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Why most harassment training fails and why some approaches succeed

“Ultimately, the ‘gold standard’ for sexual harassment training is to reduce sexual harassment. To date, however, only one research study has looked at this outcome. And it found that the training was ineffective.”- Vicky J. Magley, Joanna L. Grossman, 2017

If, like me, you’re an L&D or HR professional tasked with building and maintaining effective anti-harassment training, finding out that most harassment training fails will prompt some worrying questions. Why, specifically, does it fail? What (if anything) does work? Here’s what I found out.

 

Why does harassment training fail?

As you’ll have guessed, there are many reasons. Let’s look at two of the biggest.

First, harassment training is often developed to limit liability in the event of an incident. This has been the case since 2008 when two U.S. Supreme Court cases determined that, for a company to avoid liability it had to show that it had trained employees on its anti-harassment policies.

To make sure this box is ticked, many companies turn to the least expensive, least time-consuming and regrettably least engaging solutions: mandatory policy reviews, dense e-learning, lengthy PowerPoint presentations, or lectures.

Second, the belief that lack of understanding of harassment must come from a lack of information, and that if training provides the missing information – what harassment is, why it’s harmful, and why it’s illegal – then behaviour will change. Unfortunately, research shows that being given more information is unlikely to change behavior.

In fact, legal or policy-based information that pigeonholes people as harassers and victims can make participants uncomfortable, prompting defensive humour, reinforcing stereotypes, even making harassment worse. Why? The very targets of harassment training may feel an identity threat, and when deep convictions are challenged, harmful beliefs sometimes get stronger.

 

As training fails, harassment continues.

I’ve found that my clients sometimes think that their workplaces are immune to harassment because they are already working so hard to reduce harassment. If you feel that way, too, remember that to one degree or another, we all suffer from confirmation bias and that despite your work and the efforts of the #MeToo movement, harassment continues. The stats about its impact on victims and bystanders are staggering. Global numbers vary but an Australian study revealed that:

  • As many as 6.8% of employees are currently being harassed;
  • Up to 33% of employees have been harassed; and,
  • More than half of employees have witnessed harassment.

The personal costs are high and so are business risks. Of employees who have been harassed:

  • 75% miss work;
  • 65% experience lasting impacts;
  • 50% eventually quit.

Imagine the results: decreased productivity, trust, loyalty and morale; increased illness, injury, and turnover; and public image issues. And, while there are too few conclusive studies about business  costs, common sense dictates that ongoing harassment is bad for business.

 

Training is only part of the solution

In the face of compelling data that points to the high cost of harassment, if you’re responsible for workplace harassment training, you need to start by thinking beyond training. Start by influencing your organizational culture.

Encourage leadership to foster a positive culture in which all everyone is treated as equal and employees treat one another with civility and respect. Support the development of a responsive culture with open and frequent communication and respect at all levels. If you can, help to develop and communicate a clear policy on harassment and keep it current.

Harassment training does not happen in a vacuum. Without an inclusive and ethical corporate culture supporting and surrounding it, workplace harassment training will almost certainly fail.

 

Harassment training that DOES work

If you’ve done everything you can to build the right corporate culture, one that is inclusive, ethical and civil, here’s how to build harassment training that works:

