By Michelle Benjamin
April 19, 2012
U.S. businesses face challenges unparalleled in the memories of most company owners and executives. Current staffing levels are at a record low yet customers continue to demand superior workforce performance. An employer’s challenge is to bring the team’s skills up to the required levels of excellence with the least disruptive impact on business operations and cost. While all this seems apparent, very few companies take advantage of training employees where and when needed to discover opportunities for process improvement.
The most common reason why training programs begin is to address errors and/or delays. A training program is most effective when it takes place immediately when the employee’s underperformance occurs - also known as on-demand training. It is during these times that the training is best received as necessary by the employee, creating an environment that safeguards the return on the training investment.
On-demand training breaks down the job into a series of discrete process steps so that remedial training can be offered when and where needed. One distinct advantage that on-demand training gives is the flexibility to meet the requirements of any work environment. By breaking down a job into its smaller parts, a company can gain a comprehensive view of all the points at which a worker might need or want more help or training. With a carefully designed on-demand training program, a company can evaluate the job at hand and make immediate corrections to an employee’s actions.
While problems, such as low productivity, system errors or safety violations, are reasons for on-demand training, there is an equally important purpose that is not as obvious. Recent employment forecast reveals that staffing levels will remain low for the foreseeable future. Yet, smaller teams mean that there is little or no experience inside the company to cover the skill deficit. Too often, the dislocated employee lacks the relevance of similar work skills to match customer expected results. Successful hiring will require an on-boarding program that includes on-demand skills training.
As you develop or hone your company’s training program, keep the following three key principles in mind:
1. Jobs can be divided into steps. Every job, from answering customer calls to making hospital beds, can be broken down into teachable parts. To fully understand the steps involved in executing a particular job, you will want to involve the employee that is responsible for fulfilling this particular job. Once the steps are clear, your company can create a training program which will add value in a number of ways - by improving the execution of specific job steps; simplifying the overall job by removing an entire step from the employee’s responsibility; addressing an overlooked step; rearranging the order of job steps; or even enabling steps to be completed at different stages in the process.
2. Every job has a common structure. This common structure, while independent of the worker, includes the following steps: defining the expected job results; identifying the requirements to successfully perform the job; preparing the work environment; performing the job; evaluating the results; making adjustments to achieve the expected results; and completing the job. Most jobs also require a process exception step since problems can occur at any point along the way. While some steps are more critical in execution than others, each step is required to complete the job successfully. For example, a security guard might better prepare for her shift by reviewing the prior shift notes. Opportunities to create on-demand skills training reside within each step.
3. Jobs are different from the solution. Too often companies are focused on the end result of a job, losing sight of the steps that are required to yield the desired outcome. But when the steps that lead to the outcome are the focus, companies can add improvements along the way and hone their present offerings. When a major utility company required parking coordination in an urban environment, the focus was on training directional orienteering to the workers and workflow process management to achieve the sought-after results - which was to finish ahead of schedule to avoid a multimillion dollar fine and minimize monetary liability.
Other key essentials to note: These days, with the explosive growth of eLearning coursework on smartphones and tablets, supervisors can empower employees to take online training during openings in their schedules or before and after work hours. Supervisors can receive testing results and certifications instantaneously once training is finished - this immediate feedback ensures that training goals are met, and employees receive proof of their enhanced skills and abilities.
A combination of planned training during the business week and the use of online coursework with feedback can create an effective on-demand skills training program. The training can either be provided by a committed company mentor who is expert in the skills being taught, or by company employees that have undergone a formal “train-the-trainer” program at a training institute. A well-crafted program should include a dedication to ongoing training as a way to reinforce the worker’s skills and as a tool to decrease employee turnover while improving confidence and satisfaction. A training program should be measured by focusing on the individual steps to a job to then track the employee’s performance. This will enable you to uncover opportunities for further improvement and product or service innovation.
Michelle Benjamin is the founder and CEO of Benjamin Enterprises. She has created Workforce Solutions through Labor Management and Training for major corporations for more than 25 years. She can be reached at 800.677.2532 or [email protected].