Live from SCCE’s Utilities & Energy – Psychology Lessons for Compliance Professionals





1ca85fbby Kortney Nordrum, CHC
Presentation by:
Virginia MacSuibhne


There are many ways to use behavioral psychology to influence behavior. Today, Virginia spoke about how to use these psychology tools to benefit your compliance and ethics programs. Below are Virginia MacSuibhne’s top ways to use psychology to get people to do what you want them to do:

Always have someone introduce you. Being “important” enough for an introdution adds to your credibility.

Use sticky notes. Handwritten sticky notes can increase responses, particularly if you add a personal touch. Attach a sticky note to the code of conduct and write “Thanks for reading the code of conduct!” sign with your name (not “Compliance”). It’s a way to get people’s attention

Say thank you. Adding a handwritten “thank you” can further increase your response rate

Tell people why. Give people a strong reason and justification and they’re more likely to believe you and follow you. This applies even if the “why” seems completely unimportant to you. Use the word “BECAUSE”. The simple word because increases cooperation chances because it provides a rationale for those around you as to why you want to do what you’re doing.

Make it easy! Make it easy to read and make it easy to say. Make everything easy to pronounce and write in simple, professional fonts. Remove legalese.

Rhyme. Use rhyme to allow the information to be more easily processed and judged as more accurate. Make things simple, easy, and fun. For example: Compliance not Defiance.

Use mirrors and/or eyes. Many studies show that mirrors and eyes can persuade socially desirable behavior from the psychological effect of “someone is watching you”. It encourages individuals to do the right thing.

Get active public commitment. The studies in this are have focused on voting, asking potential voters to predict whether they will vote and have them provide a reason for their prediction. This make individuals accountable for their decision by making them publicly stated commitment. This could translate to your compliance program through signing the acknowledgment of the Code of Conduct. Virginia suggests asking new employees to come to the front and sign, rather than at their desks/cubes/etc. Publicly signing the document makes each individual make an active, public commitment.

Use Numbers. Publishing numbers/percentages of those follow the procedures can increase similar actions. People want to feel like they’re in the norm. The more you can communicate that people are in the norm, the more you increase compliant behavior.

Give happy feedback. Everyone likes positive reinforcement. When you add a happy face, people actually respond differently. Positive feedback is great, and a happy face can increase response even further. Use a positive slide as your last slide for your training – give people a “Yay, you’re done!” feeling.

When using fear, offer specifics. When using fear to activate people, offer specific ways to counter the threat you’re discussing. While training, give everyone something they can walk away with, actionable items to prevent the bad things from happening.

Frame as incomplete. By saying something is “incomplete” you can motivate people to help you complete it. If you ask people directly for something, they may not be willing to give it, but if you ask them to help you complete a task, they are usually willing to help. Engage your employees to help you build the policy, rather than enforce it from the top-down.

Rare and unique items. Unusual and rare items are perceived as more valuable. It draws on everyone’s natural habit of collecting things.

Free gifts and services. People love receiving something free-even old t-shirts and mugs. Go to your business team and ask for old tchotchkes to promote your compliance programs.

Mention small drawbacks. Early mention of small drawbacks can create a perception of honesty, especially when paired with a silver lining.

Offer error-based training. If you train people in your organization based on errors, you gain authenticity and can teach how to avoid those errors in the future.

Explain failures. Attributing failures to internal causes can result in increased public perception and increased profits. When bad things happen, admit to it early and take responsibility.

Think about timing. Have people make their most important decisions at 10am-it’s when they’re most awake and most alert. Avoid asking people to make ethical decisions while multitasking.

Regardless of teh approach you’re using, make sure to tailor your message to your audience.

To find Virginia MacSuibhne’s slides from this presentation go to


  1. Some practical pointers from an experienced Compliance professional. So much of the work we do in Compliance revolves around ethics and culture, not just compliance with law and regulation. Employees are people, psychological creatures by nature. They want to belong, and they want to be helpful. They also want to know that the company supports their ethical instincts and actions, that their fellow employees are with them, and that the company appreciates their integrity and their commitment. Virginia’s list provides some excellent ways to focus on the oft-neglected “incentive” side of the E&C equation. Thanks for circulating this, Kortney.


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