“You don’t know what you don’t know.”

That’s an expression frequently used by a longtime professional mentor of mine, usually in strategy meetings where we were trying to predict challenges and mitigate risk. That’s why we love process in our corporate organizations: It provides a level of predictability and, in turn, security.

We need to find a way to be OK with admitting how uncertain we are about the world the #MeToo movement is propelling us into. There is no tested process. There are few corporate case studies. There is very little security or predictability. We simply don’t know. And that’s scary. But that’s not going to stop #MeToo from continuing, and we must be able to share our experiences if we’re going to move beyond fear and shift behavior.

I came forward in January with one of my own #MeToo stories, and I continue to feel the ripples of that decision. The process of speaking out would have been more difficult without the wholehearted support of my organization. Our executive management team provided legal resources, advice and the space I needed to share my experience both professionally and personally. Without a road map, they were able to provide the insulation and air cover I needed to come forward. I realize that my situation is probably a great case study in the “ideal situation,” but there are several lessons we learned that are worth sharing.

Here are some suggestions and questions to spark dialogue in the age of #MeToo (and help uncover some of the stuff you don’t know):

Regularly and proactively communicate your organization’s policies against sexual harassment and the steps to take to report an incident. Start now and repeat it regularly. I don’t mean just the standard 15-minute online training, but a verbal communication and discussion of policy with leadership.

Let people ask questions and tease out scenarios. None of this gets solved by assuming we’re all on the same page – consider rolling out a series of discussions with HR and management. What would you need to put in place for this to happen?

Check the pulse of your own company’s culture. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace Report, 70 percent of the American workforce is disengaged, meaning that the majority of people are showing up and doing just enough to collect a paycheck. I’m not suggesting that all disengaged employees are being sexually harassed, but there’s a likely tie to culture and behavior within your organization.

Get interested and real about the origins of disengagement within your company. Involve your management in an open dialogue and conduct internal anonymous climate surveys to understand if and how bullying, aggressive behavior and sexual harassment may be affecting workplace culture. Be proactive in communicating the results and exposed blind spots, and discuss steps to resolve gaps.

Be vigilant in ensuring that the companies and people you do business with share your organizational values. How will your company react if someone makes a #MeToo report against a business partner (customer, supplier, vendor or provider)?

Think through how you communicate about specific incidents. What if sexual harassment is reported at work? How will you communicate any incident internally? Will you communicate any incident externally?

What would happen if an outsider made a report of harassment against someone in your organization? How would you support one of your employees if they have been harassed by someone outside your organization? Hopefully you don’t have to face this situation, but having a plan in place will allow you to react quickly and in a way that is in line with your organization’s values.

How will you directly support survivors? The decision to come forward and share a #MeToo story is arduous and takes a great deal of energy. You may notice behavioral changes in people going through their own process of consideration. Some survivors may also require time to recover after their story is shared. Are you prepared to support your survivor employees with time away from work? Will you offer additional resources?

As more people find the courage to come forward with their #MeToo experiences, we need to prepare ourselves for how we handle the movement within our own organizations. For more information about legal requirements and best practice recommendations, model policies, information about training, and information for survivors, please visit MaineCanDo.org. It’s time to be real with ourselves and the moment we’re in – and begin to work together to figure out a path forward.

filed under: