Learning by example

Training HR professionals and line managers in the integrities of the law is
no easy task. But how can you ensure that employment law training is useful and
interesting? We take a look at an innovative new approach

Ladbrokes, Rabobank and Centaur wanted to enliven their employment
law-related training. Each company had a variety of issues they were keen to
address, including the latest rules on union consultation, reducing the risk of
discrimination and harassment allegations and avoiding the need for employment
tribunal cases. By employing Steps Role Play, a drama-based training
specialist, they found that the innovative use of drama and professional role
players could best explain the implications of employment legislation.

"Traditional employment law training is often seen as horribly
dull," said Richard Wilkes, director of Steps Role Play. "We add
spice to these sessions by using professional actors to portray employees in
work situations trying to come to terms with the issues. We’ll show a range of
scenarios and at key points we’ll freeze-frame the action and ask the delegates
what the characters should do or say next in order to proceed. We improvise the
suggestions back into the scenario so people can judge the effectiveness of
each suggestion. This allows delegates to fully engage in the drama without
having to role-play themselves. They get to concentrate on the training issues
and they learn by analysing and summarising what they have seen."


Ladbrokes is the world’s largest bookmaker with 10,000 staff, many of which
are members of a union. Now that individuals have a legal right to be
accompanied at a disciplinary, grievance or appeal meeting by a representative
of a recognised union, the company felt it was essential that the implications
of this new legislation was explained. To do this the company developed a
workshop to highlight best practice in employee relations. In a series of
regional one-day development workshops, Steps Role Play was used to portray
employees and union representatives, enabling line managers to practice the
skills of handling grievance and disciplinary interviews.

Actors were used to role play Ladbrokes’ employees – such as cashiers,
deputy managers and shop managers – as well as trade union representatives,
giving delegates the opportunity to manage a mock interview.

The workshop was delivered 20 times in five regional locations – in Scotland
and the four corners of England – for all Ladbrokes’ area operations managers
and district supervisors, a total audience of 200 people.

"We have over 10,000 employees and although we’re a very
people-oriented business, it’s only natural that sometimes some things don’t go
as they should," said Steve Pitt, HR development manager at Ladbrokes.
"In these situations, you’ve got to follow the right procedures and deal
with people in a fair and reasonable manner. We decided to create and run a
series of regional development workshops that were as near to real life as
possible, but didn’t believe we could provide the necessary role plays

Steps was appointed after the HR team researched the market to find suitable
role play companies which could provide a high standard of role players from
each of the key regions in the UK.

"We didn’t want London actors role playing in Scotland," said
Steve Pitt. "We felt it was important to get regional accents and other
aspects right. The standard of the Steps actors was very high. They provided
valuable feedback to each delegate on how it felt to be on the receiving end.
We had given them ‘areas of attack’ that could be explored during the role
plays, to see how the managers responded, and they utilised these very


Rabobank, the Dutch co-operative bank, has run 20 workshops in its London
office to ensure all 750 UK employees understand the bank’s policy on
harassment, bullying and discrimination.

Steps Role Play worked with the bank’s HR department and solicitors Allen
& Overy to design the workshops. The company also provided four role-plays
to illustrate the issues in practice and reinforce the need to maintain cordial
relations in the workplace.

"There have been a number of cases of harassment and discrimination in
the City and they always attract adverse publicity," said Mike Gostick,
head of human resources at Rabobank in the UK. "We thought it would be a
good idea to develop a mandatory workshop to create a more formal awareness of
these issues. We also wanted to show how easy it is to fall foul of the law and
to highlight the sort of standards we expect."

Called "Dignity at work", the two-hour workshop featured an
overview of the new legislation in this area, provided by Allen & Overy.
Steps undertook the four role plays, portraying managers and employees facing
harassment, bullying and discrimination situations. At key points the actors
would stop the role play and seek guidance from the audience on what they
should do or say next. Each scenario was rounded off with a legal opinion and a
discussion of the points raised.

"When planning the workshops, we thought there must be a better way of
dealing with this than simply teaching people about employment law," said
Mike Gostick. "I approached Steps Role Play and together with Allen &
Overy we brainstormed the format. The end result was a light-hearted approach
that was very effective."

The workshops have formed part of the bank’s attempts to foster a climate of
mutual respect. Now they have been delivered for all staff, Mike Gostick says
Rabobank’s employees can concentrate on their primary aim of creating value for


Centaur Communications, the independent publishing company, turned to
drama-based training to enliven a series of one-day seminars on employment law
legislation for managers.

Steps Role Play helped design the seminars and provided role-plays to
highlight best practice management approaches and the effectiveness of coaching
and counselling.

"If we end up in a tribunal and subsequently lose as a result of bad
management by a member of staff, the cost can become quite phenomenal,"
said Mark Moorton, human resources director at Centaur. "We decided that
we needed to introduce a new training initiative to keep our managers up-to-date
with recent changes in employment legislation. It’s not the sexiest bit of
training, so we thought we could use drama-based training to bring some life to
the proposed sessions."

Steps Role Play worked with Centaur and its lawyers, Davenport Lyons, to
develop a one-day seminar called "Managing your workforce", which was
targeted at anyone within Centaur who manages other people – such as editors of
magazines, publishers and advertising managers.

"I wanted the focus to be on best practice management, rather than solely
about employment law," said Mark Moorton. "We also wanted to address
coaching and counselling because by applying these skills effectively, you can
often avoid any trouble as far as the law is concerned. Steps added real value
because their role plays brought a degree of realism that you just wouldn’t get
if managers within the company role played among themselves."

The seminar ran four times, at Davenport Lyons’ offices in central London,
with around 15 to 20 managers attending on each occasion. The seminars proved
so successful that Centaur is now planning a second wave.

"A lot of managers here have had no formal training in management
skills, they simply find themselves in at the deep end by virtue of the job
that they do," said Mark Moorton. "The seminars have showed them that
coaching and counselling could help them to achieve a lot more. They are now
aware that these skills can benefit them and the business, because performance
goes up and they end up with a much happier and better working team."

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