Robert, the quality manager at a medium-sized machine shop, received his third customer complaint this month for parts that did not meet the customer’s specifications. He did not need to investigate the cause of the latest complaint because it was the same as the previous two. Inspections of key attributes were sometimes missed and when attributes were checked, prescribed gaging was not used. These were clearly cases of operators not following inspection instructions.

The more experienced operators were responsible for training new operators, yet Robert had determined that both the experienced and new manufacturers were negligent in complying with inspection instructions. Robert determined that training would be the appropriate corrective action just as it had been for the previous two customer complaints.

When training was again suggested during the weekly staff meeting, the general manager demanded to know who was at fault for the most recent complaint, stating that only those who were at fault needed to be retrained. He demanded that the training session include a warning about job security if mistakes continued to happen.

A training session was scheduled for the following day for those operators and inspectors who had handled the order with the recent complaint. Those called in for training thought for sure that they would be punished in some way. Everyone in the training session was very defensive and spent the session blaming others and making excuses.

Robert tried to keep everyone focused on the inspection instruction requirements, but as the session went on the emotional reaction increased. After a half hour, Robert dismissed the operators to return to work and they all signed a record stating that they had been trained, just as they had the previous two times. Robert knew they would most certainly return to their old habits. This training session was an exact repeat of the prior two training sessions, yet Robert was again closing the corrective action with his evidence of a training record.

Robert was concerned, however, that the same problems kept occurring and any time there was a mistake, the focus was on blame and defensiveness rather than improvement. Training had become a punishment. He also was worried that eventually, the company’s ISO 9001 certification could become jeopardized because of failure to show continual improvement.

This scenario is very common. The unproductive cycle of mistake-blame-train-defend often is repeated in the quality industry, and manufacturing as a whole, as a reaction to problems. The best way to break the cycle and improve operator competency and morale is to take a proactive approach with training to prevent mistakes. Robert would need to make training a preventive action.

Quality managers that plan their training programs, schedule them at regular intervals and include all personnel are most effective. Planning ensures that the time spent training operators is used effectively. Including all personnel in a department or job classification tends to reduce emotion and defensiveness because individuals are not singled out and there is no longer a perception that training is a punishment.

It is essential that training programs are repeated at established intervals. Over time, operators may forget certain skills and deviate from procedures. Retraining, especially for critical procedures and skills, reinforces skills and consistent practices.

Scheduled training with advance notification of the training topic eliminates surprises and often allows operators to consider how they may contribute to improving a process or procedure. Training sessions can be valuable opportunities for manufacturing employees to provide feedback.

Establishing a training program to avoid the cycle of mistake-blame-train-defend includes seven steps.

1.Obtain management commitment. This first step is essential and management will be looking for the potential benefits vs. costs. Management will weigh difficult-to-estimate training benefits such as reduced product returns, reduced scrap and increased productivity benefits against the costs of employee time, training materials and trainer fees. If management is reluctant to commit significant resources for a complete training program, perhaps they will be willing to support a start-up program and commit to re-evaluating their commitment after the initial training program has proven successful. Initiating a preventive action request will help keep development of the training program on track.

2.Select a team. Select a small team to assist in putting together the program. Teams provide a variety of input, and shared success promotes future successful endeavors.

3.Start out small. Begin the program with one type of training essential for most employees and this will likely result in the most measurable benefits. Use this program as a model for others to follow.

4.Define the training program. Identify the training scope, duration, learning objective, training delivery method and techniques for determining training effectiveness. Writing down the details of each training program is essential for a successful outcome. When determining the training method, be creative and make it fun and hands-on whenever possible.

Sitting around a table and reading a procedure is rarely effective. For example, competitive games using product samples may take more planning and preparation but will make for a more memorable training session.

Training sessions should last no longer than one hour. If the training program content cannot be reduced to one hour then the course should be split up. Training effectiveness is usually checked with a short test but feedback by the trainer and supervisor observations can be used as well.

5.Obtain feedback. At the end of every training program, obtain employee feedback and suggestions about the training program so that the training team can improve the programs. Improvements should be made because it is likely that the training program will be repeated in the future to train new operators and to provide refresher training for existing ones.

6.Duplicate successful training models. Once the organization has found successful methods of training manufacturing employees, select other training topics and develop similar training programs.

7.Develop a training schedule. Initial and refresher training should be conducted according to a published schedule. Some training topics concerning critical processes or skills should be repeated frequently in order to affirm consistent practices. When training is conducted as scheduled, employees will be less likely to associate a specific cause to the outcome of training; therefore the cycle of mistake-blame-train-defend will be broken.

Keep training positive and focus on skill development and the overall objectives of the company. Training in reaction to a problem may be unavoidable but the more accustomed manufacturers get to training performed on a scheduled basis, the less likely they will view the training session as punishment.

The effectiveness of implementing a training program as a preventive action can be measured both indirectly and directly in order to demonstrate continual improvement. If operators are performing their jobs correctly, the overall performance metrics should show improvement. And, with a planned training program underway, quality managers should be able to provide evidence of continual improvement, as well as help them retain ISO 9001 certification.Q

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Tech Tips

  • Regularly scheduled training programs can prevent recurring inspection problems that could jeopardize ISO 9001 certification because of failure to show continual improvement.

  • Training programs that are scheduled at regular intervals and include all personnel are most effective.

  • Scheduled training with advance notification of the training topic eliminates surprises and often allows operators to consider how they may contribute to improving a process or procedure.