project Managers, Learning Managers and Instructional Designers to do just that, to take organizations on a journey of identifying gaps and filling them.

Damien DeBarra: Okay. There's an incredible amount of things to unpack in what you just said. That's an amazing answer. Let's start with the gaps. So I really liked what you touched on there about describing the role as being a gap filler. What does this actually look like on a day to day basis? So a partner comes to you, they say something, what do they usually say? They say, "I have a problem. My staff need training." What is their requests normally sound like initially?

Alexis King: Well, the problem has become like a four-letter word in a lot of spaces, right? So they talk about opportunities. They talk about areas of growth. They talk about, "We've noticed that this is happening in the world," or, "This is happening with our competitors," or, "This is starting to happen inside our own doors." And we want to get in front of this. We want to get on top of this. We want to figure out how to eliminate risk. We want to talk about how to increase engagement. We want to talk about how to make our employees more aware and accountable. And in those ways, we work with companies when many times that is the original ask.

Damien DeBarra: Right. If I could just drill into something else you touched on there, you said that they come to you sometimes with the notion that this is happening in the world and we want to get in front of it. To what extent do you think the partners who come to us, how aware are they of what's actually happening in their organizations or are they reacting sometimes to what they think is happening in the world outside? Is it 50/50? What do you think?

Alexis King: I think many times we are far more aware of what's going on in the world and in other organizations than we are in our own. I think it could be very difficult to have that inner look at exactly the good, the bad and the ugly about home, about your company, about an organization that you've committed to. And I think that that's part of our role as a partner to facilitate with stakeholders that inward look and to help them use the data from that inward look to talk about the gaps that exist that need to be closed in terms of performance, knowledge, et cetera.

Damien DeBarra: Let's maybe take it for instance. So maybe if you could think about a current partner that you're working with, obviously we're not going to name anybody because that won't be appropriate. But if you can think about a current partner you're working with, could you give us an example of a need or a gap as you call it, that they come to you with and what does it look like on a daily basis? How are we going through that process with them?

Alexis King: Well, I worked with a client recently that was having some challenges in terms of retention. They were having challenges in terms of employee satisfaction, as it pertained to the diversity of their workforce. So one way that they want it to address this, they were aware that they had set up the proper mechanisms if you will, to support a diverse and inclusive environment.

However, they were aware that there were failings still occurring because of the feedback they were getting from employees during employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews. So at that point, they felt like they uncovered a missing piece and they thought that missing piece was microaggressions in the workplace. That it wasn't these very overt, very maliciously intended actions of colleagues at this company that was impacting people leaving. It was actually this kind of, what they call this kind of death by a thousand cuts, that was causing people to leave.

So we talked about that and that conversation was a difficult one because that does require an inward look. But I thought that in talking to the client, I was very hopeful because I think that step of doing the inward work, to say, "You know what? We've done A, B and C, but this thing keeps happening. Employees are dissatisfied. They feel undervalued, they feel disrespected and they're leaving. Now what do we do? What information do we need to share with our employees and how do we need to encourage them to behave in furtherance of our greater overall diversity and inclusion efforts?"

And that's what we did. We developed a course on microaggressions and it was very short, which I liked. I think that was a real asset to it. And it really relied on testimonials. I think it allowed people in a very non-threatening way to consider, "Have I committed microaggressions? Have I been a bystander during a microaggression being committed? Have I been the victim of a microaggression? And what is my role in eliminating my work environment of these microaggressions so that we are behaving a way that treats everyone with dignity and respect?"

Damien DeBarra: So a micro-course for microaggressions?

Alexis King: Yes, it was. Very well done.

Damien DeBarra: Oh, yes. So what I'm struck by, there's a word that keeps jumping out at me as I'm listening to you speak, which is the word facilitate. And it sounds like actually a large part of your role is as much of a listening role as it is a kind of role of saying, "Here's how it should be." Is that about right? Or am I misinterpreting?

