Knox City Council responded to the Auditor General’s state-wide findings on instances of sexual harassment in Victorian LGAs by undertaking an all-of-staff culture change program that focussed on responding to inappropriate workplace behaviour. 

Context

The People & Culture team at Knox City Council contacted Polykala after hearing about the successful roll out of our successful staff-wide culture change program at the City of Greater Dandenong. The team was seeking to have an all-of-staff training session that could be custom-designed to suit the executive management team, general staff, and context specific groups like childcare workers or public facing staff.

A key feature of the project was to respond the 2020 Victorian Auditor General’s Office report into sexual harassment in local government workplaces. The report found an unacceptable level of instances of sexual harassment and discrimination were taking place in the sample of LGAs that were selected by the auditing team. Importantly, the report provided examples of the kinds of behaviours that are commonly taking place and the ways in which councils could ensure that these behaviours are responded to appropriately.

Approach

A key component of our bespoke designs is aligning the training with organisational values. We build on the work the organisation has already done to connect with participants in a language and approach that they are familiar with, rather than as an outsider with no recognition of the existing cultural values telling them what to do. It’s the opposite of bulk style training. 

For this reason, the session was built around the Knox City Council principle of ‘Doing what is right, not what is easy’. This is a theme that many LGAs are adopting in the pursuit of fostering cultures where all staff take responsibility for the behaviours taking place around them, rather than leaving it to managers or People & Culture teams.

The roll out began where it should – with the executive team and managers. We believe this is an important first step for three reasons. First, people in positions of authority have the most capacity to foster culture change through the instrument of power and mandate. Secondly, a common criticism we hear from general staff is “our managers should really do this training, they need it the most”. Third, it’s important with a culture change program that managers are enabled to recognise and reward the behaviours the program is trying to foster. Combining all these is a deeper imperative to ‘walk the talk’ across all levels of an organisation. 

Our training supported participants to respond to situations ranging from milder instances of carelessness and insensitivity to more overt instances of bullying, harassment and discrimination. Our recommended course of action included reporting to formal authority figures, comprehensively supporting the affected party/ies and engaging in difficult conversations with the source of the (potential) misconduct.

It was important for us as training designers to identify which of these responses (supporting, reporting, engaging in difficult conversations) were amenable to teaching and which were more amenable to training or facilitation. We made the decision to teach the supporting and reporting elements of the session and focus the training component on the ability to engage in conversations with colleagues who are displaying questionable or obviously inappropriate behaviour. Our delivery team devoted the bulk of the time remaining to facilitate discussions that, in effect, ‘triaged’ appropriate ways of tackling questionable and objectionable conduct.

Outcomes

Responding to the state-wide Attorney General’s office report requires both a standardised and highly context specific approach. Consistency across the state in terms of empowering staff to be active bystanders was one of the key recommendations. We’re proud to say our training equipped Knox staff to respond in safe and constructive ways to misconduct and harmful attitudes. We’re equally proud to have delivered context specific impact helping staff to navigate their internal workplace dynamics with a view to acting on their values, doing what’s right, not what’s easy. The roll out of the training included 12 sessions to a total of 250 staff members across the organisation. We were grateful for the opportunity to work with the committed team at Knox and proud of the positive feedback received by the training participants. 

Imagery sourced from Knox City Council, 2023

Client

Knox City Council

Year

2022 – 2023

Number of participants

250

Number of sessions

12

Location

Online