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Fostering a corporate “culture of compliance” has been talked about a lot in the last few years. After Sarbanes-Oxley went into effect two years ago, many public corporations implemented programs to systematically educate employees about ethical practices. But for private companies, or businesses that just haven’t had the time, money, or initiative to educate their employees, there’s a pressing reason to do so. Under new U.S. Sentencing Commission Guidelines, effective this month, if a corporation can show that it has supplied compliance training to its employees — and can prove it — and if an employee then violates the law, courts may show leniency for the company. “We started thinking about compliance training a couple of years ago,” says Jeffrey Smith, senior vice president and group counsel of Dallas-based tech services company Affiliated Computer Services, Inc., “but Sarbanes-Oxley and the sentencing changes helped focus senior management on what we had to do.” The corporate governance rule-making spree has sent businesses hustling to come up with programs that train employees quickly and thoroughly. Some, like The Scotts Company, a Marysville, Ohio, garden products maker, are training employees the old-fashioned way — in person. The trainers’ primary concession to the computer age is using PowerPoint slides to educate the company’s 4,000 employees. But in Corporate Counsel‘s 2004 In-House Tech Survey, the majority of Fortune 250 respondents — 53 percent of them — are embracing Web browser�based online training. And this movement is only expected to gather more momentum. According to Waltham, Massachusetts�based Integrity Interactive, Inc., an online training provider, Web-based compliance training is now a $100 million business. Some of the popularity comes down to sheer logistics — it’s easier to put materials online than to corral far-flung employees into hundreds of meetings. “Online [training] helps you reach the masses,” says Marjorie Doyle, chief compliance officer for Wilmington-based E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. But it’s more than reaching people quickly. Online, employees can proceed at their own pace; they can study at home and have libraries of material available with the proverbial mouse click. And the electronic programs give in-house lawyers an easy way to see who’s taken the course, and who’s been ducking. Naturally, like any massive tech effort, putting these programs in place means coordinating vendors and IT staff, and building support in-house, from senior management to employees. Most online compliance programs share certain features. Employees are first alerted to their existence via an e-mail from human resources or the legal department. Periodic reminders reinforce the initial message. Course-takers log on to a secure Web site and are guided by online prompts through the materials. The courses themselves, which typically take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour to complete, can consist of everything from static pages full of print to full-fledged informational videos. Online programs also automate reporting. The software keeps track of who’s logged on and who completes the training on time. The programs — off the shelf, they run about $45 per employee — can be customized, at a price. Training companies “will change anything you want,” says ACS’s Smith, whose company is rolling out its online compliance training program to its 40,000 employees now, “but it’ll cost you.” Customization can range from sprinkling company logos in the online videos to working corporation-specific fact patterns into courses. For Monsanto Company’s 160,000 employees, says director of business conduct, Robert Echols, trainers posted the company’s ethics code and some antitrust treatises and other materials on the company’s intranet. Most importantly for the St. Louis�based multinational, which sells chemicals and agricultural products around the globe, Echols says there are hundreds of pages of commentary and advice on the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. However, some compliance lawyers prefer a stock, unmodified off-the-shelf package. “I like to think other companies are doing the same thing, and that we are creating a community with the same values,” says DuPont’s Doyle. The key to any program’s success is support from the top, not to mention the techies. At DuPont, after doing a “Six Sigma” analysis of compliance procedures, the legal department spun Doyle’s group off this summer. Her group has ten full-time compliance officers, who do everything from conferring with vendors on the course materials, to monitoring and verifying completion of the course work for the company’s 81,000 workers. And if the compliance officers think the off-the-shelf online courses aren’t enough, they schedule in-person seminars to reinforce lessons. Perhaps more important was the personal backing of DuPont CEO Charles Holliday, Jr. Doyle says Holliday himself kept track of course completions when, about a year ago, the company had the first group of 72 top executives go through the training. In his weekly conference call to these top managers, the CEO would rattle off the training stats, mention that there were some laggards, and then strongly suggest that those people finish up. They did. On a more prosaic, but often overlooked note, compliance officers need to either lobby for dedicated computer staff, or become best friends with the IT department. “I didn’t realize how much this program would depend on the available technology,” says ACS’s Smith. The ACS IT department had to update PCs and make sure that every potential course-taker had the right software and Web browser plug-ins, such as Flash (for moving images) and QuickTime or Windows Media Player. Matching the right people with the right courses took time, too, and Smith and the IT staff had to make sure that all e-mail and contact info was up-to-date. Doyle has two full-time computer help-desk staffers at her disposal. One person handles the mass e-mailing that goes out to thousands of workers, while another ensures that materials are available online and does general troubleshooting. Of course, your company could avoid all of this completely, like Scotts, and schedule a few hundred meetings. Or take its lumps in court later. Anthony Paonita is executive editor of Corporate Counsel.

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