Alexis King: No, I would say that's very much the case. I really approach engagements with the attitude of companies have a need and that need needs to be met. What is the problem? How do we talk about the solution? What part can we play in that solution? And I think, as I said before, not everything is solved through a training, but most things can be supported by the proper training initiative.

Damien DeBarra: Let's talk about that a little more for a second. So not everything needs a training. What does that look like? So does a partner come into you and say, "Hey, I want an e-learning course." And is it then your job to say, "Actually, can we talk about this before we decide what tool to use?" Or tell me a little bit about that more, about that conversation.

Alexis King: I like to ask why. So when partners come in and they're well-armed knowing exactly what they want and how they want it done, I like to take a step back and say, "Well, why? You've decided that you wanted e-learning. What about in e-learning appeals to you? What about in e-learning do you think makes it a good fit for your organization?"

And I listened to them talk, and then I say, "Okay, well actually, yep. That's exactly what you need is e-learning." But sometimes it's, "You can accomplish all those things with a different kind of tool. It doesn't need to be a 60 minute e-learning. If I'm hearing you correctly, we can accomplish this with a 90 second video. We can accomplish this with some manager packets. Let's put together some activities for managers to do once a week over the course of four weeks, 45 minutes a pop, where they practice a skill with their team. These kinds of things might have a bigger impact than the e-learning that you're thinking of."

And I try to guide them towards that because I think a lot of times people hear training and it's like, "e-learning, e-learning, e-learning." That's not the only way that we learn. It's not the only way I teach myself things. You know, how many times do you reach for YouTube or a quick article or asking someone to learn how to do something as opposed to butt in seat, hand on mouse, 15, 20 minutes or an hour or whatever of you learning?

Damien DeBarra: I think you and I have both found this over the years, haven't we, that sometimes a well-guided 90 second conversation can even be as impactful as a piece of multimedia. Isn't that right? We can find that can even be more impactful sometimes.

Alexis King: Absolutely. And I think sometimes a training interventions being too long, the message can be lost in that.

Damien DeBarra: Right. We could even possibly breed a bit of resentment, a bit of anger in the audience.

Alexis King: Well, who knows when the disengagement is going to kick in, right? When it doesn't need to be 50 minutes and it is 50 minutes, when do we really know that people are going to shut down or shut off? It's just hard to know.

Damien DeBarra: Let's pick into that a bit for a second, cause this is kind of the core of what I wanted to talk to you about today, is that you've worked on large ethics and compliance training initiatives every year, right? With major organizations. What strikes you the most about this space? What do organizations get wrong when they come to you?

Alexis King: I think it is a fundamental idea that the training is intended to share information. We're going to use this training to tell people what the rules are, what they should be doing and what happens if they don't comply. I think that is a misdirection when it comes to ethics and compliance training. The focus really has to be on, "How do I make the right decision? When are the opportunities to make these decisions? How do I go about making the proper decision? What does making the right decision feel like?" It's really about developing a decision-making muscle, not about knowing every paragraph in the policy. It's not about knowing about the fines and the jail time and all the trouble we'll be in.

It really is about identifying when something is not right. Like having that feeling, that, "Something is not quite right here. I am being asked to make a decision that has an impact. What do I need to consider in making that decision?" It really is like decision-making boot camp at its best, in my experience. And it is not... I told a client the other day, I said, "This training, the way we're talking about is running 45 minutes. An average reader would be able to read this policy in 12 minutes. We've missed the mark somewhere here." Right? I mean like, let's focus our time on real naughty decision-making. And I think that's what surprises me the most is that getting to that point where we're in agreement that we're trying to impact behavior, not that we're informing on rules, regulations, policy, standards, consequences, all those things.

Damien DeBarra: Gotcha. So this is essentially, maybe not to put a phrase in your mouth, but this is kind of the difference between checking a box and moving the needle. Right?

Alexis King: Yes, absolutely. That is very well put, I should have said it that way myself.

