Asha Palmer: Making Compliance Fun Again

October 27, 2022 | Activate Learning | 6 min read

At Skillsoft, we know the importance of doing the right thing – and this applies not only to professional decisions, but also to personal decisions. But how does one know the right thing or how to make thoughtful choices that lead to positive outcomes? It’s hard but it’s more than possible.

Meet Asha Palmer, Senior Vice President Of Compliance Solutions At Skillsoft

Working as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the United States Department of Justice, Asha Palmer was on an impressive career trajectory. But when she and her husband decided to move to Abu Dhabi so that he could pursue his dream job, her colleagues told her she was committing career suicide.

“Jobs, houses . . . they are replaceable,” said Palmer. “The things that truly matter – family, friends, experiences in life – cannot be replaced.”

While in Abu Dhabi, Palmer began teaching business ethics to college students at American University Dubai. “Business ethics was every student’s most hated course—and after seeing the curriculum, I understood why,” laughed Palmer. “But teaching helped me realize that for compliance and ethics to be successful, there has to be a better bridge between what people need to know and what they want to know.”

So, she got creative. She re-examined her planned curriculum and found ways to make it more relevant to her students by providing real-world examples of organizations who faced key ethical decisions and worked with her students on how to solve them.

Today, Palmer continues to bridge this gap. After the 74th annual Emmy Awards, she posted to LinkedIn:

Compliance made a debut at the 74th Emmy Awards!

The Dropout is all about the fraud and unethical culture at Theranos that led to toxic outcomes!

There are so many #ethics, #compliance and #culture lessons in The Dropout that have clearly enticed the world and commanded enough attention to win an Emmy!

So there is hope! 🙌🏾🙌🏾

Palmer shared three takeaways for compliance professionals:

  • Make compliance fun. Compliance can be interesting, particularly when dramatized and engaging. Whether you’re thinking about what’s right and wrong as you watch The Dropout, or you’re participating in Skillsoft’s cinematic-quality Global Code of Conduct training, you can learn in a way that is participatory , exciting, and taps into individuals’ emotional capital.
  • Share your stories. People want to learn from others’ mistakes. Compliance professionals tend to keep challenges close to the chest, but talking about these issues with colleagues, employees, and others, may help to clarify the experience and provide a foundation for future behavior.
  • Watch The Dropout. If you’re looking for a drama to binge this weekend . . . this could be it!

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Compliance Is An Opportunity

Palmer thinks about compliance a lot due to the nature of her job at Skillsoft. But for most people, compliance is just an annual obligation to ensure they understand their organization’s rules and expectations of them as employees.

Compliance has a bad reputation: boring, lengthy, prescriptive. But Palmer insists that compliance is an opportunity: “Organizations and the people within them have an opportunity to do better. They have an opportunity to help society.”

She shared, “The world has created a false dichotomy between doing the ‘right thing’ and making money. But there doesn’t have to be a conflict between those two things. Compliance is a tool that helps people to understand that you can do well in business, and you can do it the right way.”

According to Palmer, one of the most important skills for any compliance professional to hone is empathy. “Compliance is meant to protect people,” she said. “By protecting people, you inherently protect the organizations where they work.”

By showing empathy and understanding of people’s stressors, personal circumstances, knowledge gaps, insecurities, confidences, and more, you can get a better sense of what they need to know, and how they can best receive that information.

“It’s easy to read a law and spit it back out to someone,” said Palmer. “But you also need to know if that person cares, understands, knows how to apply it, and can be successful in following that law. It’s a remarkable skill.”

Embracing A Culture Of Compliance

Believe it or not, compliance is not about knowing all the rules. It is about knowing what to do when you don’t know the rules. According to Palmer, “If you make it a point to teach your team what you believe to be the ‘right’ behaviors, you have empowered them to take the ‘right’ actions. Compliance is all about vulnerability and knowing how, and when, to ask for help.”

This pathos often comes from the top down in an organization. Employees need to have ethical role models within their organization to help empower them to do the right thing.

“Compliance failures happen when people are allowed to – or are encouraged to – cut corners. Or when they see other people cutting corners,” said Palmer.

Her advice? A strong compliance program encourages people to learn – and trusts that they have the information they need to be compliant. But, it also has controls in place to ensure accountability—trust but verify.


Skillsoft was thrilled to welcome Asha Palmer to our compliance team in 2022, and we’re excited that she is already making significant contributions. If you’re curious to know more about her, and her view on ethics and compliance, take a look at the short Q&A below:

What’s something you wish more people talked about in compliance?

We need to find ways to make compliance fun and exciting! Too often, organizations settle for mundane compliance training sessions, when they could be using their resources to facilitate powerful conversations on what works and what doesn’t work.

There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ solution for compliance – we have to challenge each other to make the industry better. How is your organization engaging people in your compliance training? How have you empowered your team?

We tend to keep our compliance programs so close to the chest, but transparency is what we need to succeed.

What’s the biggest risk facing organizations when it comes to compliance?

In remote world, compliance officers can’t be in every room. That means that you will ultimately encounter some blind spots. As our SVP of Legal Compliance Stephen Martin mentioned in a recent blog post, it is so important to be proactive in your compliance program so you can anticipate these areas of risk.

What’s the role of technology in compliance?

Technology is a necessary part of compliance, but it is not the only part of compliance. We need to leverage technology to create effective and efficient programs – and technology provides the reach and access to data that we need to do that.

But, we have to remember to include a human touch in everything we do related to compliance. That’s where the true benefits come to life. Humans need to look at outcomes and tailor their compliance programing to the data. It’s up to us to interpret the information we receive.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

Always be kind. It is so simple, yet it can be so difficult. But when you lead with kindness and empathy, when you truly put yourself in someone else’s shoes, you reach better outcomes and, Honestly, you sleep better at night.

Want to get to know Asha Palmer better? Reach out to us with any questions!