  1. Engage and involve leadership. It must be clear that from the top of the house on down harassment will not be tolerated. In fact, for best effect, all leaders must unequivocally endorse training and clarify that it is to be taken seriously. You should consider having the CEO or a senior leader kick-off each session – in person.
  2. Train in person and in depth. Online or virtual training can help you cover the basics – especially if it includes a video of the CEO that sets the standard – but the best harassment training should be at least four hours long, in-person and facilitated by a professional.
  3. Make it interactive, engaging and real-life. In addition to clarifying definitions and policies, you should include facilitated dialogue, Q&A sessions, video or better yet live demonstration, practice, roleplay and feedback. Include tough questions: What did you see? What would you do? I’ve found that after live demonstrations the same scenario will evoke different interpretations. A skilled facilitator can help people see this and build awareness of misunderstandings.
  4. Include civility training. Rude or uncivil behaviour may not be illegal, but it is the gateway to harassment. Harassment training must communicate this. Again, you can use live actors, demonstrations and roleplays to really demonstrate the importance of civility.
  5. Include bystander training. Stopping workplace harassment and breaking ongoing cycles of harassment requires changes in the behaviour of bystanders. Teach bystanders not just how to report harassment but also how and when to safely intervene and how to respond to the harasser and victim afterward. Include demonstration and roleplay on this topic. Encourage people to practice responding and measure the change in their responses. I found that the ability to respond appropriately nearly doubled after three practice activities. That kind of data is powerful proof for your stakeholders and clients.
  6. Run training frequently. Start with basic info for new hires and the follow up with an extended awareness session. Update training regularly and retrain employees routinely. If your organization is small or widely distributed, explore options for virtual, live, one-on-one training.
  7. Train managers and employees separately. Employees need to know the basics on respectful and professional behavior. They need to know where to turn if they are the victims or bystanders. The need to practice responding and reporting. Managers need to know how to end uncivil conduct, how to avoid liability, how to handle reports, the investigation process and anti-retaliation rules. They need to practice responding: reactively and proactively.
  8. Provide clear, specific examples. Avoid generalities. Address harassment in all its forms –sexual, gender-based, racial, ethnic or religious. Cover both what is unacceptable and illegal. Include and differentiate between what is severe and what is subtle. Demonstrate and practice how to respond in the moment and/or later.

 

You are a change agent. Whether you are a leader, an HR professional or an L&D specialist, you have a special role in reducing the incidence of workplace harassment. Now that you know why training can fail and what does work, use that knowledge to make your workplace a safer, more respectful place.

Every Great Conversation

by Randy Sabourin

I believe that the most important things that happen at any organization are conversations. They are the reason we innovate, collaborate, sell, lead, coach, change, succeed, or fail. A salesperson who struggles to have meaningful customer conversations, a leader who is misunderstood when implementing strategy, or a manager who prefers to avoid coaching conversations are all negatively affecting their organizations. Given its significance to success, why is it that most organizations and individuals take their ability to execute a great conversation for granted? Understanding how we communicate with each other and how we influence and collaborate should be discussed, taught, and – most importantly – practiced.

The fundamentals of a good conversation remain consistent across a variety of business and personal situations. Training programs in sales or customer service, negotiation, coaching, and leadership all contain the same foundational elements. These are often re-taught or re-invented by providers to package a complete solution. These programs require a detailed list of skills for participants to master. For example, when learning how to coach it is critical to understand many steps – or skills – such as establishing trust, setting an agenda, observing behavior, giving feedback, gaining commitment, and many more. It is important to receive feedback on these individual skills so that they can be understood and leveraged. In each program, the number of measurable skills to learn and practice can range from ten to thirty.

During an actual conversation, it is unrealistic, complicated, and even a distraction to try and recall every step within each process and program we have learned. Brain-based learning research tells us that when we are engaged in a conversation – listening, understanding new ideas, and adapting our opinions – we require a much simpler model to simply recall the various skills associated with the exchange.

There are four foundational elements that can be applied to business or personal conversations, and that are simple enough to stick. They act as an effective foundation for any communication-based program.

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Learning to Make Mistakes

“You know nothing Jon Snow” – Ygritte, Wildling, Beyond the Wall (George RR Martin)

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I will continue to make them in the future. Although it’s very hard to accept at the time, the more mistakes I make, the better I become. No one is an expert, or even any good, after the first or even after several attempts at a new skill. Failure and mistakes are the way we learn and develop skills. This is particularly true of interpersonal business skills that require an improvisational approach such as leadership, sales or coaching conversations. “Learning from our mistakes” is a common concept that most of us believe in, but do we put it into action? Is it part of our corporate culture, L&D (Learning and Development) or Talent Development strategy? I’d say not very often. In fact, I’d say that most organizations have a very low tolerance for failure and mistakes and perhaps understandably so, considering that mistakes often cost money.

If you see a star in your organization that is a better salesperson or coach than you are, that means they have had the time and opportunity to fail more often than you have. The star salesperson held up as an example of how everyone on the team should be executing the sales process is the star because they have had more opportunities to fail. Put another way, the scope of your success is based on how many mistakes you’ve made, assuming of course that you’ve learned from your mistakes and don’t make the same ones again and again. If you believe that some people are just naturally gifted salespeople or leaders, think again.  Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated (2008), and Andres Ericsson in Peak, Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) both make a compelling argument through research that whether it’s sales, business, music, or athletics, individuals that work hard and practice far longer and more effectively than their peers are more successful. No one is born a great investment banker, coach, or salesperson – they’ve had the opportunity to survive the consequences of their failures and have taken advantage of them by learning and improving.   

It’s clear that you need to make mistakes in order to learn but how many mistakes can a person afford to make on the job before they’re asked to move on? The answer, like the answer to most difficult questions, is that it depends. Continue reading

1:1 Deliberate Learning & Practice – Case Study

1:1 Deliberate Learning & Practice – NO Workshop Sales Training

Practica Learning combines 1:1 Learning and Scenario-Based Deliberate Practice to deliver a new approach to training a large or small group of participants quickly and cost effectively. The objective of this approach is to reduce the costs associated with low-retention Instructor Lead Training (ITL) and increase the skill level of each participant.

Executive Summary

Practica Learning has successfully designed and delivered a 1:1 Learning Program that converted two days of traditional workshop content into two forty-five minute 1:1 ‘tutorial’ sessions delivered over the telephone or synchronous video.  By removing learning in a group environment we can reduce the time spent by each participant in non-productive classroom activities. Each participant remains free from distraction and can focus, along with the facilitator, on understanding the content and developing skill. The motivation for this methodology is to quickly and cost-effectively increase the knowledge and skill level for conversation-based interactions such as coaching, customer service, sales, leadership development, change, diversity, and performance management. This case study concentrates on delivering a sales conversation process to 500 Salespeople.

The solution leverages a combination of:

  1. Facilitated content delivered through 1:1 tutorial sessions

  2. Interleaving and Spaced practice scenarios supported by feedback and coaching

  3. Roleplayer Coach assessment and feedback

The benefits:

  • Increase time to value for learning deployment and skill improvements

  • Measure performance and development of each participant by skill

  • Decrease cost per participant

  • Decrease time out of office, travel, lost opportunities

  • Remove all training licensing fees

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The Missing Link – How to Really Get ROI from Your Expensive Sales Methodology

Executive Summary: There’s a better way to get ROI from your sales enablement investment and empower your salespeople to have value-based conversations with their prospects. It’s called “deliberate practice,” and it’s helping enterprise sales organizations create high-performance sales teams by moving average salespeople to the top tier and getting more consistent results from their top performers.

click to read full article – pdf 

Fixing Diversity Programs – Diversity, Inclusion, and Deliberate Practice

By Randy Sabourin

No one should be arguing against increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Strategically, ethically, and financially it makes sense that organizations can benefit from being diverse.  The Return on Investment (ROI) for a diverse workplace has been widely accepted by most CEOs and Leaders and backed by studies with impressive statistics such as:

bubblesdiverseDespite the power of these statistics and potential bottom-line impact, the lack of success of the majority of Diversity and Inclusion Programs (D&I) has been a stellar disappointment. The needle is just not moving. Why? It’s not from the lack of trying. Most large corporations have created positions, developed programs, and spent significant funds. Most major D&I change programs begin with an awareness stage. Videos, corporate communications, and workshops are the usual delivery systems. The purpose of the awareness stage is to define the challenge and set the goal to move toward. It’s an intellectual knowledge-transfer phase that is very important, and one that most organizations have completed. Continue reading

Tasty Feedback

The nature of our business brings us into constant direct contact with learners. Engaging hundreds of learners weekly in 1:1 deliberate practice means our professional Roleplayers need to quickly establish trust and credibility in order to give feedback and coaching, in what can be very intense and emotionally charged scenarios. Our Roleplayers are amazing. They bring a huge amount of experience, passion and energy to their work and spend many hours practicing and training. Practica Learning is in high demand because of the quality of the interactions our Roleplayers provide and the success and satisfaction of our clients prove this every day. Continue reading

