For years, HR managers have been the enforcers when it comes to establishing employee policies and setting standards for behavior, conduct, and expectations. But in many ways, they’ve become more enmeshed in the demands of corporate compliance than they have in the realm of talent management, engagement, learning and training, and other critical attributes of successful 21st century organizations. As Carol Anderson noted here this week, most HR policies these days “might be driving compliance – but not commitment. And the difference between the two is critical.”

I couldn’t agree more, and would take the same argument a step further. Imagine that these seemingly disparate areas – compliance on the one hand, talent and development on the other – as two sides of the same coin, and, that if talent is managed in a proactive way, the demands of compliance might fall into place without a hitch – and most likely without a costly investment.

Ignoring company compliance can easily seem like an accident waiting to happen. Little wonder, then, why in the wake of so many corporate scandals in recent years, businesses are investing more into compliance programs to hedge their risks. According to a recent Ernst & Young report, 41 percent of companies this year plan to spend more money on compliance programs, but most executives admit that they are having trouble implementing compliance within their companies and have little visibility into where the money actually goes.

Throwing money at “compliance” isn’t really a solution. Alternatively, by focusing HR efforts on proactive talent management and engagement, executives can much more successfully hedge those compliance risks at the same time. So what, exactly, does talent management mean? It means holding employees accountable for their actions while giving them a sense of ownership and pride over the company and its ethos. And in many ways, it means allowing the employees to become the HR rule-makers themselves. Here are two quick examples that show how this can work:

Virgin Media: Tapping the Benefits of Social Learning
Virgin Media, for instance, encourages employees to engage in discussions about company values. This helps workers understand them and to get them invested in creating and ensuring strong ethics, as Mark Lamswood, the company’s talent manager, explained recently. Virgin Media accomplishes this with online tools that promote social learning – think Facebook for compliance training – and use gamification to energize employees about the discussion. It helps, too, says Lamswood, that the company’s “chief values officer” is a stuffed toy monkey that goes by the name of Red (with his own Twitter handle).

Lamswood says the company has seen “a direct correlation” between employee participation in the values discussion and a better institutional understanding of the company’s ethos. Employee engagement is not only important to the values conversation, says Lamswood; “it’s the heartbeat” of Virgin’s company values.

Commonwealth Bank of Australia: New Tactics in Values Training
Commonwealth Bank of Australia takes a slightly different approach to integrating values within the company by considering employees’ perspectives from a customer service angle. “We put our employees in the driver’s seat to manage their own training and adoption,” says Andrew Culleton, Commonwealth’s general manager of group services. As this practice translates, all employees – not just the top brass – are tasked with defining company values.

Since Commonwealth Bank adopted new technology enabling employees to collaborate “live” for values training, the company’s completion rate on compliance courses is currently 98 percent, up from 50 percent a year earlier.

This employee-centric cultural shift not only helped employees better understand Commonwealth’s compliance priorities, but also gave the company a competitive advantage over other companies, argues Culleton. He says job candidates are drawn to the company because of its simple, non-theoretical training program rooted in employee engagement.

“The key is,” says Culleton, “you don’t do things to employees, you do things with them.”