This training could save you from a $1.875 million lawsuit!

Would you like to be on the losing end of a lawsuit that cost your employer $1.875 million because you were too buddy-buddy with your hourly, non-exempt staff?

Personally, I would not like to be the cause for a multi-million dollar court award against my employer. And I would hang on every last word a trainer says in order to prevent being put in a position to lose a court decision like that.

Last week I had an opportunity to attend a manager training which was led by an employment attorney. By the end of the three-hour training, she had clicked through 152 slides and somehow she covered FIVE HUNDRED AND THIRTY SEVEN BULLET POINTS during this session. She was efficient with the pace by which she blitzed through her material. Mind-numbingly boring… but efficient.

Yet for some reason she didn’t attempt to open our eyes to the real-world, real-money consequences of our actions as managers until she was two hours (and 148 slides) into her presentation.

Everything Wrong with Corporate Training

This 3-hour session represents everything that’s wrong with corporate training:

  • 17 managers invest a combined 51 work hours of their time in attending this session.
  • The outside expert (in this case an employment attorney) is given a pre-packaged, non-customized slide deck to run through.
  • She adds a few stories from the trenches to illustrate her points (537 bullet points to be exact) and she encourages people to ask questions so that the training can be “interactive”.
  • And people walk away entertained by the stories, thinking the presenter was good and nobody will ever know whether any of the 17 managers in attendance can do things better or differently as a result of the 51 combined hours they invested in this session.

The managers were never asked to demonstrate proficiency in a single skill that could avoid a $1.875 million lawsuit. The managers weren’t given an opportunity to test their skills at identifying what unintentional discrimination in the workplace might look like. The managers were never challenged to describe what “appropriate documentation” might include.

Fixing Corporate Training Isn’t Really That Hard

Following the training, I was speaking with another manager who had attended the session and he said how surprised he was that the speaker didn’t even ask us whether we did certain things during recruitment, interview or regular supervision activities that might get us into legal trouble.

Just ask a question

One of the simplest ways for a presenter to customize a session, even if it’s on the fly and in the moment, is to ask questions of the audience. Give us a pop quiz. Or just ask to see a show of hands and start a sentence with: “How many of you…”

Discuss a brief case study

I’m sure that employment attorneys have seen many, many cases that involve “grey areas” – actions in which one side could claim discrimination and the other side could claim that they were treating each employee fairly and equitably. Another simple way to engage the group and check to see if they’re “getting it” is to show a few case studies and ask the managers what they would do in certain situations.

Show a video

Similar to the case study idea, simply showing the group a video or two and asking what the managers identify as appropriate or inappropriate management strategies is yet another way to see if the group is “getting it.”

Mock Trial

Finally, if you really want to scare the heck out of the managers (and the executive staff), or perhaps better said, if you really want everyone in the organization to take this topic seriously, it would be fun to present the managers with some information and then ask them to demonstrate how they’d handle the scenario. Once they complete their demonstration, the attorney/facilitator could either say:

  • Congratulations, you handled that well! Or,
  • Bummer. Your organization now owes that employee $1.875 million

Have any ideas that are different from what’s described above in order to fix corporate training? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Are You A Racist? When It Comes To Training, Words Matter.

I was participating in a session on coaching last week when an argument erupted.

The facilitator suggested that a continuum exists in which consulting lies at one extreme and coaching lies at the opposite end.  Once we got into a demonstration of what coaching looked like, one participant (with a consulting background) observed that the coaching demonstration – in which the coach asked a lot of questions in order to better understand some of the root causes – looked exactly like consulting. Others insisted that consulting is just another word for being directive and having all the answers while coaching is a process to help others find their own answers. We were using the same words in fundamentally different ways.

I’ve seen these arguments before, perhaps most dramatically in a training course focused on diversity. Some people used words such as discrimination and prejudice and racism interchangeably, while others felt these words were quite distinct. Tensions rose quickly, feelings were hurt and discussions quickly got out of control.

Conversations can’t be constructive when people are left to assume that everyone uses the same definition of key terms and concepts.  Over the course of today, several hundred people will read this post. If every reader was to write the definition of the word “racism” in the comment section below, we could easily collect more than a hundred different definitions.

Diversity of thought and experience can lead to some great conversation, but only if everyone agrees to use key words and concepts in the same way. We can only have a constructive conversation around things like coaching vs. consulting or how to “undo” racism if everyone in the training room first agrees with how the words will be used.

Definitions of key words or concepts within the training setting may not be the exact way that participants would use these terms outside of the training room, but it is absolutely crucial that everyone agree on how key words and concepts will be used during the training. I remember sitting through a training course when the definition of racism was reduced to a mathematical equation: racial prejudice + systemic power = racism (therefore all white people are racist and people of color cannot be racist).  I completely disagreed with the parenthetical conclusion that seemed to be attached to this definition, but at least I could participate in the conversation because I understood how the word “racism” was being used.

Spending some time in the beginning of a training session to establish definitions for key concepts can help avoid arguments that otherwise would arise when people use the same word to mean different things. Establishing a common vocabulary from the beginning is an essential job duty for anyone who has been given the responsibility to facilitate a conversation.

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