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What every employer needs to learn from the CBC’s abuse in Canadian sport report

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Policies and procedures serve many roles in the workplace. In simplest terms, a policy sets out the legislation-mandated as well as the expected standards of behaviour for employees and stakeholders. Procedures provide a how-to guide to direct individuals where to go when they question the behavior they see or experience.

To truly be effective, employees and other stakeholders who are required to observe those policies and procedures, must understand their individual roles and obligations and also the steps available to them to address their concerns. Knowing what to do converts a policy statement into action. The key to making that knowledge connection is education and training.

A look at the recent headlines raised by the CBC’s Shattered Trust report provides a stark example of what can happen when individuals do not know what to do or do not believe they can do anything when they question the behavior they see or experience.

The CBC reported that, between 1998 and 2018, more than 340 coaches were charged with sexual offences, 222 were convicted and more than 600 victims under 18 were impacted. The culture of silence that permeated numerous sport organizations, from the club to the national sport body level, created opportunities for predatory individuals to harm children.

While extreme, the CBC’s report highlights what can happen when, because of a lack of knowledge or belief in policies and procedures, those mechanisms that were in place to protect individuals, in this case children, failed to do their job. This report and the February 21, 2019 response from the federal Minister of Sport and Persons with Disabilities, Kirsty Duncan, to address those documented gaps in safety in amateur sport in Canada raise issues that are also relevant to the workplace.

3 Key Take-aways

  1. A one-size-fits-all approach to developing policy and procedures does not work

What we learned from the CBC report was that the policies and procedures developed at the National Sport Organization (NSO) level and often adopted at the Provincial Sport Organization (PSO) and local levels, were relevant to the operations of the NSO.  At the national sport level, the focus is predominantly on high-performance and national team development, selection and competition. This is not the reality for local associations and clubs, where the level of participation can range from absolute beginner to elite athlete and everything in between. Minister Duncan is committing to providing support for regional summits, which will lead to development of a national code of conduct particular to the context of sport.

For a workplace, connecting policies and procedures to the context of the organizational environment is an important step to creating documents that are relevant and effective. While tempting, using generic templates will result in policies and procedures that may look good on paper but may not result in an appropriate organizational response when the need presents itself, such as when a report of bullying or harassment arises.

  1. Someone must own the responsibility to ensure that policy and procedure development, management and implementation is effective

We also learned through the CBC report that there is no clear chain of authority and inconsistent coordination between the levels of sport organizations to ensure that policies and procedures are updated when required and implemented across all levels. Further, there is no consistent practice in authorizing harassment officers at any level, resulting in an organization’s chief executive officer or even volunteers taking on this duty. In response, Minister Duncan promised to create a centralized system for harmonizing action and managing abuse, harassment and discrimination cases.

In a workplace, accountability for policies and procedures means that someone within the organization is held responsible. That person needs to be someone who has experience and/or training that builds a familiarity with best practices in addressing harassment and discrimination and the ability to recognize when these practices occur. This role requires the sufficient and consistent allocation of resources, both financial and human, to ensure that once the policies and procedures come into effect, they are also effectively implemented.

Beyond implementation, in any organization, policies and procedures must be regularly reviewed to ensure that they reflect the current legislative standards and requirements, align with the organization’s values and support a positive culture. Regular review and updating is particularly important in organizations where operations are decentralized across many branches or remote offices.

  1. Communication and training build competence and confidence

Another of the takeaways from the “Shattered Trust” report is that, absent consistent coordination and communication about policies and procedures throughout the organization, not all members, employees and stakeholders will know the standards of behaviour nor what to do when they question what they see or experience. The result is that, when people see something, they may not do something. They may not believe that they can do anything of consequence. In the context of amateur sport, where there are vulnerable participants, doing nothing creates opportunity for abuse by predators. In a workplace, doing nothing can create opportunity for unchallenged bullying and harassment. In her response, Minister Duncan committed to centralizing a training system for the national code of conduct in sport.

In any organization, it is an established best practice that communication and training on policies and procedures is an ongoing process. Knowledge of an organization’s policies and, more particularly, its procedures, will build employees’ competence and confidence in those documents.

Most importantly, the training that employees and stakeholders receive must be meaningful to them. In-person training can be tailored to the organization. It enables individuals to ask questions, which enhances learning, and enables facilitators to assess whether employees and stakeholders comprehend the information.

Informed and engaged employees mean that policies and procedures will not merely live on paper. Rather, it is more likely they will be called upon by individuals to take action and support a positive workplace culture.