Editor’s Comments: Outfitting for Superior Performance

Sept. 20, 2013

When it comes to safety, chances are you have no problem making sure your people are properly equipped with boots, gloves, vests, hardhats, harnesses, and the like, to protect them from injury and you from workers comp claims. After all, not only does workplace safety make sense, it’s a fundamental obligation that you accept in being the boss.

But the paraphernalia are just one facet of the safety equation and, when you think about it, really the easy part. By far, the largest contributor to your organization’s safety lies in headwork, something not often well developed in many of those just entering the work force…no more, indeed, than their ability to match the work performance of people who have been around for a few years, people whose knowledge and skills have been honed by long hours of practice and, like as not, a few bumps and bruises along the way.

The point I’d like to suggest here is that your obligation to your workers’ safety doesn’t end with equipment but wanders over into such less definable but no less critical areas as attitude, competence, situational awareness, and vocational knowledge…areas fundamental to headwork that are accessible through training.

Sound far-fetched? Perhaps, but if you look beyond the obvious objectives of training, you see the development of an ethic that is far more valuable to you and your employees than mere work skills. It’s here that you can set not only the goals and objectives for your entire operation, but the tone for how these are to be accomplished. So let’s look at several functions of your training efforts that go beyond their immediate purpose and impact the very foundations of your enterprise.

  • Maximizing your human capital-Not only are your employees your most important asset, but they are also a depreciating one that needs continuing investment to help them achieve their maximum potential. It’s not only about gaining knowledge to be able to deal with new systems and practices, but detecting and eliminating bad habits and practices that invariably imbed themselves in activities we consider second nature.
  • Increasing productivity-Productivity is not a commodity. It exists in the experience, knowledge, and dedication of your workers and their desire to explore new ways to extend the capabilities of the tools at their disposal. If you don’t continually involve your staff in the educational process, where then do you expect increases in productively to come from?
  • Reducing nonproductive supervisory efforts-The more time your supervisors have to spend correcting routine mistakes or solving problems that happen over and over, the less time they can invest in positive pursuits. But that’s only part of the equation. While ongoing training can help your people stay focused on their tasks, perhaps the most important element here lies in the development of a team spirit…the “We’re all in this together” attitude (not the right word) that characteristically distinguishes the exceptional organizations from the also-rans.
  • Retention-Recent studies confirm what ought to be a pretty obvious conclusion: Organizations that fail to train their employees are more than three times as likely to lose them. Moreover, if one of your present equipment operators quits to go somewhere else, not only is he taking with him a serious investment in hands-on experience, but also it leaves you with the need to hire and/or train a replacement…a process that can cost you both time and money.
  • Financial bottom line-In view of all of the above, it is hardly a stretch to see a direct relationship between employee performance and an organization’s investment in its training programs and practices-assuming, of course, that this investment includes staying abreast of the times. One example of this is the impact simulators have had on training programs in just the last couple of years. Another less direct example is the emergence of general education classes many organizations host to overcome language and math deficiencies among their workers…and families.

But for all of these benefits, the deepest can be found in headwork-the ability to focus on the job at hand, free from distractions brought about by uncertainty and ignorance-and this is the greatest legacy that you as their leader can impart to your people.

There are countless books and seminars on the mechanics of training, and a thousand-fold more on the areas on which trainers focus. But the most effective training is only partially verbal, the critical aspects resting instead in the persona of you as the leader, your ability to project a consistent vision to every level of your organization. Where leaders lead, others will follow.