Workplace Violence Prevention is a hot topic that many organizations are gearing up to provide training. As a consultant that specializes in workplace violence prevention program development and training, this is music to my ears. However, even though the increase in the demand for workplace violence prevention training is up, I am sad to say that in many cases, training is not the appropriate solution for an organization. I know at this point many of my competitors are cringing that I may be letting the “cat out the bag,” however; we take an organization development approach to consulting that recommends the solution that will most effectively address the clients’ need. 

Let me explore this a bit more since many security organizations are the ones spearheading the effort to get the workplace violence prevention training in place. As is true with most business issues, we believe any initiative, especially training, must start with the question: what problem are we trying to solve? While some of you are saying: “We are trying to prevent violence from occurring in our organization,” I believe a more relevant and important consideration is to ask if by providing training will we significantly reduce the likelihood of a violent incident occurring. To no one’s surprise, the answer to this question is “It depends.”

It depends on how many of the following questions can be responded to in an affirmative manner:

1. Do you have a comprehensive workplace violence prevention policy in place that is consistently communicated and enforced?
2. Do you have a highly developed supervisory staff that is effective at managing people, treating them with respect and are very effective communicators?
3. Do you have an organization culture that encourages employees to speak up, bring their problems, issues or conflicts to their supervisor or human resources attention, in addition to an effective problem resolution process that is frequently used by employees? (If employees frequently use it, this means they think it is a fair process. Conversely, if it is sparsely used, your process may be perceived as management oriented, overly cumbersome or not employee friendly.)
4. Do you have human resource policies in place that establish the importance of treating employees as adults, in a fair manner and respectful manner? Commensurately, are supervisors selected with these traits or capabilities in mind?
5. Does your company offer an Employee Assistance Program that provides confidential counseling services for personal problems and issues that employees may encounter?
6. Have all of your human resource and management policies been designed to ensure fair and respectful treatment of employees in all organizational actions? For example, have you examined your termination or layoff process specifically to ensure they treat people in a respectful manner or have they been designed simply to be an efficient organization process?
7. Do you have comprehensive selection processes in place to ensure you carefully select employees that “fit” with your culture and are not violence prone?

If your organization does not have many of the above in place, you can provide training until you are blue in the face and while it may help a little, it is not going to make a lot of difference in creating a safer work environment. The ugly truth is that training is easy to design and offer, so many times organizations simply decide to provide training so they can say they did something. And, even I would agree that only offering training is better than doing nothing. The real question remains whether training alone is sufficient to truly solve the problem of reducing, deterring or eliminating incidents of violence remains very doubtful.

Moving Forward with Training

If you have decided to begin training, the first and most important step is to define the goals of the training. What do you want participants to be doing different as a result of having attended the training session? For example, you may want to increase supervisors’ knowledge of your workplace violence policy so that they will take appropriate actions to intervene early in situations when several of the early warning signs are exhibited by an employee.

With this as a desired outcome of your program, you need to design a training process that will accomplish this outcome. Thus, your design will need to include learning activities that ensure participants understand your workplace violence policy, understand the early warning signs of workplace violence prevention and appropriate interventions and how and when to take the correct actions. Your goals or desired outcomes dictate the learning tools, methods, processes and information that should be included in your training program. Table 1 includes information that we use to ensure that our classes are designed to achieve the expressed goals.

Another part of ensuring you achieve the desired outcome is to be clear regarding whether your intent is to increase participants’ knowledge (meaning to understand the material) and/or to increase participants’ ability to perform an action. This is significant because knowledge acquisition can often be fostered by simply providing information via a reading assignment or lecture; however, learning a skill or how to take an action generally requires practicing it until you master it. The most basic and proficient way to teach a person a skill is to first help them understand the what and why (knowledge), demonstrate how the action should be taken (modeling the behavior) and then allowing them to practice doing it while getting feedback on how to continuously improve it until they perfect it.

The third part of designing a class to meet its objectives is ensure that you build in exercises that are designed for an on the job application. For example, assume another goal that has been identified is for supervisors to train their employees in workplace violence prevention. One possible exercise could be to ask in-class participants to work in a small group to develop a presentation on workplace violence to be presented to their employees. Operating in a small group, they can bounce ideas off their peers, learn from each other and build a “straw” presentation that can be critiqued in the class. While this exercise will help reinforce their learning about workplace violence, it also provides them with an actual presentation to use with their team.

