Employee Training – Step Two: Solutions

The bookwork, classroom lectures, videos and exams are completed: everyone is now certified in food safety and busy at work making money. Congratulations! Your interest and involvement in their training speaks volumes. However, then the audit or inspection happens – the inspector notes food safety problems that were discussed during training.

Something is missing, but what? Were you assuming too much about their skills and knowledge? (It is amazing the skills and knowledge people say they know and understand, yet are unable to master in the real world). Was there a problem in the operation? Equipment might be missing, misplaced or poorly designed. There might not be enough time for the employees to complete their tasks. Or just maybe the motivation to practice food safety got outweighed by the importance of production. (Nothing takes the place of supervisory monitoring). Finally, the training which seemed so complete might be missed important components

This article will leave you to monitor the operation to determine the cause of the problem, whether the problem truly lies with the employees or rather, with the facility layout and design . For now, we’ll concentrate on missing components to the training effort. (Later on, there will be links to other training sites and resources.)

Fortunately, behavioral science has this end covered. Decades of research have uncovered exactly how a training program should be designed for the best results. After each step, I’ve described the contribution of behavioral science research in bold print.

First, define the problem or concern

Behavioral Science: Employees must perceive the issue as both serious and relevant to them. Otherwise, they will not be motivated to act. They might acknowledge the importance of the problem yet fail to see its relevance to them.

This point seems easy enough and often is assumed. After all, if there’s a meeting, there must be a problem. (Even a general information session will have an application in the future – the instructor must take time to define that link, however). All too often, however, employees are left wondering why they need to attend. They may feel the issue does not apply to them. Another employee is at fault, not them. Perhaps the manager is not serious about training and will not spend time monitoring after the program is over. If the problem is a deficient audit, that might appear to be management’s problem, not the employees. If the issue does not seem serious, employees will not pay attention.

Define clearly why you’ve scheduled the program and how the information will be used in the future. (Even a general information session will have applications, possibly future training sessions for smaller groups.) Describe either the possible effects of not acting promptly or how others have already been affected.

Invite only those employees who need to hear the information. If this is only a small group, one or two people, train one-on-one at the site of the problem, e.g., hand sink, three compartment sink, dish machine etc.

Keep the meeting short, simple and to the point. It will make the concern more relevant and serious and employees will remember more information.

Second, how will the information be used?

Behavioral Science: It is important to describe, precisely, what must change, and how. Both steps are critical. Adult learners want this attention to detail.

The manager knows things must change; sales must increase, the food inspector must be satisfied, the dishes must be washed and sanitized properly. However, they might not always know the precise method. (Disassembling a slicer or dish machine might be complicated or even unsafe.) This second step might seem silly. After all, employees are paid, experienced adults who should know what to do. While that might be true, they have diverse backgrounds, attitudes, education, and experiences; leaving the method to their discretion may result in short cuts, a wide variety of behaviors, miscommunication, and possibly new workplace problems.

Call in the experts! Establish contacts in the professional world. Subscribe to food safety journals, food service blogs and web sites. Invite maintenance people, supply companies and other professional contacts to speak to the staff. The manager must also attend the program, to show involvement, gauge employee interest and gather information needed for future monitoring. After the guest speaker is finished, specifically define the expected change in behavior and how it must be done.

Provide an experienced, respected employee, or an expert who visits the facility, to model the behavior. Show employees the equipment they need (soap, paper towels for hand washing; thermometer and sanitizing swabs for temperature checks; bucket, mop, cleaners and material safety data sheets for facility cleaning) for the job, where it is located and who is responsible for maintaining supplies.

Behavioral Science: Employees must not sense any barriers to their new behavior, such as management apathy, lack of commitment to change, missing or deficient equipment or supplies or finally, a lack of time.

Then, have the participants practice the behavior at the problem site in the facility (e.g.: hand sink, three compartment sink, refrigerator); observe and offer positive feedback, until all participants are competent. This approach will go far to assure that employees will maintain the behavior in the future.

Behavioral Science: Employees must believe that the solution given in the program will be effective in solving the concern or problem, and that they are capable and competent to perform the assigned task. Therefore, models and practice are essential.

Third, follow up, monitor, and provide feedback

Training is an ongoing effort! Management must make their presence known on the production floor, carefully modeling the information from the training program and reenforcing good behaviors when observed.

Next Blog: More information about employee training programs, including links to sources of training materials. Contact me directly (dave@foodsafetymentor.com) if you have questions or comments, or if you would like to discuss the services (employee training program design, instruction and proctoring Serv Safe programs or anything else of interest) from our web site

The author conducted an employee training program where the manager left the room!  During an inspection, one employee was observed at a hand sink (there was no soap and no paper towels!) miming the proper handwashing technique as if the sink was properly equipped. Training had been effective!