How often have you heard people in your organization complain that “training doesn’t work”? I hear that sentiment all the time in conjunction with training on behavioral issues such as discrimination, inclusion, respect and civility.

Often, I have to agree: Training doesn’t work — or, rather, training alone doesn’t work.

Changing behavior is not a matter of simply conveying knowledge. The Harvey Weinsteins of the world don’t act the way they do because they are ignorant or don’t know better. Rather, they misbehave because they believe they do not need to abide by the law or policy or because they know they can get away with it. Training alone does not solve these problems.

Even today, organizations often act as if training were the solution to a wide range of problems. In fact, the solution to these problems starts with a commitment to cultural change, with building an environment that, day in and day out, naturally reinforces the right behaviors and corrects the wrong ones.

The challenge is being able to convince leaders and managers to create an environment where training lessons are reinforced and translated to everyday work and where employees are included in solutions. Leaders’ behavior must align with standards. Both leaders and team members must also be convinced that they’re expected to speak up and even, at times, intercede to stop improper behaviors. And, they must know they will be safe in doing so.

One way to approach this challenge is to talk with leaders about the 5Cs: commitment, communication, content, consequences and continuity.

1. Commitment

There must be credible, unwavering commitment to stopping harassment and improper conduct, starting with the leaders at the top. Through behavior, not just words, they must deliver a three-pronged message:

  • The organization will not tolerate improper behavior.
  • All employees are encouraged to come forward and report concerns.
  • Values like respect, civility and inclusion matter.

Leaders must charge others with supporting this initiative, create urgency as they would with any other crisis, and commit their energies and resources to taking action whenever inappropriate behavior appears.

2. Communication

Imagine that you’re a manager talking to your team or a supervisor out on the factory floor, and you hear some employees start to banter in a way that is inappropriate. What do you think is the most effective form of communication?

Managers must be able to intervene in the moment and say something like, “We talked about this last week, and your chatter is not how we operate here. These kinds of comments are demeaning to some employees, and we are an organization where every employee is treated with respect and made to feel included.”

Now, imagine the opposite situation: During a meeting, manager or supervisor observes someone going out of his or her way to make sure that everyone in a group has a chance to speak up while others listen with respect. Again, the leader should speak up to acknowledge the efforts of the employee to increase professionalism and inclusion in the workplace.

These kinds of everyday communications with employees are at the core of turning a one-time training event into an ongoing way of life for the organization.

3. Content

“Content” includes all the material and infrastructure used to communicate with employees, including policies, training materials, hotlines, complaint processes, annual reports and letters from the CEO. Having the right content is not enough, but these materials are essential elements in creating an environment where the organization teaches and reinforces consistent messages about what is or what is not acceptable.

4. Consequences

Actions speak louder than words. When standards are violated, action must be taken. Giving a pass to superstars or big shots at any level undermines the credibility and seriousness of the organization’s commitment and is a death knell for serious change. The same principle holds when standards are upheld: Acknowledgement and reinforcement should follow.

Whether for correction or positive reinforcement, the organization should define a spectrum of consequences and make sure that leaders at all levels are equipped to enforce them.

5. Continuity

Changing long-standing behaviors and maintaining new habits requires persistence. A superficial plan will lead to cosmetic and fleeting results. As with any other cultural or operational initiatives, like safety, sales and quality, commitment to such matters as civility, inclusion, non-discrimination and non-harassment must be ongoing. To be effective and long lasting, they might have an official start but will have no end.

Leaders must be persistent and consistent in their behaviors. Training must be followed up by reinforcement. Standards should be regularly discussed with the workforce at all levels.

Inexpensive Investments Can Boost Training Effectiveness

Clearly, issues of discrimination and harassment still exist, making it clear that policies and training alone are not enough to solve behavioral challenges. It takes more. Fortunately, the 5 Cs are relatively inexpensive in terms of dollars spent, and they will reduce the incidence of unacceptable behavior and create a more productive workplace. The biggest “costs” are measured in terms of leadership attention and organizational commitment — but that’s what it takes when training alone doesn’t work.

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