Monday, September 22, 2008

Using managers as trainers.

O K, now you've got the hiring process under control, what will you do with the employees to bring them up to speed once you've hired them? Here's a plan followed by the award-winning Ford engine plant in Romeo, Michigan.

The hourly workforce at Romeo were transitioning from a tractor plant which had previously operated on the same site and had never built engines before. Therefore, considerable technical training was required both prior and subsequent to start-up. Since the plant was organized in work teams and the workforce had no previous experience with these ideas either, extensive ongoing employee social-skill development was also needed. Additional training aimed to develop employee business skills, so people could understand the plant's performance goals and track their progress in meeting them.

Several delivery systems were used to provide training for employee development at Romeo. These included instructor-led classroom training, off-site seminars, video training, stand-up computer-based training, self-instructional computer-based training, interactive video training, and experiential on-the-job training. Most classroom training was developed and presented by Romeo employees, most often by the plant's management team. These instructors were given “train the trainer” courses prior to developing and delivering their programs, with special emphasis on including group and team-based activities.

Many benefits were gained when the plant leaders acted as instructors:

- First, they built learning relationships with the participants, and were seen to be real experts in the content being covered. Over time, this developed into an on-going working relationship where the employees felt more and more comfortable calling on the instructors when there was a problem in their functional specialty.

- Second, as the managers taught courses in their areas of expertise, the plant leadership was perceived to be competent and approachable, instead of distant and removed from day-to-day operations.

- Third, the interaction in the classroom kept the leadership up-to-date about issues developing on the plant floor.

- Fourth, employees got their questions answered directly by those who were the most knowledgeable in the plant about the topic of their concern.

- Fifth, there was visible consistency between the training and the plant’s operating philosophy, which stated that the role of management was “to assure people have the atmosphere, resources and abilities to do what is needed to produce the highest quality production engines in the world, and to develop teams of employees who are the best engine builders in the world.”

During commissioning and start-up, many one- and two-day off-site team planning and training sessions were conducted, some involving as many as 600 employees, sub-contractors and suppliers in the same place at the same time. (A large meeting hall was built for this purpose and was subsequently donated to one of the local churches). These sessions were designed to deal with actual situations being experienced by the employee teams during start-up. Some of the tasks undertaken during these meetings included:
- clarifying the wording of the plant’s mission and operating philosophy;
- reviewing it’s application in real life situations to be sure everyone understood what was intended and implied;
- analyzing how well individual teams were functioning;
- clarifying the responsibilities and accountabilities of individuals and teams; and
- resolving problems within and between teams in operating the plant.

This overall training process was subsequently given the "Best Team Training in America" award by the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).

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