A need for targeted training in the nuclear sector10 June 2020
Performance improvement initiatives do not always make the hoped-for gains. Todd Brumfield explains why this could be a result of a one-size-fits-all approach to training.
LEADERS INTRODUCE NEW INITIATIVES WITH high hopes, expecting continuous improvement and sustainable results. This fits with Focus Area 3 of the World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) Long-Term Plan where training, coaching and mentoring are presented as essential parts of leadership development. But six months later, those leaders may realise they are not getting any traction within the organisation, employees are confused and results are about the same as they were before. After a year they pull the plug on the initiative and search for another one to take its place, and the cycle continues.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. Whether through classroom instruction or remote learning techniques (a necessity in these uncertain times) we have to understand why good intentions often meet with under-whelming results. The primary reason you are not seeing the results you know are possible is that you are using a one-size-fits-all approach.
Consider an American football team. If the support staff, players and coaches all got the same training and all did the same preparation, it would not mean the team wins. Each player needs specific training for their position, because some emphasise speed and agility, while others are focused on strength and stamina. The role of the coach is much different from that of the athletic trainer. We would not expect the team to be successful if each person completed a course that simply introduced them to football; we need to teach them how to apply what they have learned to the job they do.
The same is true in the organisation. We implemented human performance programmes in this manner: each employee was introduced to the language and processes, but not to their individual role in performance improvement. They completed the training but did not know how to apply what they had learned when they get back to the job.
RemedyTM is a new approach to organisational improvement that gives each level of the company what they need based on the unique role they play, and everyone can more easily do their part. When human performance was introduced after the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in 1979, most of the focus was on the workers because it was assumed they were the ones making the mistakes. Remedy addresses the fundamental weakness that damages the effectiveness of rollouts—a lack of clarity on what you want each worker to do. We can personalise training for three levels in the organisation:
The more executives are aware of organisational performance and what may be hindering it, the more likely the organisation is to have a healthy, vibrant culture. Employees want to see that the actions of the senior leaders are aligned with their words, because that builds trust. If workers do not trust you, they will only tell you the things they think you want to hear. WANO recently noted that leadership effectiveness is mentioned in peer review executive summaries nearly twice as often as any other functional area. Accordingly, the first level in a healthy, effective organisation is that of informed executives who encourage a culture of trust, which allows information to flow between all levels.
Leaders in middle-management or front-line roles get little credit when things go right and most of the blame when they go wrong. Many leaders have no development time or training, and are forced to learn a new role without the benefit of a mentor to guide them through the rough spots. Leaders are more effective if they realise they are caught in the middle and get help to be better coaches. Empowered leaders then should strengthen relationships to encourage worker feedback and be entrusted with the authority to act upon it.
A 2017 Gallup survey found that less than half of employees are engaged in what the company is trying to do, and 16% are actively disengaged. These are shocking numbers that tell us the management style that worked in the past is outdated and will only lead us to failure. The team dynamics have changed. A directive style that does not make workers feel included will not work. It takes management focus and the courage to try new strategies to develop engaged employees who contribute their experience, skills and abilities to help the organisation succeed.
A healthy and effective organisational culture has informed executives, empowered leaders and engaged employees. The Remedy formula describes how to get there.
? Reduce errors: This is an easy place to start, and as mentioned, in the early days of human performance it was the only focus. In Remedy reducing errors is still the starting point. We need to balance the realisation that humans are prone to error with a strategy that reduces the frequency and severity of the mistakes.
? Manage change: Many books have been written on change management, but rarely are these principles applied. We draw an imaginary line in our mind to define the point at which we will need a formal plan and anything below that line is in the space of “I’ll figure it out as I go” based on our perception of risk. Each level of the organisation must understand its role in managing change; the role of the employee is very different from that of the executive, but each is important.
? Error defences: 90% of errors are the result of a failure of the system, not the individual. When an error occurs and the first question is “Who did it?”, we demonstrate a lack of awareness of this principle. A better question to ask is “How did this happen?” Error defences are the processes and systems we put in place to diminish the impact of human errors, which can be minimised but not eliminated. Examples include policies and procedures, training, signs and postings, corrective action programmes and close-call reporting. Latent organisational weaknesses are system breakdowns, or workarounds, that set us up for failure.
Who needs to play a part
We reviewed the Remedy formula and the three levels of the organisation because these form the axes of the Matrix. There are decades of experience included in the development of the Matrix and detailed descriptions of each of the nine boxes are available. Here is a simplified version:
Through online learning modules or classroom training, employees can discover how the three unique actions in their row of the Matrix will accomplish the scope of the Remedy formula. If engaged employees follow expectations, support change and communicate their concerns, they are doing their part. Similarly, empowered leaders and informed executives are simply required to take the assigned actions in the Matrix, to do their part, to move the organisation forward to achieve sustainable results.
Everyone has a job to do. Remedy provides a simple method of ensuring everyone understands their role in the team’s success, making performance improvement sustainable.
This approach is well-aligned with continuous learning, one of the traits of a healthy nuclear safety culture. We must stimulate learning (by making it personal) if we want to improve performance.
So, when you consider your progress on performance improvement initiatives and realise you are not making the gains you had hoped for, consider whether you targeted the training to the expectations of each employee for the job they do. To make it work, you must make it stick and the best way to make it stick, is to make it personal.
Author Information: Todd Brumfield is Vice president of Operations at Knowledge Vine*
* Todd Brumfield was previously WANO Team Leader and performed assessments in nuclear plants around the world, including in China, Mexico, Abu Dhabi and South Korea. He was an Initial member of the WANO Hong Kong office supporting new plant startups