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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.

The Surprising Facts About Bullying and Harassment

Last year at Practica Learning as we began our research into effective workplace anti-harassment training, we were shocked by how pervasive harassment remains. In spite of improvements to legislation, and the increased awareness that MeToo has brought, harassment is more common that we thought and its impacts more worrying. Here’s an info-graphic depicting some of what we found.

Building a safer workplace

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.

Continue reading

How to Differentiate Your Outbound Sales Calls

by Doug Robertson

“Until recently, we’ve been lucky. Because of our brand, we had lots of inbound calls. Today though, that stream is drying up and we have to extract more business from our existing clients. That means we need our sales crew to maximize every interaction – including outbound follow-up calls. But outbound calling is a very different skill set… and we’re anxious. We’re not sure what to do.”-  Retail Sales Executive

As a sales training firm, we’re hearing that outbound calling, even cold calling, is becoming more important. And while there are sometimes cultural, operational, or structural factors that make this kind of selling a challenge, often the biggest barrier is skill.business-conversation-design_1133-88

When skill is the issue, training plays a role and there are plenty of excellent training solution providers that can help teach new skills. But beware, not all training solutions are created equally. Only a few solutions build the skills that can truly differentiate your outbound call from those of your competition.

 Outbound Calling Skills that Differentiate

If you want your outbound calls to stand out from the rest, here are a few skills that your outbound calling team must know and do:

  1. Introduce themselves – clearly and slowly – and acknowledge their call was unexpected
  2. Ask permission to explain why they’re calling
  3. Immediately position the reason for their call, in terms of its value to their prospect
  4. Set specific time and outcome expectations and ask for permission to continue the conversation
  5. Ask two to four open-ended questions that cannot be answered with a “yes” or “no”– questions carefully planned and focused on prospects’ specific needs, values, hopes
  6. Listen closely and actively and play back what they’ve heard using their prospect’s own words
  7. Position their solution using engaging language
  8. Ask for the business and when they get it, agree on specific next steps

 

Bridging the Know/Do Gap Continue reading

Strategy – Check. Execution – Needs Practice!

By Randy Sabourin

“A lot of thought and consultant dollars were spent to create a new set of seventeen leadership competencies. Those seventeen competencies should be manifested through our four core values. This strategy will drive a culture change throughout our organization starting with our Leadership team. The competencies and values should be evident in the behavior of our people throughout the organization.  Due to the lack of integration over the last two years, we have simplified the number of competencies to nine. The CEO believes that if our Leadership adapts and displays these values and competencies, it will effect the change in our organization we require to be successful.”complex

This opening statement led to a robust discussion that explored the common challenges of bringing a strategy to fruition.

Organizational change, Leadership Development, or any learning initiative, requires three very fundamental components in order to be successful. The first is strategy which has spawned a multi-billion dollar consultancy industry. There is no end to resources to help any organization figure out where they are, what they are doing wrong, and what they should be doing to get where they want to be. An overwhelming amount of complexity gets built into the process disguised as value, due mostly to the amount of budget being allocated. It gives us a clue to why the above statement of a leadership-driven culture change failed and will continue to fail. It’s far too complex. Years of research shows that changing one or two behaviors is very difficult. The complexity of remembering thirty-six behaviors let alone applying them to real situations is doomed to failure. Complexity is not the only reason this initiative will continue to flounder. Continue reading

The Two Most Common Missing Ingredients of Great Sales Conversations

by Randy Sabourin

A sales conversation can be a beautiful thing; it can flow, it can be fun, and it can pay the bills.  It can also establish creditability, build trust and become the catalyst for a relationship of mutual respect. But it can also be heavy lifting, it can feel like a battle, it can be full of frustration, and you can walk away feeling further behind. And though both parties are responsible for the outcome, the salesperson is accountable for its success.empathy_curiosity

I’ve personally conducted, observed and coached thousands of sales conversations: successful and otherwise. For over 17 years, our organization has helped salespeople practice hundreds of thousands of sales conversations. We’ve tracked the performance of every salesperson in every one of these conversations. Through this process, we have also coached on every conceivable sales model and process in every market in North America and around the world.

With all this qualitative and quantitative data I can say that the two most important skills (and the two that are often performed worst) are curiosity and empathy. Continue reading

The Battle For Attention – (we can’t afford to be boring anymore)

By Randy Sabourin

The two significant outcomes of Learning & Development (L&D) organizations are increasing the knowledge and improving the skill of its participants. The currency that learners pay for these outcomes is their attention, which has been a highly-valued commodity ever since stall merchants competed for it by calling out at market to sell their goods. Today, our attention is demanded by theblog2 screens that we work and play on, advertising designed to prey on our deepest fears and dreams, and of course, the really important things like family, friends, walking the dog – you know, reality.  Combine this well-crafted assault on our attention and our obligations to reality it’s no wonder that when you see the data on the meager effectiveness of traditional L&D programs like Leadership Development, Sales Training and Coaching, they are typically the first to have their budgets questioned. Consider the following numbers released at a recent industry event:

  • 43% of employees reported being bored and disengaged at work
  • 80% of those believe that the opportunity to learn new skills would increase their engagement
  • 45% of employees believe that learning offered to them in their organization is not applicable to their day-to-day
  • 94% of CEOs are looking to their L&D teams to drive results
  • Only 8% are satisfied that they are getting what they need from traditional L&D.

Clearly, there is a demand for effective learning from executives and employees. However, the results speak for themselves.

Continue reading

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

Continue reading

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 

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