from Inside HR/NY, March 1999
by April W. Klimley, Klimley Communications
© 1999, Human Resources Association of New YorkTraining Experts

What’s the best way to increase retention rates? According to two members of PACT Training, diversity training can go a long way toward helping middle managers retain more of their best employees. That was the message of the firm’s Co-Directors and founders, Joyce St. George and Frank Canavan, who spoke at the January 26th meeting of the Employee Relations/EEO/ Diversity Committee.


“There is a direct link between managing diversity effectively and leadership skills,” explained St. George. She reminded the audience that most employees are promoted for their technical skills, not people knowledge. They may not understand managing people – or the new expectations of today’s employees. Because of this, they may need formal training to become more effective managers.

“There are many ways to teach people how to better approach employees and get the most our of their staff,” said St. George


PACT Training does this through its own special brand of training – a special type of reality-based training called a living laboratory. This drama-based approach immerses both the instructors and audience in open-ended scenarios designed to highlight different HR issues tied to diversity or management development.

An abbreviated version of a living laboratory workshop was presented to attendees. The program centered around a real-life employee conflict situation enacted by St. George and Canavan. Canavan played “Mike,” a very successful white male manager, who is a big producer. St. George played “Nydia,” a young Hispanic female employee. As the scene opens, Mike is on the phone expressing his concern about being a white male who has been passed over for a West Coast promotion in favor of a woman executive with less experience.

After he hangs up, Nydia knocks on the door and enters the office. She is clearly a very talented member of his team, but she also speaks English with a heavy accent. Nydia has developed an important software product, and asks to attend an upcoming presentation to sell it to a client.

Mike clearly has reservations about this and tells her he has selected someone else from the team (a young, white male) for the presentation. This is Nydia’s third turndown for similar requests. She leaves the office dejected – end of scene.


  • The trainers asked the audience to evaluate the situation.
  • What was Mike worried about?
  • Why did he turn down Nydia’s request?
  • How did Nydia feel?
  • Was she likely to stay with the company?

The audience then had the chance to participate. The trainers explained that Mike had called for a meeting with HR. He was worried about losing Nydia, since he was getting calls from recruiters about her.

The trainers asked for a volunteer to participate as an HR manager and committee chair Angelyce Scott came forward. The imaginary curtain rose again with Scott sitting at the desk in her office. Mike entered and started to discuss his problem. With some coaching from the trainers, Angelyce began to ask Mike questions about his situation with Nydia.

Gently but firmly, she began to show him how his preconceptions were standing in the way of developing an employee, as well as of his own success with the company. By the end of the meeting, it looked as if Mike might be able to take a new look at the situation. Also, it was clear that the next step might be more formal management training for Mike to help him to understand the expectations and variety of employees in the workforce today.

Scott used a number of techniques very positively in her conversation with Mike. They included:

  • Identifying with Mike and his way of thinking
  • Creating a safety zone for him, saying he was appreciated by the company for his years of experience
  • Communicating honestly with him (about his reservations about Nydia’s accent)
  • Focusing him on the benefits of keeping an employee like Nydia happy and productive
  • Challenging his assumptions (that the client might feel uncomfortable with Nydia)
  • Explaining that there was not a quick fix for the problem
  • Creating options (suggestions about how to improve Nydia’s skills)
  • Building a pact (gained agreement to work together to retain Nydia)

This experiential exercise helped to demonstrate how the culture of an organization reflects the values of those individuals who run it. HR professionals can help to create a setting that is safe, of high quality and equitable.

Boss Reprimanding Employee