The Competitive Advantage of Deliberate Practice

  by Randy Sabourin

One of the most critical competitive advantages for any organization is the skill level at which their people have important conversations. Interpersonal interactions, whether customer-facing, coaching, diversity & inclusion or leadership, can positively or negatively affect an organization more than a marketing campaign, a recognizable logo, a great product, or a good price. Business leaders look to Learning and Development (L&D) to deliver this competitive advantage across the organization with the expectation of a greater return on their investment every year.

deliberate-practiceWe are about to witness a fundamental shift in the way L&D organizations deliver on this mandate. To be an expert at an interpersonal skill, whether internal or client-facing, knowledge of the process is only half of the equation. Converting knowledge into a skill, or crossing the ‘know – do’ gap will be the new strategic objective for leadership and L&D.

L&D has traditionally focused on transferring knowle
dge to their learners in the form of workshops, e-learning, videos, etc. According to research from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), 80% of L&D budgets are allocated to these traditional knowledge transfer methods, with 50% being instructor-led training (workshops). The evolution of technology has enabled L&D to deliver knowledge from a vast variety of sources to a learner’s preferred device, all at an effective cost . The art of curating content is becoming more and more valuable to organizations. For example, having access to an unlimited amount of songs becomes a burden without the aid of curated playlists. L&D organizations have become extremely good at delivering knowledge to their learners. However, knowledge is not skill.
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How to get your Coaching Program to Carnegie Hall

By Randy Sabourin

There’s an old joke that goes like this: a pedestrian in Manhattan stopped Jascha Heifetz, a famous and incredibly talented violinist and, in the mid-1950’s, a household name.

“Excuse me, ” the pedestrian inquired. “Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Yes,” said Heifetz. “Practice, practice, practice!” Jascha_Heifetz

I think everyone would agree with the premise that if you practice something you will get better at it. Seems simple enough, but there are a few challenges in the execution of practice that deserve more exploration. How you deliver practice makes all the difference to whether you remember what you’ve been taught and how you turn that knowledge into a skill. You can read a book about how to play the violin but it takes a lot of practice to perform at Carnegie Hall. The same is true for coaching. Delivering or understanding a coaching process is not a particularly difficult task, and can be achieved by eLearning, a traditional workshop, or even reading a book. However, actually becoming a coach is much more difficult, and practice is the tool of choice.

There has been significant research about how to practice more effectively. Cementing new learning in long-term memory requires a process known as consolidation, in which memory traces Continue reading

Where The Bullets Aren’t (or – how Survivorship Bias and WWII Mathematicians can inform your L&D strategy)

 by Randy Sabourin

In order to continually improve our Learning & Development designs and deployments we frequently look to successful participants, members of our team, or the industry to try to understand what learning strategies we can glean from their success. This is a strategy I am often asked to execute when creating coaching or sales training programs for clients. Certainly there is a good deal to be learned from the most successful in any organization, however isolating them as the only source of ‘best practice’ is a very limited and potentially dangerous perspective. There are critical lessons to be learned from those who fail and those who may have moved on. It is sometimes difficult to recognize situations where Survivorship Bias affects our decision making negatively.

toughplane.jpg

I find the stories about very smart people using math, technology, and brainpower to defeat the enemy during WWII fascinating. One of the lesser known stories that has offered valuable business insights for me is that of Abraham Wald.

Abraham Wald was a brilliant Hungarian mathematician, grandson of a Rabbi, son of a kosher baker, who was forced to immigrate to the United States in the late 1930s as Nazi Germany’s influence made life very difficult. Wald was invited to Columbia University and fought his war as part of the Statistical Research Group (SRG) think tank. SRG was the mathematical equivalent of the Manhattan project, but using statistics as opposed to explosions. The group of mathematicians solved some of the most important problems facing the Allied war effort: where guns should be placed on planes, fuel mixtures for optimal distances, torpedo barrages, bombing patterns, and numerous other problems that require mathematical expertise to be applied to real life situations.

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