of harassment in the industry. And the American Bar Association has taken action over the past few years to strengthen the Model Rules of Professional Conduct and urge all employers in the legal profession to adopt and enforce policies and procedures to prevent and address discrimination and harassment. And now, firms are seeking options to go beyond “check the box” training to provide something more meaningful.
What’s “meaningful”? In our view, it means training that will actually make a difference—training that could potentially provide that “A-ha” moment to someone to modify their behavior, stand up for themselves, or stand up to (or for) others.
Here are a few of the many best practices we recommend for effective training:
Draw people in. If people don’t actually engage in the training enough to absorb the information, real learning is unlikely. You’ve got to draw people in with scenarios, statistics, and studies that provide context and make it meaningful for them. What’s meaningful for some industries, organizations, or professions may not be so for others, so tailoring the message and the experience to the target audience is critical.
Provide practical, actionable guidance—and an opportunity to practice. What can you do if you feel you are being harassed? How can you stand up for yourself? What can you do if you observe someone else being subjected to disrespectful behaviors? How can you avoid being a complacent bystander? Most people want to take action but simply don’t know how—or don’t know what to say. Effective training provides practical, actionable tools that can make the difference in whether someone chooses to stay silent or to speak up—for themselves or others. And it allows them to practice those skills using interactive exercises so they’ll be comfortable applying those skills later—when and if they need them.
Incorporate interactive scenarios. Storytelling and interactivity are a powerful combination; stories help to make concepts “real” and relatable—and enticing the learner to interact with the story ups the engagement factor even more. The most effective self-paced training leverages these concepts to make the on-demand learning experience as engaging and memorable as possible.
Use plain language, not legalese. While it might sound counterintuitive given the legal audience, the reality is that encouraging the right types of behaviors in the workplace is not about the difference between definitions of “Quid Pro Quo” and “Hostile Work Environment” harassment? (Huh?) It is about people. It is about treating other people with respect. It is about recognizing the types of behaviors that contribute to a productive and respectful workplace culture—and those that don’t. It is about being simultaneously self-aware and aware of the potential impact that your actions have on others. Effective training emphasizes preventing a wide range of inappropriate and disrespectful behaviors, not just those that fit the definition of unlawful.
Focus on behaviors, not terminology. Get this: In a recent study, researchers asked a group of men if they had sexually harassed another person within the last year; less than four percent answered that they had. The researchers then asked questions about a variety of specific behaviors. For example, “Within the last year, have you told sexual stories or jokes that some might find offensive?” When asked if they had engaged in specific behaviors, the number who answered yes rose sharply. The takeaway: Many people are engaging in harassing behaviors but are simply not recognizing or labeling their behavior as “sexual harassment.” Effective training makes it real, addressing specific behaviors.
Emphasize culture, leadership, and accountability. Paint the picture of the workplace culture you want to encourage. Researchers have found that organizational climate is the “single most powerful factor” in determining whether harassment will occur. What is the goal? What is the respectful workplace culture you aspire to provide? Paint that picture for your team and emphasize the critical role that leaders at all levels play in cultivating and sustaining that culture.
And finally, make it customizable. For training to really resonate, the details are important. Generic training is, well… generic; learners can be quick to dismiss any language or terminology that doesn’t readily reflect “the way we do things around here.” Learners must get a sense that this training was specifically designed “for our organization.” Incorporating firm-specific language also sends a clear message that this topic is important to the firm. So, allow each firm the flexibility to make it their own – if they so choose. Add their branding, their policy, the specifics of their processes … and their terminology. Minor adjustments in the messaging to make it “spot on” to the culture of the individual firm can make the difference between training that resonates and is taken seriously vs. training that is viewed as “checking the box.”
Interested in taking a look for yourself? Request preview access to our Respectful Workplace for Law Firms series.
(Or our new Respectful Workplace for Corporate).