From Attorney, Carl Moore
When the training is about EEO issues, it is important the trainer have both a depth of understanding of the legal issues and, more importantly, an appreciation of the limits of his/her own knowledge about the subjects. Questions that are unanticipated will frequently be asked in a class. It is nice if the trainer knows the answers. However, it is critical that trainers do not "wing it" when they don't know for certain. Otherwise, the training can be responsible for spreading wrong answers and urban legends.
As an example in one issue area, I was recently monitoring a client's EEO training and discovered that some trainers were telling managers they could never refuse to grant an employee's request for a religious accommodation. Another trainer was telling managers that if they granted one employee's request for an accommodation, they had to give any and all other subsequent employees, who requested the same accommodation—whether for a religious reason or not, the same accommodation, otherwise it would constitute discrimination. Both statements are equally and blatantly wrong, but managers who attended these classes were convinced they had the correct answer.
When training diversity issues, there is a more subtle concern.
Since diversity is not about the law and legal requirements, we often are dealing with less concrete concepts. We are also more likely to bump into biases and prejudices of people in the room. Sometimes the biases and prejudices of the trainers can also be triggered. In short, diversity classes have a greater potential to become somewhat volatile.
I have been in client workplaces where a previous diversity course has been presented poorly and the environment of the workplace has been seriously damaged as a result.
To avoid this, I always suggest a process for monitoring the quality of the selected trainers. The process I recommend is as follows:
- Select candidates who have as much facilitation experience as possible. Facilitators differ from trainers in their training and ability to encourage and engage conversation in the room. They have the excellent platform skills of trainers and other public speakers, but they also excel at being able to engage a small group of people in an open and educational discussion of the issue at hand. Candidates should be advised when they are notified of their selection to participate in the train-the- trainer program that their ultimate selection to the training team will depend on their successful completion of the program and their successful completion of their first sessions following the program. They should also be informed that classroom evaluations will be monitored to ensure that each presentation meets and exceeds expectations. It should be made clear to them that this subject matter may be unlike anything they have presented before and, as such, may make it more difficult to eventually be selected as a trainer.
- During the train-the-trainer program, it should be made clear to candidates that this type of program is more challenging than perhaps anything they have ever presented before. This explanation should help them understand that this is the reason that merely going through the train-the-trainer program is not a guaranty that individuals will be allowed to eventually present the program. They should also be told that if they find the program uncomfortable to present for any reason, they should not hesitate to let the leader(s) know so they can either receive additional coaching or even consider not participating in the eventual training effort. The organization needs to make it clear that this is not a demerit on anyone's record if they find that this is not a program they are comfortable presenting or leading. Then the program leader(s) carefully monitor(s) the performance of the prospective candidates to evaluate their facilitation skills, their knowledge of the subject matter, their knowledge of their own biases and prejudices and their ability to reign in their own biases and prejudices.
- After the train-the-trainer program, the program leader(s) should convey to candidates whether they may proceed to the next step in the process by delivering a pilot program. If a candidate is viewed as having a weakness, that should be conveyed to the candidate so that he/she can focus on improving in that area (subject matter knowledge, facilitation of classroom discussion, dealing with difficult issues that arise in the classroom).
- Following the train-the-trainer program, the program leader(s) should observe the first one or two presentations for each trainer. The purpose of the observation is to be certain that the trainer meets the expectations of being a good facilitator, a knowledgeable trainer and adept at addressing difficult moments in the classroom.
- If there is any doubt about an individual's ability to present the material, after one of two observations, they should not be allowed to train this material.