Another key aspect of developing an effective training program is for the trainer to truly understand their role and responsibilities. We believe that the role of a trainer is actually to facilitate participants learning the desire knowledge and skills. We do not believe that the trainers’ role is simply to deliver information. Adults learn most effectively by doing, discovering, being involved, asking questions and being engaged. This dictates the use of many methods such as case studies, role plays, self assessments, discussion questions, practice drills, etc. As a rule of thumb, 40 to 50 percent of your session should involve engaging activities in which participants can practice using the skills you want them to learn.

We also believe that the trainer should be fully accountable for the participant’s learning the material and information delivered in the training session. We are not so naïve to believe that participants do not have a responsibility for their own learning. Despite this reality, we place a much higher level of responsibility on the trainer, because the organization is investing in their capability to deliver the desired results established for the training which the organization has determined are important. Training, like any other discipline, has a set of competencies that an individual should possess to be an effective trainer. Three of the core competencies that an effective trainer must possess include:

Trainer Skill #1:
Understanding the retention rates for different types of delivery methods.
Trainer Skill #2: A complete understanding of the types of learning styles and how to design learning activities that address the different styles.
Trainer Skill #3: Kirkpatrick’s four levels to effectively measure training: reactions, learning, transfer and results

Please note that trainer competency is a subject that we could write volumes about competencies, however, cannot fully cover that content area in this article. The following are some key competency questions to give you a quick assessment of your readiness:

Key Competency Questionnaire

Please respond to the following items based on your actual experience – not a theoretical or textbook answer. If you need more space, please attach an additional sheet.
1. Describe an actual situation in which you were training a group and the audience was content to let you do all the talking. What did you do and how did it turn out?
2. Describe an experience in which the participants expressed leaning needs within the scope of your course, but which you had not planned to cover. How did you handle it? (Be specific).
3. Describe an experience in which a small group of participants are talking among themselves and seem to be indifferent or hostile. Explain in detail what you did and what the outcome was.
4. You are teaching a subject that most people would consider dry. Describe the methods you used to engage and maintain the interest and participation of the group.
5. One of the participants’ is rather outspoken and appears to be an informal leader in the group and he has openly expressed dismay at having to attend this class which is a waste of his time. What did you do and why?

I borrowed these questions from a questionnaire that a former client used in a Request For Proposal to select a workplace violence prevention trainer. I was impressed that they took this step to actually try to assess a prospective trainer’s competency versus simply accepting their word.

In this article we have introduced you to several of the major concepts regarding professional training which we believe are essential to developing effective training programs. Our intent is to encourage our fellow security professionals to further develop their training design and delivery skills so that their next course will not only “wow” their participants, but will also fulfill the expectations of management by enhancing the knowledge and skills of the participants in the desired areas.

Learning Planning Steps

1. Identify the Goal:What are the desired outcomes (what is it that you want to happen?)
2. Determine the Benefits: What are the benefits to the group, the organization, the client, etc?
3. Identify the Necessary Action Steps:What actions must be taken to achieve the desired outcomes? List a sequence of steps.
4. Specify the Resources Needed: What resources (e.g., human/expertise, fiscal, capital, material, etc.) are needed to take the required action?
5. Be Accountable:How will you be accountable for following through on your commitments?
6. Measure Your Results:How will you know you have attained your goal? How will you measure your success?

© Adapted from the Action Planning Steps,
by Wanda Hackett Enterprises, 2002

Teaching Method: Knowledge Retention

Teaching Method Knowledge Retention
See/Hear – Lecture 5 percent
Reading 10 percent
Audio Visual/Video 20 percent
Demonstration 30 percent
Discussion Group 50 percent
Practice by Doing 75 percent
Teaching Others 90 percent
Immediate application of
learning in a real situation 90 percent


Learning Styles

Learning styles are simply different approaches or ways of learning. What are the types of learning styles?

Visual Learners learn through seeing...
These learners need to see the teacher’s body language and facial expression to fully understand the content of a lesson. They tend to prefer sitting at the front of the classroom to avoid visual obstructions (e.g. people’s heads). They may think in pictures and learn best from visual displays including: diagrams, illustrated text books, overhead transparencies, videos, flipcharts and hand-outs. During a lecture or classroom discussion, visual learners often prefer to take detailed notes to absorb the information.

Auditory Learners learn through listening...
They learn best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking things through and listening to what others have to say. Auditory learners interpret the underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances. Written information may have little meaning until it is heard. These learners often benefit from reading text aloud and using a tape recorder.
Tactile/Kinesthetic Learners: learn through moving, doing and touching...
Tactile/Kinesthetic persons learn best through a hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them. They may find it hard to sit still for long periods and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration.