Make Ethics Training Stick

Ethics-related training is essential for many reasons. Effective training helps ensure that all managers and employees know what is expected of them. It helps to build and sustain an ethical culture. And it is strongly encouraged, if not required, by various ethics and compliance-related government regulations.

It takes effort to create and sustain an effective ethics training program, and sometimes the training doesn’t quite “stick” the way it’s intended to. So, what does it take to make ethics training stick? Here are nine steps recommended by AccountingWEB in one of its “practice excellence” web posts (Doxey, 2015). We think you’ll agree that these steps cross industry and profession bounds—they will hold true in any situation.

  1. Make it specific: Target specific behaviors; use case studies and clear [and realistic] examples of ethical breaches. Encourage employees to describe how they would handle the situation.
  1. Make it a two-way conversation: include a process for asking questions and getting management to correct apparent weaknesses in procedures; assure employees of confidentiality during training sessions.
  1. Make it interactive: Help employees learn firsthand how to make better ethical decisions [don’t just present a lecture]. Some programs include a roadmap of the steps to follow when facing an unethical situation.
  1. Make it memorable and situational: Introduce such features as online quizzes to test employee understanding, or ask employees to perform the behaviors described during training to better commit them to memory.
  1. Make it relatable: Provide participants with examples of good and bad ethical behavior along with an understanding of the impacts of such behaviors, whether through case studies or interactive presentations, or other methods.
  1. Reinforce it: Review and positively reinforce behaviors learned by participants through consistent messaging. Share observations from ethics training sessions with the company’s management team, including any trends or concerns.
  1. Repeat it: Offer ongoing ethical training programs. This is critical, because ethical dilemmas are dynamic. To ensure employees are comprehensively trained, some companies offer training on a quarterly basis and require proof of attendance.
  1. Make it visible: Communicate the organization’s commitment to ethics and the code of conduct during training sessions and repeat it during an employee performance reviews. The principles communicated in training should be the same principles that guide organizational planning and goal-setting, and should be measured as such.
  1. Enforce the ethics hotline: Reinforce the hotline throughout all training initiatives. When employees are armed with the proper tools and can clearly define a violation of the code of conduct, they are in a better position to use the hotline to report the real ethical dilemma.

As the author reminds us, “the cost and commitment required for a dynamic ethics training program certainly outweigh the risk of ongoing unethical behavior and potential fraud …but ethics training that sticks requires everyone’s commitment and attention—not just once, but throughout the year.”

Ethical Advocate recognizes the importance of training in the ethics and compliance toolbox. Contact us for information about comprehensive ethics and compliance solutions, including ethics and compliance training and confidential and anonymous hotlines.


Doxey, Chris. “Nine Steps to Make Your Company’s Ethics Training Program Stick.” AccountingWEB, April 8, 2015.