Delivering diversity?

first_imgThe Equal Opportunities Commission has suspended its investigation intoalleged harassment at the Royal Mail Group after the company agreed to stampout the problem. Simon Kent talks to RMG’s head of diversity about thisambitious planAugust, the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) announced the suspension ofan investigation into allegations of sexual harassment at Royal Mail Group(RMG). The announcement followed an agreement with RMG based on the adoption ofa wide-ranging action plan. According to RMG’s director of diversity andinclusion, Satya Kartara, while the headlines may suggest the plan was a directresult of the EOC’s investigation, the timeline proves otherwise. The actionplan was, in fact, part of a proactive initiative set in motion more than ayear ago. “I came to the Royal Mail in May 2002 as part of the ‘Great Place toWork’ team,” she explains. “Our remit was to question and challengethe way the organisation was operating, and one of the areas we identified wasbullying and harassment.” With the full backing of RMG chairman AllanLeighton, Kartara and her team carried out an in-depth analysis, determiningwhy the organisation had this problem and what could be done to address it. What they uncovered was a workplace where unacceptable behaviour wentunchallenged, complaints were not managed effectively and there was lowawareness that this type of behaviour even constituted a problem. Even ifinitial incidents of bullying and harassment were minor, lack of managementknowledge and skill created a negative experience for those who did complain,leading to an adversarial culture in which the company ultimately appeared moreconcerned with minimising the financial and reputational damage from tribunalcases, rather than addressing why these incidents occurred. “We needed to understand how we got to the point of a tribunal in thefirst place,” says Kartara. “We had to learn the lessons of thisprocess and work out how to stop it from happening.” In support of this new learning culture, the team drew up five principleswhich would provide the guidelines for their overall action plan. Theseprinciples were to make it easier for employees to complain, support employeeswhen they made a complaint, provide a clear complaints process and timetablefor any investigation, deliver appropriate penalties to the perpetrators ofbullying and harassment, and take significant steps to change the culture ofthe organisation. “Culture change is where the need for awareness trainingcomes in,” says Kartara. “If you can get that change, you can movetowards a self-regulatory system because the employees themselves will startchallenging unacceptable behaviour.” Investing in training With some 220,000 employees, 120,000 of whom are front-line, RMG needed toinvest heavily in training to initiate the required culture change. The team’saudit in this area found that little awareness training existed and where itdid, it was unfocused and delivered mixed messages to employees. The companypiloted a number of different diversity training interventions to ensuremaximum impact among the workforce. “We didn’t want to just give onefour-hour session after which no one would think about the issue,”explains Kartara. “We needed to mainstream the intervention.” For some business units, this meant using their worktime learning andlistening session, a pre-existing half-hour discussion group where a managerand facilitator would talk about the subject in general with a number of employees.This was followed by a dedicated two-hour facilitator-led session examiningbullying and harassment in more detail, before a subsequent learning andlistening session was used to identify how to take the issue further in dailyworking life and ensure the necessary awareness was embedded in the company’sprocesses. Recognising the need to get the appropriate skills and attitudes in place atthe higher levels of the organisation, Kartara established diversitydevelopment centres for senior managers, taking their awareness training to aday and a half. These interventions are extremely practical, high-lighting thecompany’s policy on bullying and harassment, and examining what constitutesharassment and the effect on the individuals involved. This information is thenpulled down to what the individual manager can do to address issues as theyarise in their own area of responsibility. While some employees took on new skills within their existing positions,others took on entirely new roles. From 350 internal applicants, 22 wereselected to become independent investigators into complaints of harassment andbullying. These employees have undergone rigorous training to ensure they carryout their tasks fairly and objectively, from asking the right questions toproducing accurate and valuable reports. “Part of the role is to look atthe wider implications of what has happened,” says Kartara. “We needto be sure incidents will not happen again, so the investigation should suggestwhat needs to be done to change the culture around that specific process orlocation.” Telephone helpline One of RMG’s flagship programmes is a bullying and harassment telephonehelpline run by an external company, giving employees confidential access tocounsellors, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. “We ran atraining and education programme for the advisers so they understand ourinternal processes and culture,” explains Kartara. “However, it iscompletely independent of the organisation.” Employees have been given acard with the helpline contact number to carry at all times. The helpline is unique within the action plan in that it is provided by anexternal organisation and – for obvious reasons – will remain so. While thecompany has used external training companies and facilitators to lead staffthrough the process, the emphasis has been on getting these skills within theorganisation and creating an atmosphere of self-monitoring. Nearly all internaltraining staff have been trained in facilitation techniques, while groups ofpersonnel and line managers are scheduled to receive the support and skillsnecessary for this function. “The selection process for facilitators isstrict,” notes Kartara. “You need to be sure you have the rightpeople to do it.” With the EOC describing the RMG’s action plan as ‘groundbreaking’, thecompany has had few companies to look to or learn from in undertaking itschange programme. It’s not just the usual claim of ‘we are a unique business’ –although clearly no other company has the same challenges of size andgeographical spread – the fact is that if cultural change can be achievedwithin an organisation of this kind, it will serve as inspiration for companiesacross the UK. “At the beginning of the process we asked if we wanted todo any benchmarking,” says Kartara. “We thought about finding out ifwe were any better or worse than other organisations. In the end, we didn’t doit, because we know we are different from other organisations. We just did whatwe needed to do.” Setting targets But does Kartara know what success will look like? After all, with so manyinitiatives in place to break the cycle of ignoring incidents of harassment, itis likely the number of such incidents reported will increase over the shortterm before falling as the effects of cultural change are felt. Kartara agrees:”We don’t have any formal targets as yet,” she says. “We’re at avery early stage of the process, and while we have very ambitious targets ingeneral, the fact is we don’t know what we’re dealing with and until we do, itwould be inappropriate to set specific targets.” Until their initiatives provide fresh research material, Kartara’s team willnot have a full picture of how the current RMG culture works or the factorswhich lie behind the problems of bullying and harassment. The initiatives putin place will certainly uncover what happens when an incident occurs, andsuggest measures which can be put into place to deal with and avoid suchincidents in the future. But there may be greater underlying reasons for thisworkplace culture, so there is little point in second-guessing what needs to bechanged or how long such a change may take. Kartara therefore suggests datarecorded over the next six or seven months will be gathered and analysed togive a clear picture of the challenges faced by the organisation. Only thenwill targets be set. “In a culture change programme you need to set a realistic target soyou can praise the managers working towards those targets and encourage them tocontinually improve,” she says. “If we set targets now they could beunachievable, and we’d then be setting ourselves up to fail.” This isn’t to say that work towards culture change will proceed withoutmeasure or evaluation. Kartara’s team will closely study all initiatives fortheir effectiveness, record the time required for investigations to becompleted and monitor the training and performance of managers to ensure thevarious initiatives deliver the effects the great place to work team originallyintended. The EOC has suspended its investigation for the next three years oncondition that the action plan is adhered to. Only time will tell whether thisambitious project does indeed bring about the cultural change required tosatisfy its concerns. Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Comments are closed. Delivering diversity?On 1 Sep 2003 in Personnel Todaylast_img

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