Five Strategies to Develop Your Team for Today and Beyond

Dec. 9, 2019
Create a system to transform frontline workers into safety leaders.

In the past, employee training mostly took place during the onboarding process. New hires were showered with information and expected to retain it well enough to apply it correctly on the floor. Not surprisingly, this “spray and pray” method has proven less effective with time, as today’s learners experience the world visually and digitally, with one topic rapidly moving to the next.

These days, learning programs that focus on reinforcement for continuous improvement are becoming the industry standard because of higher success rates. It makes sense. Safety is never “one and done,” and it’s often when we get too comfortable that accidents happen. Unfortunately, in our industry, mishaps can be much worse than a simple slip and fall. Incidents can lead to accidents, injuries, amputations, and even death. 

The most effective training programs rely on systematic processes of validation and reinforcement to ensure important concepts are understood, retained and practiced consistently. First comes understanding, and then comes correct action on the floor. While more training that focuses on engagement might seem a strain on already lean workforces and resources, there are effective methods that you can easily incorporate into our health and safety programs, starting now. 

It is also important to look beyond the present and create sustainable programs that will help you develop future leaders who can continue to improve health and safety performance for years to come.
Following are five ways to elevate your training program.

1. Develop learning plans to streamline training and use central reporting for easier audits.

Automating training is one way to standardize learning processes and content, especially when scaling for larger operations. Developing learning plans—essentially playlists of required courses that supervisors may “plug and play”—makes training more efficient. Learning plans can be tailored according to roles or departments, then assigned consistently for each new hire and used for ongoing reinforcement. Learning plans can empower workers by allowing them to “own” their training and development programs.

One area of training that’s challenging to manage is compliance documentation. It’s critical to develop a central reporting system to track progress for each employee and to measure and document the effectiveness of training processes. Between changing operations, evolving regulations, high turnover, and often analog documentation methods, tracking training can be a chore. A computerized modular system can simplify documentation of training and evaluation of effectiveness by capturing and storing data in the cloud for easy retrieval. This can make things easier for you, for example during an audit or an OSHA inspection.

2. Use shift huddle guides for more efficient meetings.

Shift huddles led by supervisors are an effective way to reiterate important training concepts and get everyone on the same page. It’s also a valuable opportunity for face time and allows supervisors to address the group and answer questions at once. However, shift huddles may vary depending on the supervisor. Not every supervisor is skilled at leading meetings or managing time. 
Many leading companies have found success using pre-determined shift huddle “guides.” Not only do they save time by providing supervisors with a blueprint, they help meetings stay on track and keep messaging consistent. For more mileage, multilingual guides can be used to reach everyone on diverse teams. Remember that communications processes need to account for differences in language, culture and literacy.

3. Reinforce—and repeat—for best results.

Studies show that up to 80% of training material can be forgotten within the first 30 days—unless that material is reinforced. Workers are more likely to retain information that’s delivered continuously, and in a quick, efficient manner. The best way to deliver information quickly is in short learning “bursts” or mini-lessons that reinforce major concepts introduced in training. Shorter lessons are not only easier to digest and remember, they can be conducted quickly, often on the line. Because in manufacturing every minute matters, using “down time” to deliver mini-trainings can maximize your training program’s efficiency. 
Another successful method for reinforcing training is behavior-based programs where workers observe and coach each other on the job, documenting instances of proper behavior and opportunities for correction.

4. Elevate training with one-on-one coaching.

The most effective training involves some level of one-on-one coaching, ideally performed on the floor. Many regulations require formal observations; however, finding the time and keeping good records can be a challenge. Some companies have seen success using mobile apps that capture and document verification of correct practices, and track and manage corrective actions in the cloud. Record as you coach for measurement of effectiveness and 24-hour audit readiness.

5. Create a system to transform frontline workers into leaders.

While improving training programs for new and existing employees is essential, management should also create programs that prepare frontline workers for leadership. Always keep succession plans in mind, and make sure that your senior people are transferring their hard-won knowledge to the new guard who will eventually take their places.

Oftentimes we promote our best frontline workers to supervisor and management positions, yet after weeks on the new job, juggling unfamiliar tasks such as managing former peers and dealing with compliance paperwork, they become overwhelmed. When frustration rises, they underperform or throw in the towel, leaving management scrambling to find a replacement. Be sure to invest in formal, high-quality leadership training for your new leaders.

As older generations retire and the next generation of workers is left to fill the empty roles, it’s essential to get new leadership prepared in advance. What many of these new supervisors soon discover is while they may be well-versed in executing day-to-day operations on the floor, they don’t possess the skills necessary to lead successful teams. 

Strong supervisors must know how to communicate and exude confidence that instills trust in their teams. Communication requirements range from motivating more reticent employees, to encouraging effective teamwork, to dealing with day-to-day personal issues that may pop up. When working on your development plans, be mindful of the difference between management and leadership. We manage things, and lead people. Two great books to help you develop a leadership training program are The World’s Most Powerful Leadership Principle: How to Become a Servant Leader by James C Hunter, and Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman.

How to Fit in Effective Training while Meeting Production Goals

By focusing adequate resources on developing the next generation of leaders, companies can avoid the subsequent problems that may arise from high turnover rates. A course program that teaches the soft skills supervisors and managers need to lead successful teams, like effective communication strategies, can make a tangible difference on the floor.

Strict production goals and tight timelines make it difficult to set aside time for leadership development training. The real challenge is devising a way to fit in effective leadership training while still supporting production goals. Success will not only depend on the content that’s delivered, but also on the way in which it’s delivered, including when and how often.

Short online training modules that can be delivered quickly, without pauses in production, are the best option out there. E-courses allow supervisors to complete training in downtime, without travel, and offer the most flexibility across different departments and schedules.
Effective training content must also work to avoid distractions and incorporate interactive exercises. Studies show when learners anticipate answering questions, they’re more likely to focus and retain knowledge. Finally, training should aim to utilize the latest technology available, such as mobile coaching apps, to guide future leaders one-on-one.

While many leadership programs are already on the market, they’ve typically been designed for office workers in corporate settings, not frontline workers on the manufacturing floor, or they are delivered as weekend seminars, requiring budget and travel. There are now online leadership training programs designed specifically for developing supervisors in the unique world of manufacturing. These programs are available as part of a library of training and audit-readiness solutions, including eLearning for workers to take on their own.

There are many ways to strengthen overall safety training and leadership development and they all depend on resources, budget and culture. These five methods may be implemented at most facilities right away for an immediate improvement in employee engagement that sets the stage for future success. 

Rick Gehrke is senior EH&S consultant with Intertek Alchemy (www.alchemysystems.com), a provider of solutions that help food and manufacturing companies engage with their workforces to drive productivity and safety.

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