A High Impact Training Module Design and Development Strategy: How to Treat the Problem Instead of the Symptoms

September 29, 2011

Deploying high impact training modules requires competency gap analysis, the use of a competence framework, and competent facilitation skills. Integrity in delivery of all three parts is crucial in cultural diversity education. A good example is designing a training course to address staff complaints about manager insensitivity. To investigate the problem, interviews are often conducted with staff and their managers. In modern culturally diverse organizations, the results all too often lead to the conclusion that managers say and do what is expected of them, but many Historically Excluded Group (HEG) staff tend to question the sincerity of their manager’s actions. A typical comment HEGs make about managers is that they do not “walk their talk” when confronted with the challenges of managing cultural diversity.

The human resource office is usually charged with providing solutions for problems between managers and their direct reports. The HR professional often turns to diversity training solutions under the assumption that the focus of the training will “raise awareness” among the managers of the need to be “culturally sensitive”. Human resource officers make these assumptions based on both a need to protect the organization legally and to show staff that they are taking the complaints seriously. However, data collected from an objective assessment of the problem seldom leads to such a simplistic training goal. This may be one reason that some research studies show that diversity training is ineffective. ((Alexandra Kalev, Frank Dobbin and Erin Kelley (2006), “Best Practices or Best Guesses? Assessing the Efficacy of Corporate Affirmative Action and Diversity Policies”, American Sociological Review 71: 589–617))

Another problem is that poor training facilitation skills can lead to disastrous outcomes even with the best designed diversity training content. Diversity training expertise requires a particular set of competencies, such as managing emotions, avoiding taking sides, and navigating cultural differences. The skill needs guided practice to master. Many organizations are turning to train-the-trainer programs in an effort to reach as many people as possible in a cost-effective, sustainable approach to managing diversity. This is laudable, but considerable care is needed to avoid creating more problems than solutions when, for example, the selection of “trainers” and training-of-trainers content are not carefully thought out.

Objective Cultural Competence Gap Analysis
How do we figure out what the “real” problem is and how to address it with diversity education? High impact diversity education requires an objective approach to identifying training needs based on a framework that ties together assessment data and instructional design. It is not easy for human beings to be objective. One of the main reasons is that we use mental shortcuts to make sense out of a world that is filled with too much information to filter comprehensively at any given moment in time. Our mental shortcuts cause us to prejudge information in the service of the efficiency. This streamlining makes the bombardment of information imposed on us manageable, but at a cost. Treating a person from India as a Middle Eastern Muslim solely based on seeing a turban on his head is a good example. Using systems that force us to engage in objective decision making helps us avoid unintended, inefficient and costly training design and development errors.

HR professionals may conclude from interviews that managers are culturally insensitive. The questions become how were the questions developed and how were they posed to the interviewees. Without careful control of these objective assessment troublemakers, what we conclude may be due to bias on our part. At best, poorly conceived interview questions can lead to hypotheses about what the problem, which can be scrutinized more carefully with more carefully constructed research. A more objective assessment approach is to use a tool, such as survey, designed and developed by experts.

This does not mean that interviews cannot be objective. You must take care in how you ask interview questions because social science research shows that the interviewee is easily influenced.  An objective way to assess the problem using the interview format is to provide open ended statements the interviewee is to complete, such as “The things I wish my manager would do more of are . . . .” This gives us a lot of valuable data. We often need interviewees to clarify what they share with us. To say, for example, that managers are “not walking their talk” is ambiguous to me because my use of those words may be different from the interviewee’s. I can seek clarification in an objective way by asking “If the two of us were standing nearby when a manager does something that is an example of “not walking their talk”, what would we see or hear?” Asking for descriptions of observable behaviors that demonstrate the problem offers clarity and objectivity during the problem assessment phase.

We must, therefore, collect interview data cautiously so as to avoid the influence of personal cultural diversity biases. A consultant that does her work through social justice lenses, for example, must avoid bias towards supporting the underserved in an organization at the cost of overlooking valuable information about what the organization is doing well. The fact that even experts may have bias blind spots is one reason for the considerable emphasis on understanding personal assumptions about cultural diversity in the DTUI.com certified diversity professional (CDP) program.

Training Design and Development
Designing and developing high impact cultural diversity training requires a framework that links the gaps identified in the assessment with specific instructional design features. The closer the linkages between competence gaps identified in the assessment and content designed to close those gaps, the more effective the training will be. The cultural competence and inclusion framework serves that purpose for DTUI.com consultants. The framework characterizes cultural competence as comprised of awareness, attitude, knowledge, and skills and assumes that as individuals within an organization reach high levels of cultural competence, the organization becomes more inclusive as a whole (See Martin & Vaughn (2007)). If assessment data, for example, indicates that people in a healthcare organization believe most of their colleagues are tolerant and open to cultural differences (i.e., high on the Attitude component), but they lack the skills for dealing with patients from other countries (i.e., low on the Skills component), then offering them diversity awareness training will be off target. The training needs to focus on increasing the Knowledge and Skill cultural competence components to be effective and make them more productive in their work. It does not necessarily mean that Awareness and Attitude training are to be excluded. It simply means that the role such materials play will be a subordinate to the Attitude and Knowledge learning materials.

Cultural Competence in the Delivery Must Not Be Taken For Granted
Designing and developing diversity training is both an art and a science. It is also very serious stuff. All too often experienced trainers believe that all they need is good content to pull off diversity training even if they have not conducted this type of training before. Delivering cultural diversity training is accompanied by participant emotional challenges due to to attitudes towards the subject matter that seldom surface in other types of employee training. (( Vaughn, B. E. (2002).  Heuristic  model of managing emotions in race relations training. In E. Davis-Russell  (Ed.), Multicultural Education, Research, Intervention, & Training   (pp. 296-318). San Francisco, CA.: Jossey-Bass.)) The trainer needs cultural competence to pull off diversity training effectively. Knowing how to model inclusive behaviors, manage hot topics, and “think on one’s feet” to create teachable moments out of unexpected turn of events can make the difference in the learner’s experience in the training. Lack of trainer preparation and competence can lead to disaster.

Designing, developing, and delivering high impact cultural diversity training require taking on the challenge of identifying the real problem, creating content that addresses the real problem, and facilitating learning in the face of participant resistance. The team that is well trained in each of these areas will be most successful in preparing people to work more inclusively and little participant resistance.

Billy Vaughn, PhD CDP is a diversity professional and Lead Faculty for the DTUI.com certified diversity professional program. He can be reached at billy at dtui.com.


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