Online Learning Specialist ELK Online
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Training requests: why L&D must do more detective work

L&D professionals are often approached with training requests, but what if the problem can’t be fixed with a course?

23rd Nov 2020
Online Learning Specialist ELK Online
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Female FBI agent/policewoman working late in the office. Criminal investigation concept
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Have you ever received a training request that just seems…unbelievable? Something that you never thought you’d actually have to tell people? Do you accept the request and create a new training programme or do you put on your detective cap and start sleuthing?

If you are presented with a situation that looks like people trying to be difficult, awkward or actively disobeying the rules, you need to ask yourself why. 

I was working with a manufacturing client that was seeing a rise in the number of people failing to follow safety protocol with machine maintenance and, in turn, a rise in significant injuries. These were the kind of injuries that occur when you insert your arm into moving machinery and get stuck – in case you’re wondering, the machine doesn’t stop.

Training adults not to insert body parts into machinery? Something didn’t seem right. So I picked up my detective cap and started investigating.

Step one: find out what is already in place

I needed to find out what methods the client had already tried to communicate the safety expectations to the team. My initial conversation went something like this:

Me: What do you already have in place to help people understand the dangers of the machinery they're working with?

Client: There is a general induction pack and the site supervisor spends time with the individuals on the specific machinery that they're working on.

Me: So, they know the machinery is dangerous?

Client: Yes.

Me: Are they told how to use it safely and what could happen if they don’t?

Client: Yes

Me: Do they believe the consequences, the potential injury they could suffer?

Client: Yes. Unfortunately we had a fatality a couple of years ago that was witnessed by a number of the team who are still working there and the team saw the incident that happened last week.

(I check the incident from last week and see that a worker got their arm stuck in a rotating part of a machine whilst trying to recalibrate a band).

Me: Ok…

As I leafed through more reports of serious incidents I noticed that the client was absolutely right: people were actively finding ways around the safety procedures.

One man, for example, became injured when he jumped a barrier to walk across a platform used for cutting metal. Had he opened the gate before walking across, an automatic shut off would have been activated and he wouldn’t be facing months of physiotherapy to deal with the severe muscle damage he suffered.

People behave the way they do for a reason, the key was to find the reason, and so far that was proving difficult.

The client was convinced that the best approach was to create a series of online training courses, bespoke to each of their manufacturing sites, explaining the specific risks they might encounter and how to avoid them. They already had training and onboarding activities that were explicitly clear about the risks, however. So what good would another round of training do?

Step two: find out what the team think

Management often has one idea of what is happening, while the team on the ground often has different views on the matter.

I spoke to a range of people working in different areas of the manufacturing site to find out what their take on the situation was. I always start from the point of view that people want to be safe and happy at work, this helps to open up a constructive conversation and avoid the ‘blame game’.

Most of the people I spoke to told me the same story: a combination of cost cutting measures, not re-hiring roles when people left and an increase in demand had led to their workload growing year on year. They told me they simply didn’t have time for safety.

Step three: validate your findings

It’s important to be aware that when you speak to a range of employees who are unhappy with an aspect of their workplace, they may tell you a version of the truth that is exaggerated. It is therefore vital that you validate your findings and collect facts.

I started to ask a lot more questions of the client and of their team:

  1. What are the teams measured on? What is their success metric?
  2. What happens if tasks aren't completed on time?
  3. What is the reward for completing tasks on time, or exceeding the success metric?

This is what I found out:

  1. Success is measured in the number of parts produced per day.
  2. If tasks aren’t completed in time you stay until they are done, with no overtime pay.
  3. Individual bonuses are paid for extra parts produced in the day.

Suddenly the penny dropped. The team was making a calculated decision on when to ignore the safety procedures. They were weighing up the chance of them getting hurt with the chance of them going home on time and getting a bonus that week. Think about how many hundreds of times that man had successfully recalibrated the band before he made a mistake. That equates to hundreds of minutes or hours saved, and many days of going home on time. No amount of training will change this behaviour.

Quite simply, the success metrics that management had set were not taking into account the downtime required to conduct all tasks safely.

Step four: present your findings

I explained my findings to the client and they were horrified. They hadn’t meant to create this environment, it was just something that had slowly occurred over time – an oversight.

They immediately readjusted their success metrics to allow for the machine downtime and created a ‘safety champion’ at shop floor level to counteract the long-standing poor practice.

With no more reward for ignoring safety procedures and no downside to respecting them, the number of incidents reduced.

Sometimes training is not the answer. If you are presented with a situation that looks like people trying to be difficult, awkward or actively disobeying the rules, you need to ask yourself why. Sometimes the value that you add to your clients or your team is exploring the root cause of behaviours and helping them to explore alternative solutions.

Interested in this topic? Read Becoming an L&D data detective: how to collect facts before you start training.

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