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Best practice

November 28, 2008

I’m confident that we have all heard the term “best practice” before. For an organisation this can mean many different things. It could be most efficient use of resources, the highest level of service to the customer or leading the field with product quality. Usually it is a combination of the these, in association with a couple of other factors (eg market), that determine what we should be spending our effort and resources on.

This can mean two things for us in the training environment. We should be striving to achieve the best practices in the way we deliver our training as well as attempting to teach what we know as ‘best practices’ to our students.

This is where documentation can assist. Once again it affects us on two fronts. What we teach and how we teach it.

Start with ourselves

Documenting our mistakes and successes lets us record the lessons that we have learned during our tenure. If our predecessors had done the same, we now have less mistakes to make and should have an idea of what practices yielded the best results. The next generation will have the benefit of both previous two generations as a foundation of knowledge to build upon when they inherit the mantle and so on.

Finish with the rest

Ironically we all strive for this concept of best practice. Typically it comes down to economy of effort and we tend toward the path of least resistance. I’m not suggesting that we are slackers. It is not because we don’t want to expend the effort to please our bosses, its just that like water and electricity, we have a natural propensity toward only expending what we see as necessary to achieve a goal.

In our early stages of learning, we lack the ability to determine what this minimal effort is and we often approach each task overly enthusiastic simply because our desire to succeed compensates for what we lack in skill or knowledge.

When best practices are poorly communicated to the rest of the team, each member tends to adopt their own. This can lead to competing efforts and may yield varied results. At best efficiency suffers and at worst, well let’s just say the chaos does indeed reign.

What do we do about it

Up to know I’ve generalised this concept of best practice and its effect on training. The bottom line is that until we document the best way to do our jobs, all we are doing is showing people different ways to do it. In some cases this is fine and during training I will discuss with my students techniques (suggested or common practices) and procedures (required practices or standards). The key is ensuring that the student can identify the difference the two. Not every task has a defined procedure and some may allow variations to be made along the way.

There can also of be many different ways to achieve the same result. Identify the ones that we want to be seen in the organisation and promote them. Explain why techniques differ in terms of safety, quality, service, efficiency, economy etc. Also list the ones that you want to avoid, explaining once again why. Stamp out bad habits and make each team member accountable. If every team member is familiar with the document, then each and every one of them knows the best way to achieve their objectives.

A permanent record

Over time this will generate an operations manual that reflects the working environment, It will assist in identifying the gap between novice and skilled workers, orientate workers with other elements of the workplace and keep management appraised of operations at the ‘coal face’.

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