Part Three - Why Learning isn't an Individual Exercise
In Part Two of our series, we talked about the importance of linking learning and development programs to your organisation’s objectives to ensure you’re not solving the wrong problem. In Part Three, we’ll highlight the extra value that you can create when you consider learning and development from a team perspective, instead of focussing on individuals.
Training Individuals Rarely Leads to Improved Business Outcomes
How many times, as a leader, have you sent a team member on a training course, only to find that there’s no change in their performance when they get back to work? Even if they’ve clearly benefited from the course as an individual, with greater knowledge and renewed enthusiasm, the results just don’t seem to be there.
In Bluefield’s experience, this happens a lot when it comes to making reliability improvements, especially reducing unscheduled downtime. Generally, businesses resort to one of two training solutions to reduce unplanned breakdowns – train the maintenance planners in work management or train the reliability engineers in Root Cause Analysis.
Are these solutions wrong? Not necessarily – having skilled people is important (even though expecting reliability engineers to have sole responsibility for asset reliability is one of the top 9 mistakes a company can make), but is training a planner or engineer going to be enough on its own?
Addressing breakdowns is the first step to improving maintenance and reducing unscheduled downtime—not planning and scheduling, nor Root Cause Analysis. You need the fundamentals in place first, otherwise your plans and schedules will always be interrupted. Therefore, breakdowns and downtime can only be dealt with effectively if everyone comes together to work as a team. (You can read Gerard’s analysis of the problem here).
Think about Learning and Development from a Team Perspective
In the above examples, focussing on individuals doesn’t work because there are many team members involved in the maintenance process, all of whom need to be playing their part. In the previous article, we talked about learning at three levels (below). Before we identify individuals’ learning and development needs, we must understand – at a team or work group level – what processes or tasks must be improved to achieve the desired organisational objectives?
Consider the case of the reliability engineer as an example. Let’s say that the process we need to improve is something narrow in scope, such as failure investigation. Even here, the reliability engineer isn’t the only one involved in failure investigation. For instance:
The maintenance supervisor, in many cases, can actually perform the failure analysis with their team, without the reliability engineer even having to get involved (read our series on Simplifying RCA here).
A Superintendent, Senior Reliability Engineer, or even the Maintenance Manager, needs to review the investigation findings and recommendations
Most importantly, any number of people might be responsible for implementing the improvement actions.
Even if the reliability engineer is the world’s leading expert on performing Root Cause Analyses, we can see that any number of people could negatively affect the outcomes if they don’t perform their role adequately.
Consider the Broader Team
When identifying learning and development opportunities, it’s not just about the maintenance or reliability team on their own, either. Consider the earlier example of reducing unplanned breakdowns through improved planning and scheduling (or work management practices in general). Is the work management process only about the maintenance execution and reliability teams?
What about the production team? They play a critical role in the work (defect) identification process, and they have the ability to negatively impact equipment reliability if they aren’t involved in the identifying and reporting potential issues, scheduling of equipment downtime, or don’t release the assets as agreed in the schedule.
A learning needs analysis at the operational or team level needs to consider everyone involved in the process. We’re not saying that operators need to know the ins and outs of the whole work management process. But they do need the right level of capability to play their part.
Don’t Forget About the Leaders
When considering L&D requirements, we often overlook the role of leaders, and what capabilities they need. A leader doesn’t have to be an expert in a process, but it is important that they know what “good” looks like in a process, and when and how to intervene if things aren’t going well.
When Bluefield works with clients to improve their equipment reliability, we find that a major indicator of the effectiveness of the work management process is whether the maintenance superintendent or manager is involved in the process. If the leader is attending the weekly scheduling meeting, reviewing the final schedule, and participates in the weekly review to go over uncompleted work orders, then there’s a good bet that the overall process is working much better than if they’re not involved.
However, to participate effectively, a leader needs to know what to look for. We all know that work management has ample metrics to measure performance, many of which can be “gamed”, or at least misleading when looked at in isolation. An inexperienced leader can easily miss what’s really happening.
It’s important to recognise, however, that the level and type of knowledge that a leader needs is different to that of a maintenance planner. Tailoring a leader’s learning and development so it’s appropriate to their role is vital – don’t follow a one-size-fits-all approach.
The other role a leader plays is in encouraging their team as they go through the learning and development program. If a reliability engineer is going through root cause analysis training, then by showing an active interest in their progress, and by holding them to account for completing their development plan, the leader makes it far more likely that the engineer will improve their performance.
Learning Needs Analyses are Really a Management of Change Exercise
To put these concepts into practice, learning needs analyses at the operational level must bridge the gap between the organisational and individuals needs by describing what tasks must be performed in the process in question.
In other words, if you’re not getting the results you want, what processes aren’t working as well as they should? And for those processes, who is involved in performing each task?
We find that if a process map and RACI exist, this is a great starting point. However, the learning needs analysis should always question whether what’s on paper is what’s really happening on the floor. Often, there’s an “unofficial” way of doing things that needs to be understood.
Here is where the true value of a learning needs analysis often appears. Learning is as much a management of change exercise as anything else. When a process isn’t working well, it’s not always about the team’s knowledge, or even skill. It’s often about attitude, culture, or even the resources we make available.
By involving the team in these discussions, you can uncover a lot of hidden problems and frustration that may have nothing to do with training. The best value solution may have nothing to do with learning and development at all; you may very well save a lot of money on training courses that you don’t really need.
In part four of this series, we’ll look at how to use a learning needs analysis to identify the high-value capability gaps in your team. We’ll talk about the difference between knowledge and capability, and how understanding this difference is key to designing a learning and development program that doesn’t waste your money.
Click here to learn about our Effective Maintenance Supervision program, delivered through the Bluefield Academy.
Click here to learn about how to adopt practical, people-based processes and routines that are simple so that large groups of people can align and become effective from Gerard’s book – “Simplifying Mining Maintenance”.