Damien DeBarra: This is fascinating. I'm really struck by this thing of managing expectations. And let's just look a little bit beyond the e-learning course and kind of move a level up to the whole thing of curriculum design, because I know this is something you and I, we've been working on this together for years. Managing networks of stakeholders, when a partner comes to you, first of all, what is the makeup of that team on a partner side look like? And as candidly speaking, being really honest now, what could partners do to prepare themselves when they construct that team to better move the needle, rather than just tick the box? What could they do differently, or being even more candid, what are they doing wrong, Alexis?

Alexis King: Well, at the decision-making table, we typically have no problem getting the decision makers or some representative, some reliable representative of the decision maker. We don't usually have any trouble getting any experts. Okay? So we usually have some key leaders. We usually have someone from legal, someone from HR, people and culture, that kind of aspect of the organization. But oftentimes I'll look around and I don't see any members of the target audience. And I don't see any people that are true drivers and champions of the change. So I think that organizations typically have these people that emerge as kind of unofficial leaders in certain spaces, but as people that people look to as examples, and I find that those people are often missing as well as, like I said, members of the target audience.

And then when it's time start like developing scenarios or to start talking about, "Well, what do we cover versus what we don't cover?" It's like, there's nobody here. We're talking about bribery and corruption in a space where no one here has really any firsthand knowledge of that. A lot of academic knowledge, a lot of theoretical knowledge, a lot of knowledge about what's in the policy, but really in terms of the offenses that are occurring within our organization, who are the people that are making these mistakes and why? How did it come to that? And to hear from those people, because that helps us understand the decision-making that led to the bad action. And if we understand the erroneous, the misguided decision-making, then we can truly start to understand how to go about teaching the proper way to make decisions.

Damien DeBarra: It's intriguing. I'm almost imagining a scenario here, Alexis, whereby, for those in the audience, if you haven't figured it out yet, I'm Irish and I'm imagining somebody coming and saying, "Hey, we're building a course in Irish history. And they're never actually asking the single Irish person to contribute to that.

Alexis King: Yeah.

Damien DeBarra: It wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. So are we saying in a sense that we think it good that stakeholders and partners who work with us, make sure that there's a broad spectrum and a diverse representation across the organization, within the opinions given

Alexis King: It's interesting that you use the word diversity. I'm set in on the development of courses where the diversity that the course was intending to teach the habits that the course was intending to encourage, there was very little evidence of that in the room. So if this is an organization that embraces diversity and inclusion and we're working on a diversity and inclusion initiative, why doesn't this room represent a diverse and inclusive work environment?

Damien DeBarra: Right. It's definitely an interesting question, isn't it? So I've got another question because I'm keen to explore something else. Accountability. This is a key word, right? How do we build accountability into E and C curriculums that we design? I mean, how do we push responsibility? How do we move the needle beyond the formal training event? You know, either be that the classroom doors you leave, or the end of e-learning course, or the end of the conversation with the manager or the leader, what can we do to make this stick within the workplace, to make it a workplace habit? Because I'm particularly struck by what you said earlier on about boot camp for decision-making. That's a really interesting way of describing that.

Alexis King: I think that too often, we think about accountability in terms of the learners. And we forget that really, once an organization puts out an ethics and compliance learning event, they create accountability for themselves as well. The organization becomes accountable as well as the learners. So learners are accountable for taking what they've learned and applying it in the workplace. The organization is responsible and accountable for making sure that those opportunities exist and that everything that they said in the training is stood over within the organization. So if you've spent 20 minutes talking to me about the importance of speaking up and identifying red flags and doing the right thing and no retaliation, I need to be heard when I speak to my manager and there needs to be the necessary processes and people in place to support me if there's another concern that I want to report. And all those pieces need to exist at an organizational level, as well as for the individual. The accountability really goes both ways.

And that means that you can't think of your training intervention as a magic bullet. It has to be a part, as you mentioned earlier Damien, of a curriculum. Where is the communications that teed up the rollout of this learning? Where's the learning? Where's the post learning initiative or post learning intervention opportunities to apply that? Have you set up ways for me to have conversations with my manager in furtherance of discussing this topic? Have you set up opportunities for me to tackle some problems or practice some decision-making with my colleagues? Where's the rest of it? In order for this training to truly be effective and in order to hold learners accountable, organizations have to be accountable and making sure that the learning event is part of an overall journey.

