The essentials of motivating employees for compliance: removing barriers

If you want to change a compliance process, like checking invoices or screening customers, focus on motivation. Read here how to start.
In: Motivation, Compliance Team, How to create awareness
What's up, everybody! Let's explain the essentials of motivation for the compliance practice.

You need all employees to be motivated to perform compliance tasks. And if you're like "We can force them to comply with all internal policies because they have an employment contract.": then you are right!

But we will see that this is not what you want.

So buckle up, we will cover:

  1. What is motivation?
  2. How to make motivation easier?

What is motivation?

Motivation is your willingness to act.(1)

It's when the pain of action is lower than the pain of doing nothing.(2)

IF (pain of doing it > pain of not doing it) THEN = Motivation
Exceptional case of pain of doing it = equals pain of not doing it.

Motivation is a power that can change the way it is.

If you want to change a process, like checking invoices or screening customers, you need to focus on motivation. That is, the person executing this process needs to feel that the inconvenience of taking action is higher than the pain of doing nothing.

But motivation doesn't happen by itself. You know how hard it is to motivate others. Especially for compliance.

So how to do it?

How to motivate people to comply?

Let's start with a short theory. The most commonly used theory about motivation is the Self-Determination Theory of Deci and Ryan.

It says that people are motivated if their psychological needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness are fulfilled:

  • Competence: I can (learn how to) do it.
  • Autonomy: I can make decisions on my own.
  • Relatedness: I am part of a group I care about.

A theory is just a theory. The question is: how can we apply this in the compliance practice?


Motivation requires momentum. You need to overcome friction.

So we need to make things easier for employees. And we should make them feel like they are learning how to do to things.

Now take a compliance task. You should design it the right way: lightweight and the right size, to make the first action very easy. But the action doesn't happen by itself, the employee needs to be pushed to take that action, like with an awareness campaign or a nudge from the software he/she's using.

Instead of asking how we can motivate others, we should ask how we can create the conditions within people motivate themselves. (Edward Deci)

We should create a context that makes doing compliance tasks easier. And let the employee make progress by offering the right resources.

How can you take barriers away?

Go ask these questions your employees:

  • What makes it hard to do X?
  • What would make it easier to do X?
  • What is the context when you need to do X?
  • What information do you need to do X?
  • What training do you need to do X?
  • What is your interest in doing X?
  • What will the results be if you would do X?


Giving employees autonomy sounds contradictory in the build into a compliance program. Simply because sometimes a compliance program doesn't leave much choice.

But if possible, try to pay attention to this:

  • Let employees reflect on what matters to them. So you can link it what the compliance task.
  • Provide a limited and clear choice architecture. Like a flow with 2 or 3 open-ended questions.
  • Let them dig into resources so they can find the answers themselves.
  • Provide your team's contact details so they know the compliance team is always backing them.


Let people feel that they are not operating alone. Social connection is a big part of the human being.

  • Human support: who can help a hand? Who can offer moral support?
  • What are the ethical principles behind the compliance task?
  • How do their actions help colleagues?

But be careful, this is not always possible. Like if it concerns sensitive information then it's better not to let people connect on that topic or task.

There are alternatives too! Psychologist Kip Williams studied that even computers like chatbots, with pre-programmed messages, can give us a feeling of relatedness.

So instead of a dry flowchart, think of building a chatbot.


Next time we'll dive into the Motivation Matrix to find out which tools you have as compliance team to increase employees' motivation.


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