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Training is the Key to Success, or Failure, in Business

Business runs on processes such as hiring, safety, management techniques, etc. And the larger the business the more likely these processes will have associated training programs vs the OTJ training in Mom and Pop companies. And these training programs, while appearing excellent on the surface, may be quite faulty. If you evaluate problems relating to safety, proper employee treatment, etc. you should start by looking at the training.

There is often the tacit assumption that sophisticated training programs are correspondingly effective; but, they are seldom as effective as touted. Here are six potential problems and questions to address them that we have used in over thirty years of working with virtually every kind of industry.

1. Do people understand language level used in training? Here is a paraphrase of a safety program statement: “But, in the event the worker refuses to follow the methods required to work safely, management must utilize a system of progressive discipline to enforce safety requirements and ensure the cooperation of the worker or the termination of the worker.” Not a bad sentence – but does the listener have the college-graduate level reading ability to comprehend it? Because that is the level of education needed for that sentence. And on the shop floor – the main place safety matters -- are you sure the workers are college graduates? Or that they all understand English? Keep vocabulary very simple and make sure you present the information in the language in which people are most fluent.

2. Even if people understand are they learning? You may have understood every word the history teacher was saying but did that mean you were learning? In school students are given tests to assess their mastery of the course. In business training sometimes people are tested and sometimes not. Some sort of testing should be done – and, in addition, while 90% is an A in school in some areas of work you may want 100%. Not using one of twenty safety techniques is all that’s needed for a disaster,

3. Do they remember what they once knew? Do you remember how to calculate the foci for an ellipse? If you are on this website it is certain that at one time you did. And, if you were like most students you forgot the formula not in the decades since high school – but days after having crammed for the test. It is probably fine that you don’t remember the ellipse formula – but if you forget what you learned about safety that’s a problem. Refresher training is necessary on a regular basis. And an especially strong training session is needed every six to nine months to combat what we have long called the “six month fade” – because that’s how long it takes for a program to begin being abandoned. But don’t take my word for it – look back on company histories and see how many programs were implemented – and discarded within a year or less. Keep it current.

4. Is the training too situational to generalize? What you learn in an off-site meeting playing management games can be fun. In the distant past my firm conducted “lost in the desert” games and most – but not all – of the group found the game fun. I was with one client who had people helping each other climb rock walls. And most – not all – had fun. But once back in the office those lessons didn’t seem to mean much. Some people find these non-work activities a waste of time. And, at the end of the day, working on a committee is not the same as climbing a wall. When we do team training we try to do it on-site and with actual problems the team is facing.

5. Just because people know something are they motivated to use what they learned? We worked in a plant where people knew they were supposed to wear goggles and asbestos gloves and they knew all the reasons why. But many workers didn’t think it was necessary, the foreman wasn’t watching – so they didn’t. You have to enforce behavior.

6. Does it happen at the “shop floor?” In most organizations the “shop floor” -- whether that means the construction work site, the retail store or whatever -- is where it all happens. Your Vice Presidents are not doing most of the hiring; the 25 year old Store Managers are. We worked with one company that had a quality program all of the officers of the company knew by heart and believed in. So did the Plant Managers and Assistant Plant Managers. But when we asked hourly workers on the graveyard shift about the program that had been in place for years some of them said: “Sounds great. We should get a program like that.” Take it to the shop floor.

If you are diagnosing problems relevant to why a program is not working start by asking each of the six training-related questions above. Why was there an accident in a plant with complex and highly tailored safety programs? Maybe because the fancy training wasn’t understood. Maybe because there were no consequences to not using what had been learned. And each of the six areas don’t form a net where one compensates for the others; rather each is a trapdoor – if I never understood the concepts what else matters? If I grasp all of the material and don’t want to use it what do the other factors matter? It only takes one “trapdoor” to invalidate the worth of the training.

Even more importantly if you are in a position to be proactive and avoid problems before they occur, start by asking these questions and continue to ask them along the way.

By Dr. Bob Rose
Industrial Organizational Psychology Expert Witness, Litigation Support, Forensic Consulting
Dr. Bob Rose has been consulting to business for over thirty years. He is a Principal in Rose Porterfield Group RPG. RPG works in pre-hire assessment, training, coaching and any aspect of people at work and in virtually every industry. Bob has written two books, book chapters and numerous articles. He has a black belt in Kenpo but is not very good at it.

Copyright Dr. Bob Rose

Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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