Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a five-part series of articles that will explore each concept behind the five moments of need in training.
The fourth moment of training need, according to the performance support experts Conrad Gottfredson, PhD, and Bob Mosher, is when problems arise. We’ve all been there. We’ve all watched as a project or process, or even a conversation, goes horribly wrong. That first sinking feeling of “I can’t believe this just happened” is quickly followed by its corollary “I wish I knew how to fix it.”
Sometimes, learning how to fix a problem means signing up for a course. If your calculations were off in your woodworking project, maybe you need to take a geometry refresher. Other times, problem solving is as simple as buying a book on how to have difficult conversations.
The most critical training, however, is the one that is right there for you at the time the problem occurs.
In our industry, we actually have a number of processes in place to address just this eventuality. All food safety systems, for example, include corrective actions that prescribe exactly what to do when there is a food safety issue. They provide specific procedures to help you regain control of the process, ensure product safety, and document the event. They stipulate how to ensure compliance and who to train on conducting the corrective action. More and more, they also set down the conditions for conducting root cause analysis to prevent repeated reoccurrence of the problem.
So there it is, the fourth moment of need neatly wrapped up in a Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points plan—our very own specialized job aid.
Except for one thing.
Corrective actions usually address only the immediate symptoms of the problem, and root cause analysis, when it is done, often points right back to training as the problem.
Why did the operator make a mistake? He wasn’t trained properly.
Why wasn’t this monitoring record completed? Because the worker did not follow the instructions. Why did she not follow the instructions? Because she wasn’t trained.
Training becomes the scapegoat for what is often a far more systemic problem.
The Role of Training in Corrective Actions
Let’s break this down a bit to see where training fits into the corrective action and root cause analysis landscape.
Imagine you work in a pie-making company. The temperature in the walk-in freezer falls below the acceptable level. What do you do? According to your company’s documented corrective action procedure, you transfer the food to a second freezer, call maintenance to fix the freezer, and document your actions. If you have been onboarded to the procedure, this is a simple if annoying task. You may be a bit sloppy with the paperwork, but this is not a training issue. (Some corrective actions may be more complex, and dedicated training could be indicated. What to do when environmental swabbing of food contact surfaces yields unacceptable results comes to mind. But these are few and far between.)
Root cause analysis of our freezer problem shows that widget A malfunctioned, causing contraption B to overheat. The solution is to replace widget A. Again, no need for training.
Now imagine that this is the fifth time widget A has malfunctioned this year, and that maintenance actually keeps a stock of widgets in their storeroom. What should we make of this?
We should conclude that the root cause analysis process is lacking as it clearly did not reach the root of the problem. This lack of proper root cause analysis could be a training issue.
- Question: Why wasn’t the root cause analysis more effective?
- Answer: Because no one was trained on proper root cause analysis methodology.
- Solution: Bring in training.
Without question, training in root cause analysis methodology makes sense. From a business perspective, allowing problems to reoccur is not a wise financial strategy. Auditors often cite a lack of proper root cause analysis as a significant problem. Effective root cause analysis requires a skilled team adept at searching for patterns in the data and dedicated to implementing long-term solutions.
The real issue here, however, is that we have once again accepted training as the final answer. To borrow from a classic root cause analysis tool, we should have asked at least one more why. Why was no one trained on proper root cause analysis methodology?
Why was no one trained on proper root cause analysis methodology?
There could be any number of reasons, including a high staff turnover and the company hasn’t gotten around to retraining; there is no in-house expertise in root cause analysis and no budget for an outside training provider; or nobody really understands root cause analysis in the first place. All of these beg for one more why, and each one points to a far greater issue: Not retraining in a timely manner, not ensuring dedicated funds for critical training, and not bothering to understand a key component of your food safety system means that there may be a weakness in your company’s commitment to food safety. This is not something that training alone can solve.
It can never be said enough: Training and management commitment must go hand-in-hand. Otherwise, like Sisyphus, you will be condemned to constantly push a rock uphill. To provide more than a Band-Aid solution at this most critical moment of need, work to get company buy-in. It will make your training investment a lot more worthwhile, and your training efforts much easier.