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Case Study (Roles): Harassment Prevention

Submitted by  on January 23rd, 2014

business man with boxing glovesI see clarifying roles and performance expectations with employees as a necessary activity before training starts. Where this is not done or done poorly, training can quickly go off the rails. My reason for highlighting this factor is that in some ill-prepared training programs, employees return to their jobs after the training confused and disheartened.

This confusion and drop in morale arises when the impetus for the training is some change in the workplace. New tasks may be introduced or some tasks are discontinued as a result of a merger, system upgrade, product expansion or any of a host of other reasons. With the change comes new employee roles and changed responsibilities. It is when these changes are not communicated and agreed with the training program attendees before the training starts that the trouble begins.

I wrote about the importance of clarifying roles and responsibilities in my Expert View: Training Expectations: Roles and Performance. I now want to flesh out my approach with some real-life examples. For this, I will return to the company I used in my previous case study illustrating the importance of policies and procedures to the success of training. In this example, the partners of a medium-sized accounting business had implemented anti-harassment training to its employees after a middle-manager engaged in some questionable interactions with an employee.

Roles and Responsibilities is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

Fearing litigation, and with the help of the Human Resources Manager, the company hurriedly conscripted an external training company to roll out harassment prevention training. In spite of more than 90% of employees attending the training, the case went to litigation, with the company making a substantial payout to the aggrieved employee.

A later review by an independent consultant found the harassment prevention program was not backed up by the organization’s systems and processes. The program lacked a supporting infrastructure. An interview with the harassing manager revealed that they considered the program a “one hit wonder” and that everything would be back to “business as usual” in no time.

If you were one of the partners with this firm, what would you do to bolster the program and prevent a similar occurrence in the future? Compare your notes below with the steps the partners actually implemented.

One remedial action the partners took immediately was to update each manager’s role description to include the following responsibility:

– not subject any employee to harassing or discriminatory behavior

Their second action was to require each manager’s manager to sit down with each of their direct reports to discuss the organization’s expectations. The newly revised role descriptions provided the necessary support for each manager for this important conversation. The two-way dialogue that ensued allowed for a common understanding to develop and reinforced the message that the organization is serious about stamping out harassment.

This conviction followed through to changes in how the Human Resources department was organized. The independent review uncovered that after employees completed the training, the aggrieved employee had approached the Human Resources department with their complaint of harassment, only to be met with delays and indecision.

None of the Human Resources consultants approached saw it is as their responsibility to see the complaint through to final resolution. The complainant gave up, realizing that the organization’s internal processes were of no help. Following the review, the Human Resources Manager created a new role of Harassment and Discrimination Officer. She moved an existing consultant into the role and delegated some of their previous responsibilities to other consultants. Finally, role descriptions were updated and agreed by all concerned.

What do you think of the partners’ actions? What more would you have done or done differently? Share your thoughts below. With this case study, I hope to have illustrated just how important it is for you and your managers to discuss and agree changes in employee roles and responsibilities before employees undertake your next training program.

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Do your managers need help in communicating with your employees in times of change? Download Leslie Allan’s popular Managing Change in the Workplace guide and workbook. His guide covers every aspect of communicating change and leading a successful change project. As you work through the guide, you will complete a series of practical exercises that will help you plan and manage your change initiative for maximum impact. Find out more about Leslie’s Managing Change in the Workplace and download the free introductory chapter today.

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