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A Civil Workplace Requires a New Approach to Training

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The business of workplace learning has changed dramatically since I got involved in the industry more than three decades ago. Back then, it was difficult to get organizations to appreciate the need for interactive classroom training, let alone explore what happens before and after a course. At the time, daylong classroom lectures were the standard.


Today, the mindset has flipped. Increasingly, organizations recognize that training has to meet learners where they are, especially as more employees within the same organization — or even the same department — don’t work in the same physical workplace and likely have different schedules. And, the composition of the workplace is changing dramatically.

That’s why my organization recently undertook a major overhaul of our core training program Civil Treatment. The program intends to help organizations become more inclusive, productive and compliant. Making progress in these areas requires a broad-scale change in behavior, from leaders at the top to each employee below them. It also requires an approach that can encompass everything from blatantly illegal actions, such as sexual harassment and racial discrimination, to subtle uncivil behaviors, such as being rude or exclusionary.

The current iteration of our training was released a few years ago and remains impactful and effective. But like every other organization, it has become increasingly clear that new approaches to learning are required. Clients report that it’s getting harder and harder to take people out of the workplace for extended classroom time. They told us that while our training is both enjoyable and helpful, participants still struggle to apply what they learned and to keep it top of mind when back at work. Managers and leaders of all sorts were challenged when trying to convert the principles they learned into new behaviors.

So, what to do? Our solution was to take a more holistic approach to the learning experience, from what participants do before they engage in training to combining various training methods, both live and online, and establishing a learning system that allows learners to apply what they learn. We’ve also incorporated micro-learning tools for pre- and post-class messaging, content and simulations to educate leaders on the reality that civil, inclusive behavior is an operational necessity and not just once-a-year chore. 

An Immersive Experience

Putting someone in a training class and telling them what to do doesn’t change behavior long term. Most of what the Civil Treatment program prescribes is not complicated to understand. For example, people must manage what they say and how they act and must speak up if they have concerns. Leaders need to take action as soon as they learn about any uncivil behavior, not just illegal actions. But translating these simple concepts into lasting behavior change is not as easy as merely explaining those principles.

That’s why our new training is focused more than ever before on getting people to understand why a behavior change is required and what it looks like when people use these new behaviors. To do this, we’ve moved to a model where teams of people participate in highly interactive and engaging learning experiences. The emphasis is on getting participants to appreciate through their own learning insights how proper behavior can improve results and teamwork, while reducing risk and helping everyone be more effective in the process.

A Sustainable Change

To update our learning programs, we needed a new way to address all of the issues and reach audiences that range from the executive suite to the office floor — all while delivering content in ways that people can understand, apply and get results. Some techniques we used included:

  • New scenarios: Using more realistic and more relevant video clips in differing types of workplaces settings and the courtroom, the programs depict common workplace issues and include more contemporary and nuanced concepts. In our case, this includes bystander intervention and courtroom examples.
  • Shorter in-class program: We streamlined the core programs to limit time away from the job while increasing learning sustainability and driving greater overall impact.
  • Increased alignment between leader and employee programs: We applied a more integrated approach to our materials to recognize the realistic interaction between employees and managers in these situations.
  • Refined and more eco-friendly participant materials: By limiting classroom materials to what is truly essential and by supporting the learning experience with greater access to more useful digital content, we eliminated a lot of paper while providing more content to participants.
  • Pre- and post-learning tools: The new training programs don’t begin and end with the actual training. Everyone stays involved even after the classroom training ends through online tools.
  • Measuring results: We provide tools to gauge the degree of learning and behavior change from the program. Additional methods are available to measure the program’s business impact, return on investment and the learning effectiveness of an organization.

Achieving New Standards for Learning

If your organization is like mine, keeping training relevant is always a challenge. Our goal is to provide our learners with models that let them handle workday situations quickly. We have to demonstrate to employees that everyone has a “leadership” responsibility for shaping culture and show managers that they must lead by example.

Our overhaul was inspired by client feedback. We looked closely at changes in the workforce and explored enhanced learning strategies to make our program better at delivering the results clients want. What was essentially a one-time learning event is now an ongoing learning experience. In fact, it goes even further. The purpose of our training is to create a workplace environment where employees and managers know how to reinforce behavior changes, where they are comfortable speaking up with ideas or concerns — where, in short, their learning becomes a new way of life.

About the Author

Stephen Paskoff

Steve Paskoff is the founder, president and CEO of ELI Inc. He is a former investigator and trial attorney for United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and later a partner in a nationally recognized management law firm.

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