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Case Study (Procedures): Harassment Prevention
Submitted by Leslie Allan on December 21st, 2013
In my article on how to effectively integrate company procedures into training programs, I shared six lessons for doing this well. My reason for sharing these important lessons is that many organizations divorce what goes on in their training programs from what employees do in their day-to-day jobs.
It’s as if employees migrate between two entirely different worlds. They leave the world of the workplace to enter the training world for a few hours to a few days. And then they return to the world of the workplace, with the two worlds never seeming to meet. The repercussions of this disconnect is that employees either hardly get the opportunity to apply their learning to their real job or they quickly get frustrated at the lack of opportunity and give up.
In this blog post, I want to illustrate a couple of my lessons with a real-life example of what can go wrong and share ideas on how to fix the disconnect. I want to start with my Lesson 3. This lesson talks about the need for the relevant management systems to be in place for when employees return to their workplace following the training.
The case study below centers on a medium-sized accounting firm rolling out harassment prevention training to all of its employees. This training was prompted by the questionable actions of one of the firm’s middle-level managers. The Human Resources Manager advised the partners of the firm that the cost of litigation would be high if they were taken to court over mistreatment of an employee.
The partners organized the Human Resources Manager to hurriedly roll out harassment prevention training using a well-known external training vendor. In the end, even though the training was made mandatory for all employees, the company failed to avoid a protracted court case and an expensive settlement.
Even though all the parties to the harassment claim attended the training, the harassing activities did not cease. What went wrong? With no reporting, escalation and investigation structures in place, the harassing manager felt no compulsion to change their behavior. And the aggrieved party was reluctant to suffer the extreme stress they would experience in confronting the accused at a mediation session. With no outward sign of commitment, the complainant felt that the firm was just “going through the motions” with the training program.
A later review by a training specialist uncovered a number of shortcomings. Chief among these was that the training was not backed up with institutional structures and systems. The training specialist pointed out that there was no written and publicized anti-harassment policy. How would such a policy look? Here is a typical anti-harassment policy:
Acme Accounting is committed to ensuring a healthy and safe workplace that is free from workplace harassment. Workplace harassment is unacceptable and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.
Advisedly, the policy should also include a definition of what constitutes harassing behavior. To put flesh on this skeleton, a procedure should also be written with these key elements:
- management actions to reduce the risk of harassment occurring
- who to see to discuss or report an incident
- how an incident is investigated
- what disciplinary action is taken if the incident is confirmed
At the next level of detail, work instructions should be written for use by Human Resources consultants. Two such work instructions could provide step-by-step instructions for:
filing a harassment claim, and
conducting an investigation
When policies and procedures such as these are written prior to the rollout of a training program, they can be used very effectively during the program. This is what my Lesson 5 is all about. In this example, employees could have walked through the actual procedures covering how to make a complaint, attending investigative interviews, and so on. Training sessions for specialist staff, such as Human Resources officers charged with managing complaints, could have worked through the work instructions mentioned above.
This case study illustrates how neglecting putting systems, policies and procedures in place before a training program begins can be a very expensive mistake. Much time, money and stress is avoided when managers and training program designers work together to ensure that systems are ready to roll as soon as program participants complete the training program. In future blog posts, I will visit other real-life examples illustrating how to maximize the impact of training programs. Stay tuned!
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