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The Human Element In the Real World - Part 2

Posted to Maritime Training Issues with Murray Goldberg (by on November 5, 2012

In my last article I gave the example of a small organization which felt as though their training required attention and decided to do something about it. In this article, I'll list some of the excellent lessons from that experience which can help any maritime employer wishing to become a top-rate training organization.

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In my last article I started a discussion of what small maritime organizations can do to improve training performance and organizational culture without having a large budget to devote to the task.  I used as an example a small organization of 100 employees which felt as though their training program required attention and decided to do something about it.

In this article, I am going to list the first two lessons I learned from the experience of working with this company (and others) over the years while they made the transformation to an outstanding training organization.  In subsequent articles I will cover additional lessons including plan ownership, employee involvement, visibility, infrastructure, and others. If you would like to be notified of those articles when they come out, and have not already done so, please click here to sign up to receive e-mail notifications of future maritime training articles.


It is important to note that this company’s training program was not failing in any emergent  way. Instead they came to the gradual realization that, like many organizations, they were doing just the bare minimum. Their days lost due to accidents were slowly on the rise and bad practices were becoming more common throughout the company. There also seemed to be an gradual erosion of company culture and employee attitude.  

The owner of the company was being kept up at night by the belief that sooner or later their lack of attention to training was going to catch up with them in an expensive or tragic way.  And although they did not have any additional budget to devote to training, he felt that with just a little effort and planning they could do much better within their current budget.

The Primary Lesson

The overriding lesson was that any organization, on any budget, can become a top-rate training organization without any (or much) additional expense. In fact, the time and effort devoted to training for this company resulted in so many positive benefits in terms of culture, performance, union/management relationship and employee retention (not to mention safety) that the process was considered a huge net benefit.

What Did They Do?

The full story of the process they undertook can be found in my previous article. However, as a quick recap the company laid out the following goals at the outset:

  1. The formulation of a  “plan of attack” (to be completed within 3 months) for training in the company. The execution of the plan had to be achievable within their current training budget.
  2. Determine how the plan itself was managed; when it would be reviewed, who would own it, etc.  The purpose was to ensure that the plan had a future by being continuously reviewed and improved.
  3. Define the infrastructure required for long term success. For them, the infrastructure for success meant choosing a learning management system (LMS) which could deliver their new training initiatives.
  4. Finally, to launch their training initiative, they decided it was important that the initial plan define one short-term meaningful project that improved training outcomes and/or reduced costs. They decided this initial project must be achievable in, at most, 6 months. The goal was to test their new training infrastructure, test their plan, gain some experience, begin the process of employee engagement, and have one visible success to help develop some momentum. They chose to revamp their basic new hire training and use eLearning to deliver, manage and measure it (which is how I got involved).

The Elements of Success

It turns out that the particular plan of action initiated by the company was a highly successful one. There are many lessons to take from their experience - one which I have now seen repeated many times - always with success. Let’s look at some of the lessons that can be derived from  their intelligent choices.

Get Started Now - Don’t Wait for the Perfect Plan

There is no greater impediment to success than the feeling that we should not do anything until we are able to do it perfectly. It is important to realize that there is simply no way to know all the answers before we begin. And even if we did, the company and the context that it operates in are not static. So although it makes sense to initially do whatever homework we can do, we need to accept that the rest of the answers will come over time.  This has the following two valuable benefits:

  1. It makes it much easier to get the plan off the ground. If we spend too much time trying to perfect the plan first, not only will we get much of it wrong anyhow, but there is the real danger that delays, disagreements and planning fatigue will end up making it so the plan is never launched.
  2. By “prematurely optimizing” your plan we’ll be making a lot of decisions based more on our intuition rather than actual experience. Many of these will ultimately be shown to be incorrect and therefore will need to be changed as we gain experience. It is inevitable and healthy to continually revisit and refine our plan - so we should not get tripped up trying to determine every last detail of what we are going to do. Perfection can only come with time.

Note that I am not advocating the idea that we should get started with little or no planning. All I am saying is that we should only be making decisions now which are actually required in the short term, and for which we have a good basis of knowledge to be making. Keep it simple.

But … Make Sure That Continuous Improvement is Central

Linked with the comment above about getting started with an admittedly imperfect plan (and I would argue that we have no choice in the matter but to do so), is the requirement to revisit and refine the plan at regular intervals. The plan can never be a static document. Instead, it is a living thing that is always updated to reflect new knowledge, new goals, and the new realities that affect the company. I have written more fully about continuous improvement and how it is done here (jump directly to part 1, part 2 and part 3), so I’ll just mention a couple reasons why this is important below.

First, as we have said above, we will (especially early on) be working with an imperfect plan. As we gain experience as to what works and what does not, we need a mechanism to reflect that new knowledge in the plan. If we simply decide that we’ll update the plan whenever appropriate, then it won’t get done. This is one of the surest ways to kill an otherwise great training initiative.

Instead, it is important that from the very beginning the plan defines the interval at which the plan is reviewed, and who is to be involved in that review. If nothing else, this sets a meeting date and creates an expectation that experience and new learnings will be reflected in the plan. Most organizations use a one-year continuous improvement cycle - meaning that every year they review their training performance and make changes to the plan to improve it.

Another nice benefit of continuous improvement is that it requires a bit of an analysis/measurement of how things are going. This necessarily involves doing things like distributing questionnaires or getting feedback in other forms. In addition, the process of refining the plan should involve people from various parts of the company (more on that in the next article). This means that continuous improvement is a visible exercise which demonstrates to all employees the reality that training is important and that good performance is valued in the company.

If any of this sounds complicated, it is not. As above, the details can be worked out and refined over time. At the outset, the critical part is simply indicating in the initial plan that continuous improvement is central, and that it will be performed on specific dates. You can then assemble a small committee to learn a bit about what continuous improvement is and task them to write some initial guidelines (which will themselves be refined over time). Again - keep it simple.

Next Lessons

As I mentioned above, in subsequent articles I will cover other lessons learned from my interaction with this (and other) companies. These will include plan ownership, employee involvement, project visibility, training infrastructure, and others. If you would like to be notified of those articles when they come out, and have not already done so, please click here to sign up to receive e-mail notifications of future maritime training articles.

Until then - thanks for reading and have a wonderful day!

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About The Author:

Murray Goldberg is the founder and President of Marine Learning Systems (www.marinels.com), the creator of MarineLMS - the learning management system designed specifically for maritime industry training. Murray began research in eLearning in 1995 as a faculty member of Computer Science at the University of British Columbia. He went on to create WebCT, the world’s first commercially successful LMS for higher education; serving 14 million students in 80 countries. Murray has won over a dozen University, National and International awards for teaching excellence and his pioneering contributions to the field of educational technology. Now, in Marine Learning Systems, Murray is hoping to play a part in advancing the art and science of learning in the maritime industry.


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