by Dean Prigelmeier, President of Proactive Technologies, Inc.
A very common fallacy in business operations is that a description of what should be done listed in a quality policy, such as a quality control policy or a quality assurance plan, that seems to be sufficient for the training component of ISO/TS/AS certification meets, therefore, the company’s training requirement in general. Perhaps this false equivalency is wrongly supported by the additional fallacy that the existence of standard work instructions is the equivalent of on-the-job training plans. Too often this is used to defend the belief that this replaces formal task-based training.
Sometimes this leads to the rationalization that if the company keeps it simple and barely meets what an ISO/TS/AS auditor might accept for their certification purposes, the training requirement is covered. But an auditor at that stage is just looking at what the company is intending to do, not how they carry it out. That is discovered later.
This false assumption is challenged when product or services turn up defective, and customers expect an explanation and a corrective action. This is when a weak, or no, connection can be drawn between the policy that guides quality standards, work processes and who trained and certified the employee to perform the task independently is discovered. This is when the records that exist, if any, do not support the assumption that mastery of the task ever occurred. This is when the customer loses faith in the producer or supplier – not just in the task(s) isolated in the one incident, but possibly performance of all tasks on which they depend.
From a learning perspective, manufacturing environments present hurdle after hurdle to learning and mastering the work to be performed. Unrelenting production schedules, technology advancements and continuous improvement efforts – all offer little room for deliberate task-based training while changing the task out from under the worker while they are trying to learn and master it.
It is in the employer’s and employee’s interest that the job, and all of its required tasks, are mastered as quickly and completely as possible. But the spoils go to those employees who possess the core skills and necessary abilities to assimilate what they see around them and successfully self-teach themselves. Unfortunately, employers find those people hard to find and are reluctant to pay them accordingly to keep them.
A well-run manufacturing operation is an integration of subsystems that all contribute to the overall objectives and goals of the organization. Many of these are well known and routine to implement. Engineers design products or services, then design the sub-assemblies and sub-components that go into the final product/service. Engineering drawings or flow-charts provide structure and specifications standardize the output at a high level of quality.
Quality Engineers develop policies that frame and define the level of quality for inputs into the production of the product/service and the final output that the customer receives. Manufacturing Engineers, in some cases, write up standard work instructions (i.e. standard operating procedures) for some of the more critical tasks performed along the way. These instructions may vary in style, content, depth and quality by engineer. If these documents are not tested with readability and repeatability studies, these documents may be ticking time bombs, waiting for a misinterpretation or missed steps. Even if these documents are exceptional, a really good work instruction is poor substitute for an on-the-job (task-based) training plan. Not from lack of effort, but these two instruments have very different purposes and audiences, and designed for such.
If directed, Environmental, Health and Safety departments write safety policies and might offer employees generalized safety training – often meant more to document that safety training was offered than to integrate safety into the performance of every task performed. Human Resources departments develop policies to guide overall employee performance and behavior while in the workplace – often more to enforce state and federal employment practices and as a defense to potential litigation or fines.
And the employee might encounter a number of tasks not considered important enough to standardize in writing, but may be important in preparing to perform one of the more formalized processes. These are “stealth” risks to quality performance, and will eventually be formalized after a mishap that draws attention.
Adding to the challenge, all of these written documents change; philosophies change, technology changes, equipment changes, products and services change, state and federal requirements change, and processes are changed through process, continuous and LEAN improvement. The engineering drawing, the sub-assembly drawing, the work instruction, the quality standard, the safety requirements and the core skills necessary to learn and master the task are in a constant state of flux.
Yet, changes are rarely coordinated well, and timely, between the engineering, quality, EHS and HR departments. Without a structured, task-based on-the-job training infrastructure, which translates and ensures changes emanating from one or more of these departments are incorporated by the employee into compliant performance of the impacted task, the entire operation can appear suspect in the event of just one costly act of malperformance.
One of Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of of Highly Effective People is, ”begin with the end in mind.” Relating this to this discussion, the end would be the accurate and consistent performance of each task required by each worker of the business operation which, in the aggregate, help the company meet its business goals and objectives. That is where effective organizations focus. Not on adjustments to quality policies, work processes and other directives; thinking that those efforts will positively effect the outcome but having no evidence to justify that reasoning. Neglecting the most important step – developing and managing the delivery of the intended performance by each worker, for each task – is like preparing and combining each ingredient for cornbread, accurately to the recipe, and then leaving it on the counter – hoping someone will put it in the oven…at the right temperature…for the right amount of time.
It does not need to be this way, but before the necessary change is initiated to refocus and integrate the many variable inputs into the training of the worker to perform them, the organization has to be honest with itself – just as they are critical about the performance of the other systems that keep the organization going. In all of my years working for, then consulting, small, medium and very large organizations I rarely find anyone in management or workers that are honestly proud of their worker development programs (when they are being candid). Yet they are reluctant to act even though the organization remains at growing risk until a seismic incident happens and the total cost assessed. Managers that I talk to know that this is an area worthy of improvement, but each seem to be waiting on the other for a solution.
In the meantime, some organizations feel that if a few classes are offered and if they pick the most skilled job entrants (while concurrently believing those necessary core skills will be found while lowering wage levels), they needn’t consider this potential risk. Worker training is something that most managers would like to see deliberate, accurate and complete but avoid in conversation since, in reality, it seems complex and hard to pin down the responsible party.
One easy, low-investment way to “retrofit” existing operations to integrate existing processes, policies and mandates into the performance of every task required of each employee is with the PROTECH© system of managed human resource development. This system provides the tools, record keeping capabilities, easy revision management, and link to other issued documents. For new-hires, this approach provides the accelerated transfer of expertise™. For incumbent workers, this system closes the gap of tasks they have not had a chance to learn or master. For all workers, everyone is driven to the same high bar of full job mastery. For employers, the internal costs of training are greatly reduced, the levels of work quality, quantity, work compliance and safe performance are increased – with an increased return on each worker investment.
To ensure this system is set up properly to each company’s culture, operation and goals, Proactive Technologies sets up each program – incorporating existing quality standards, safety standards, engineering specifications into a “best practices” procedure – the basis of replicating the star performers. PTI provides technical implementation support to ensure workers are developed quickly, efficiently and completely so the company can focus on its business. No additional staff is needed and the requirements on existing staff are negligible. Since this approach builds a framework around what already exists informally, the goals are easy to understand and achieve.