Build v. Buy: How to determine your best approach to harassment prevention training

Build v. Buy: How to determine your best approach to harassment prevention training

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For many employers, especially multi-state employers, the question of build v. buy for harassment prevention training is worth revisiting in 2019.

If you’ve been in “build” mode for employee training in the past, the expansive and sensitive nature of new harassment prevention mandates may have you considering a vendor/partner relationship.

Conversely, if you’ve been in “buy” mode, the opposite rational may also hold true. If it’s an expansive and sensitive enough issue, maybe it’s time to bring in house.

The goal of this post is to offer a framework to help you navigate this decision.

As someone who has advised hundreds of global compliance departments and university TItle IX departments on building effective and scalable compliance and prevention programs, here’s the framework I’ve used in helping to guide executives through this decision.

7 Considerations in Build v. Buy for Harassment Prevention Training

1. Do you know exactly how complex this is going to be?

Your evaluation should start with a baseline understanding of the complexity of your situation.

Ask these yes/no questions to get started. These questions, while not exhaustive, are a good start in gauging complexity.

  • Do you have employees in more than one of the five mandated states? (Here are the states with harassment training mandates>>
  • Do you have remote employees?
  • Do you submit bids to New York State or any of its public departments or agencies for public contracts?
  • Do you have employees who are non-English speaking?
  • Is this your only company-wide (all employee) training initiative?
  • Do you onboard new employees every month?

For a complete list of key questions in evaluating your specific harassment prevention compliance needs, take the Impactly Harassment Prevention Compliance Assessment for a custom report on how to meet and exceed the new mandates within your organization: Start Anti-Harassment Compliance Audit>>

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, then your organization is among those that should expect to make considerable annual investments in designing, updating, delivering and tracking multiple harassment prevention training programs. If you already have large L&D and compliance departments, you may be sufficiently resourced for this type of initiative, but given the gravity of the topic, you will want to conduct an analysis to see if your in-house team is equipped (and willing) to develop this training.

Pro Tip: If you’re being tasked with evaluating your best course of action and you’re new to your organization or to this part of the business, you’ll want to start with an understanding of your internal resources and capabilities. Don’t assume that because you have L&D or a compliance team that they can (or should) support this new initiative.

2. What’s your expected update cycle?

Training fatigue is real.

If you’re already delivering annual, company-wide training on Code of Conduct, GDPR, Diversity & Inclusion or other topics, then you may have already resolved questions about compliance updates and content refresh cycles.

With so many new mandates going into effect in 2019, many employers will adopt annual training for the first time. To all of you, I encourage you to look 2 or 3 years into the future when doing your build v. buy analysis.

At Compliance Week’s Annual Conference in Washington D.C. in 2018, Shawn Rogers, Lead Counsel, Compliance Training and Communications for General Motors, was quoted as saying:

“Our goal is to never show the same training twice.”

And while that might not be your philosophy, it’s worth considering what your intended frequency will be and how you are intending to support and resource those updates.

Pro Tip: Vendors often commit to update cycles for certain courses like harassment prevention. Be sure to get those commitments in writing, if you’re going to go the buy route.

3. Who will really own this initiative?

Who owns harassment prevention training in 2019?

Will HR or L&D continue to own it? Is it getting moved under the Chief Compliance Officer or GC, who already owns
Code of Conduct?

Make sure you know who is going to be responsible for evaluating and implementing harassment prevention training. Shared ownership is fine for decentralized training initiatives. For company-wide harassment prevention training, there will need to be a single owner.

And you want that owner making the final call on build v. buy. They’ll look at this as a multi-year initiative and decide what’s the best, most sustainable and cost-effective approach.

Pro Tip: If legacy internal dynamics make it difficult to have single ownership for this initiative, then a strong vendor relationship might be your only option. Often a vendor, like a consultant, can part the seas to get company-wide projects implemented in a way that internal stakeholders cannot.

4. Can my outside counsel handle this?

Many companies utilize outside counsel to provide in-person training for their executive team or for bi-annual supervisor training. This model is harder to scale across a company-wide initiative. Even if your employees are all located in a single location, the new time requirements for training new hires can make it cost prohibitive to bring in trainers several times a year.

Many top labor and employment law firms like Littler Mendelson and Jackson Lewis offer “virtual” training that takes in-person training content and delivers it via webinar.

While this can be an effective method, you will want to evaluate the trainer, not just the firm. It’s not simply their knowledge of the law that makes an attorney qualified or effective in delivering company-wide harassment prevention training. Ask to review a recording of a virtual training they’ve delivered in the past. Do your homework, even if it’s your primary outside counsel.

Pro Tip: If your outside counsel is handling litigation for you or has in the past, particularly if it is employment litigation, you may want to consider any potential implication of bias that may come from using your attorneys to conduct harassment prevention training.

If you’d like to get connected with an in-person trainer from the Impactly network, please send us an email to

5. Do you have a specific brand-standard for all employee engagement?

Every company is unique and every company is the same.

You and your vendors both understand that deeply. Your vendors ultimate goal is to focus on the sameness, and your goal is to focus on the uniqueness.

Most vendors offer generic off-the-shelf harassment prevention content that can integrate into your LMS. There are cost benefits to licensing this content, but it may not meet your brand requirements.

Alternatively, paying a vendor to build a course from scratch can be a good solution, if they’re willing to refresh that content and monitor it for compliance updates.

Pro Tip: Customizing or modifying existing course content through a vendor is always going to be more complex and costly than you expect. It may still more cost effective and higher quality than building and updating internally, but don’t expect changes to come easily with any vendor.

If you need help evaluating vendors, we can send you a vendor comparison chart. Email us here to request it:

6. Do we have internal prevention expertise?

Who on your team has read the 2016 EEOC Study of Harassment in the Workplace?

Who on your team has scripted training scenarios influenced by its guidance?

Don’t underestimate the difference between AB 1825 supervisor training expertise and bystander intervention expertise. New mandates in CA, NY and DE are focused on harassment prevention at the employee level, not the manager level.

If you decide to build internally, it is important to engage a prevention expert if you don’t already have one on staff. This is not only for the development of the training material itself, but also for the follow-up question period for those states that require interactivity.

7. Do you have an established budget?

This is a trick question.

Whether you have a budget or not shouldn’t influence the build v. buy decision. But in practice, it always does. No budget = build. Which means, instead of adding a line item to the budget, everyone is going to work overtime to deliver a new training program. That might be okay for 2019, but that will get old fast.

Pro Tip: Whether you decide to build or buy, start making your case for budget now.

To that end, we’ve developed a great Harassment Prevention Compliance Assessment that gives you an executive summary of your specific needs. It’s a very useful resource in making your case for budget. It’s free. Click here to get started>>

Want to compare harassment prevention training vendors? Click the link below.

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