After the Investigation –Coaching the Respondent

It is widely assumed that when an investigation finds evidence of misconduct that a termination of the “bad actor’s” employment frequently follows. While no hard data is available on the subject, an educated guess based on data that is available suggests that a person found to have violated a harassment policy will more often be disciplined and educated or coached. This is particularly true when the alleged harasser is in a leadership role or brings highly valued skills or knowledge to the organization.

The tendency to retain “good employees with bad judgement” seems to be a reflection of the fact that harassment complaints about such employees tend to involve ongoing conduct of a subtle or generic nature — the “low buzz” of insensitivity coupled with relationship. personality and style issues — rather than the “explosion” of explicit and outrageous conduct. While the latter type of conduct will guide an organization to seriously consider terminating even a highly valued leader or “rainmaker,”, the former is likely to result in the organization attempting to salvage the talents, experience and skills of an otherwise valued employee. This is perhaps in part due to the fact that the organization may have had a significant role in allowing the behaviors, style and relationship issues to develop in the first place!

Once misconduct is established and termination is ruled out, the choice of remediation usually includes education or coaching. While sending someone to a class or seminar may be helpful, in my experience it is the equivalent of sending a dirty vehicle to a car wash–there is an immediately noticeable improvement, but in a few weeks, the car is just as dirty as it was before. Coaching, on the other hand, is a more enduring process that can provide ongoing developmental and remedial guidance, serve as a monitoring device for the organization, and encourage sustained behavior change.

The Structure of Remedial Coaching

Coaching can be done by anyone with sufficient experience to do so, however, it is generally recommended that the coaching subject be given some choice among a list of qualified coaches. The coaching knowledge and skill set includes an understanding of the psychological dynamics of workplace misconduct and organizational behavior, knowledge of the employer’s legal requirements, strong communication and inquiry skills, the ability to provide direct feedback, insight, analysis, and advising. There are many different styles of coaches, and the coach selected will depend upon the unique circumstances of the matter at hand.

Minimally, a coaching structure should include an assessment, which includes a review of the findings of the investigation or, in the alternative, an opportunity for the coach to independently get good information about the subject’s relationships and behavior amongst different constituencies. Once the coach is armed with a set of data, it is then important to conduct a preliminary coaching session to establish the degree of cooperation or engagement of the coaching subject and to determine the best strategy for the coaching relationship. Essential in this type of coaching is the following:

  1. The coach should clearly be retained by the organization and be clear on his or her duty to provide the organization with impressions and feedback throughout the coaching relationship (all such communication should generally be sent in duplicate to the coaching subject), while explaining that the intention is to report the progress of the coaching process.
  2. The coach should clearly explain that the coaching “contract” is to be established and renewed continuously, and that the coaching relationship can terminate should the coaching be unsuccessful
  3. The coach should also clearly explain that the purpose of coaching is to assist individuals in excelling at their jobs, and that the coach is oriented towards such an effort.

What happens in a coaching session varies, but a typical structure can be reviewed in Sepler & Associate’s Coaching Framework (which can be retrieved by clicking on the name of the document.)

Successful coaching involves at least three, and up to twelve or even more sessions that focus on identifying behaviors or attitudes that interfere with relationships and performance, identification of strategies to address those, and practice and feedback on the success of change efforts. For instance, the coach might ask the coaching subject to journal incidents where he or she is tempted to revert to inappropriate humor, or to ask several people for specific feedback, record the results and reflect on the possible action implications.

At interludes during the coaching engagement, and when preparing to end the coaching engagement, the coach should revisit those individuals consulted in the assessment, or other key informants, and get feedback about the degree to which the coaching subject has been effective in making change.

Coaching will be most effective with individuals who have come to realize a need for change and who desire such a change; it will be somewhat effective with those who truly believe that they must participate and comply in order to keep their job; it will be least effective when either the employee or the organization is aware that no accountability mechanisms are in place or that the coaching is simply an exercise to document remediation. Organizations should be clear in their intentions and actions in order to maximize remedial coaching. When done well, it can lead to growth for the individual and the organization, and a far more harassment-proof employment environment.

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