Prescribing Training to Cure the Culture Infection

I couldn’t resist the opportunity to use the current conversation regarding sexual harassment in Congress as a real-life case study. It’s the classic case of let’s prescribe training to cure our culture infection.

“Watershed Moment” or Not

How could you not know what’s going on in Congress and the recent allegations of sexual harassment? It’s all over the media and in day-to-day conversations. If you’ve heard about the numerous allegations of sexual harassment in Congress, you may also be familiar with the proposed mandatory training solution for solving problem. The media is calling this a “watershed moment”.... a turning point in history! We are now finally addressing the sexual harassment problem.

I think we need to back it up a bit before declaring victory on sexual harassment by curing the culture infection with the training prescription.

Unfortunately, making employees attend prevention of sexual harassment training will not cure the culture infection. Unless all of the causes of the infection are treated, the infection will continue to exist and possibly turn into a superbug. You could do more harm than good by only treating symptoms of an infection and not treating the cause(s).

What Training Will and Will Not Do

Training will provide an awareness of what sexual harassment is and how to prevent it, provided clear policies and procedures exist. Effectively designed training can provide an overview of the company policy and procedures for preventing and addressing allegations of sexual harassment. Training will only solve the gap in knowledge and skills and should definitely be one component of the treatment plan but not the entire prescription.

Before training can be prescribed for the culture infection, other potential problem areas need to be explored. Training will not cure the culture sickness for the reasons stated below.

The Right Prescription

You can’t provide an effective prescription without a comprehensive assessment and diagnosis. Here’s what also needs to be looked at to provide the right treatment plan...

  • Standards/Measurement: Do employees know what and how they are expected to prevent, address, and report allegations of sexual harassment?

  • Feedback: Do employees receive regular feedback on how well they are adhering to the company policies and procedures?

  • Motivation/Incentives: Are alleged allegations investigated and substantiated violations corrected and/or disciplined appropriately? Are there rewards for adhering and consequences for not adhering to the policies?

  • Capacity: Are they the right people for the position? Do they have the right character, temperament, and ability to meet the ethical standards of the job?

  • Conditions: Is the work environment conducive to enforcing and adhering to the policy and procedures?

  • Training: Do the employees have the right level of knowledge and skills about the policy and procedures?

The Reality

The reality is that without conducting a comprehensive diagnosis and getting to the root causes of the culture problems, the problem will continue to exist if training is the only prescription.

I suggest that Congress, if they really want to cure their culture problem, get in touch with the performance consultants within the organization and allow them to guide them through this process. Unfortunately, once an organization’s culture is infected, it takes years to cure it. It can be done, but it takes work and the expertise of an organizational development professional.