Damien DeBarra: And that's really striking, that word journey. The thing that breaks my heart, Alexis, I think we've talked about this before is like the likes of you or I spend months, maybe a year working with a partner on an entire curriculum. We build courses and we create manager's materials, and we do all sorts of this amazing stuff. And then the product gets launched inside the organization with a sort of 'do it by Friday or else' email.

Alexis King: Yeah.

Damien DeBarra: Which just destroys all the goodwill in the room. Talk to me a little bit more about communications. I mean, is that something you've seen used well within organizations as part of curriculum design?

Alexis King: Oh, yeah. One thing I really like seeing is when clients say, "Okay, we want to build this e-learning, so we're going to build this e-learning. Now that it's built, or now that we have an idea almost built, Alexis, let's put together a 60 second trailer that we can email out to all the employees that let them know that this is coming. And let's really invest in that. Let's use video, let's use animation, let's make this something that people, their interests will be peaked. They will be on the lookout for this." I think that's always a really good idea and like I said, that's part of the setting the stage, like this is important enough for us to advertise it. This is important for us enough for us to give you a heads up, that it will be available in 10 days or in three days. And I think that that really helps to further endorse the training as being something of value.

Damien DeBarra: I've seen you do this, you almost sell it like it's a movie about to be released inside the organization. Like give it a proper viral campaign almost.

Alexis King: Really. And it has a huge impact. Believe it or not people talk about it because I don't know about your inbox Damien, but mine is not really filled with that many interesting videos or things like that. So you get something like that and it like catches your attention and you're more likely to be like, "Hey, you saw video that came out? I wonder what that's going to be about. That sounds like it's going to be interesting." So I think it does start the conversation even, those kinds of campaigns.

Damien DeBarra: So listen, I think we could talk about this stuff all night and you and I have done sometimes, but I think we need to wrap it up. Let me finish off with one last question for anybody out there listening who's maybe thinking about coming to LRN or someone like LRN and thinking about creating their own E and C curriculum or online training initiative, do you have like a top three tips that you would give out to those folks? And these could be do's or don'ts, but like, I'm just curious. Do you have a top three off the top of your head you might like to share with folks?

Alexis King: Just three. Okay.

Damien DeBarra: It can be five. It can be 10, but it would be good if we kept it to three, but over to you.

Alexis King: These could be like the top 100 of all time. So if I had to do three off the top, I would say one, create a true program. Create a program that involves a communications plan, a meaningful learning event, such as an e-learning and then post e-learning on the job opportunities to practice, to discuss, to further explore. I think that is very important.

The second thing would be to make sure you're getting inputs from the right people. Really take a look at who's sitting at the table. I mentioned this before and make sure you have your decision makers, your content experts, members of your target audience and your key drivers and champions of change. Like, they have to be there to really create content that is meaningful and relevant. So, that's the second one.

And my final one would be, this is a big one, but to really shift your thinking about the meaning of the training, the training is not designed to teach policies, talk about rules, wag your finger, and let people know about all the jail time and job loss and all the things that will happen if they don't do the right thing.

But it's really about teaching people how to embody your organization's values, live your organization's culture and make decisions. Again, back to decision-making bootcamp. The focus is on teaching people how to make decisions, not teaching people policies, which they're all very capable of reading. That would be my three things. That's it. 1, 2, 3.

Damien DeBarra: Thanks, Alexis. That's amazing. I think we could unpack those three things for another six hours, but I think our audience will reward us for brevity. So we'll probably wrap it up at this point. So Alexis, it's been an absolute pleasure having you on the podcast. Again, for everybody listening, my name is Damien DeBarra and I want to thank you all for joining us on another episode of The Principled Podcast by LRN.

Outro: We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance in global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at to learn more. And if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcasts on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen. And don't forget to leave us a review.


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