Learning from the Front Line (2/3)

Photo by Danist Soh / Unsplash

Why you should look to, and reward, your front line employees when adopting new technology - Part 2

This is part 2 of a three part post. If you missed part 1, you can read it here.

Step 2 in any digital transformation is an integrated technology teaching/learning framework enabling the organization to sustain its tech-enabled productivity gains. While it may seem simple enough–teach front line workers how to use the new tool and transform them into "superusers"–organizations often overlook the importance of well-designed, sustainable in-house training programs. Our research team has observed two examples where poorly-designed training leading to a protracted and conflict-ridden implementation, in wildly different contexts.

From the mid-2000s to the mid-2010s, doctors throughout the country underwent training in the use of electronic medical records (EMR). Vendors promised healthcare clinics and hospitals that training and use would be straightforward, given the supposed simplicity of the tools. But when it came time to do the training, vendors sent fresh college graduates hired as entry-level trainers into healthcare settings, wholly unprepared for the wide range of healthcare workers' computer proficiencies and openness to changing their routines. The result included many doctors feeling as if a young know-it-all was demanding that they change the way they had been doing things for decades, contributing to intense resistance and EMR usage that fell very short of expected outcomes.

More recently, we have been a part of the implementation of new automation technologies in warehouses. These implementations include everything from well-proven mechanical sorters to advanced A.I.-enabled robots. Well-proven technologies provide a better example because vendors have had decades or more to develop robust training programs. Yet even these vendors often fail miserably: Warehouses suffer from one of the highest turnover rates of all industries, and vendors spend only a few days on-site to train whoever is currently working there at the time. The same crew does not show up the next day; fewer show up the next week; and by a month post-implementation, a given warehouse might have 50% of the staff it initially trained on the sorter still working in the building. The result is a scramble to train new workers on a technology that few frontline workers are experts in, which slows the process of developing SOPs for that technology and therefore impedes productivity gains.

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Thinking Prompt
What was the last technology you learned how to use? How did you learn how to use it?
Have you experienced a time when you were inadequately trained to do something new on the job? What went wrong?
How would you train someone from a different department to use a technology you use everyday?


Our team believes in a model that reduces your reliance on any given vendor and its training programs, instead building in-house training capabilities that are reproducible and sustainable even in the most turnover-ridden environments. The "train-the-trainers" model has proven successful for training workers on new technologies, ranging from simple and proven to complex and experimental. Likewise, helped organizations of various sizes – from less than 10 employees to hundreds of employees – tackle the challenge of training staff in ever-changing technology environments. We can help you design and integrate a training program using the staff you have today, building the capacity to on-board or upskill your workers. Benefits to productivity aside, a well-designed and implemented training model gives staff of all levels career momentum and growth opportunities.

A critical component of designing such a program is understanding the diverse expertise, values, and perspectives your employees hold and treating these insights equally regardless of the employee's position in the organizational hierarchy. In Part 1 of this series, we introduced the idea of introspection as a method for uncovering and acting upon these characteristics.

Starting with introspection as the foundation of your training model not only gives trainees an opportunity to become experts; it also ensures the sustainability of the program and its robustness to various types of organizational change. Front line workers themselves receive ownership over the process of growing co-workers' capabilities, leading to continual revision and improvement of the program. Likewise, front line workers who successfully become trainers develop portable skills that they can use for career advancement. In Part 3 of this series, we'll discuss these and other ways of rewarding your workers for their contributions to organizational effectiveness in deploying new technologies.

Here at Organizational Mycology, we're working to bring facilitation, and consulting engagements that can help you and your organization navigate these complexities by finding ways to bring forward differing perspectives so that you can co-create a robust and resilient organization.

To get a sample of how we work, and how we think, come along to one of our Oblique Thinking Hours run the second Tuesday/Wednesday (depending on time zone) of every month.

Dan Sholler

Dan Sholler