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Making Training Stick: Strategies to Cultivate Sustained Corporate Employee Education

Employee education plays an essential role in healthy organizations — it teaches critical skills, fosters effective collaboration, and can sustain high morale. While training is a critical component of employee education, if it’s not done well it can be totally ineffective — in fact, when it comes to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), bad training can actually be detrimental. 

After spending 10 years studying DEI and conducting hundreds of trainings for different organizations, I’ve found a few key elements that help DEI trainings “stick” within companies. I’ve collaborated with two experts who have also conducted research into this space  — Drs. Ivuoma N. Onyeador and Neil A. Lewis, Jr. — for a forthcoming paper outlining how to develop and deliver more effective trainings. Below is a brief overview of some of our findings, as well as a few tips organizations can use to apply them:


  • Organizational Readiness: Are you doing a DEI training just to check the box? In reaction to an “incident”? If so, you’re not setting your organization up for success. Ideally, trainings are part of a larger DEI strategy, but at a minimum, training should be positioned as a way to build knowledge and motivate behavior change, not a quick fix to a complex problem. Before turning to training, there may be pre-work — like ensuring leadership is bought in and having a plan to sustain learning — that your organization can do to ensure training, when it does happen, is successful.
  • Facilitator Expertise: Corporate DEI is a practice that’s existed for decades — it’s a constantly evolving field with many complex nuances. What works for one company may not work for another, and failing to adapt as learning evolves can have a detrimental impact on your company. If you’re ready to train your people, be sure the facilitator is an expert, not just an enthusiast. Facilitators should not only understand and be able to answer hard questions about the nuances of DEI, they should know how to use training to get people motivated to commit to actions that will create more inclusive environments within their organizations.
  • Action-Oriented Approach: Trainings should be applied theory and not just theory. For example, simply making people more aware of the biases they hold — without discussing strategies for managing bias — can actually backfire. To make training stick (and to have the desired impact of changing behavior), help your people link the concepts they learned in training to the work they do. For example, how can unconscious bias influence hiring decisions? What specific actions can a manager take to cultivate belonging on their team? A key part of your training should be asking your people to identify and commit to at least two-to-three actions they can take to make your company more, diverse, equitable and inclusive. (Read this study to learn more about why two-to-three is the magic number)
  • A Plan for Sustained Learning: Your organization is ready, your facilitator is an expert, and your employees have committed to action … then they leave the room. This is often where companies that have done everything right falter — they don’t have a plan for what comes next to help employees drive change at an individual level. While the approach should be different for your company’s unique needs and DEI strategy, there are multiple tactics to consider. For example:
    • Summarizing employees’ strategies in a shared document for everyone to reference;
    • Creating discussion guides and working with people managers or ERGs to schedule follow up discussions; 
    • Developing resources for specific audiences — for example, a checklist for managing bias in hiring, tips for designing inclusive meetings, or a guide for promoting objectivity in calibrations; and 
    • Instituting “just-in-time” nudges that remind people of bias management strategies before key moments — for example, an email sent the night before performance review discussions with a guide that promotes objective decision-making. Or, customizing the workflow of your talent acquisition suite / applicant tracking system to emphasize consistency when interviewers log their feedback. 

What are some other elements you think makes training stick within an organizations? If you have a great tactic I can learn from, or if you’re interested in learning how Paradigm can help you make training stick within your company, I’d love to chat. Email me!

September 20, 2019

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