Toolbox Talks: Train on your feet and not in a seat


When your company decides to implement a Human Performance Improvement process, there are going to be limits to the amount of time, effort, and money spent—that’s just the nature of the beast. In a perfect world, anything that could improve quality, reliability, and—most importantly—safety would have all the resources it needs.

But we live in an imperfect world where the answer is usually “money,” no matter what the question was. There’s nothing evil or insidious about this. It just means we need to be smart in how we spend our limited resources.

To know where to spend your time and funds, you should determine what is necessary and then balance the costs and benefits. One step that is clearly necessary is to give people the information they need to understand human performance and how it applies to their job. How can an expectation be established if there is no information provided to meet those expectations? Balancing information delivery between classroom and in the field training is where the differences of opinions regarding cost verses benefit are found.


There is a price associated with classroom training, both apparent and hidden. Some of the noticeable costs are tied to the logistics of delivering training: hiring a consultant, booking facilities, paying an instructor, purchasing materials, providing lunch, paying for your people to attend, travel costs to attend, etc. These can be significant costs, but they often pale in comparison to the hidden cost of the loss of productivity. Believe it or not, training attendees have other things to do, and if they aren’t doing those things, then that lost productivity costs the company.


Teaching people about human performance is necessary, but it’s only the beginning of learning and shifting behaviors. How many initiatives have you seen come and go within your organization? Attend a class, view a PowerPoint, get a booklet, and then go figure it out on the job. Most of the time, if the workers just wait, the initiative will fade away and become little more than a memory of “when we tried that thing that didn’t work.” Whether it’s a technical or degreed program, how much of what you learned in the classroom actually applies to your day-to-day job? How many of you have heard something like “Get through the training and you’ll learn what you need to know on the job”? Training is essential, but the greatest benefit is realized in the field.

Think about how you first learned to play baseball or softball. There was some measure of initial training (the rules, equipment, skills, responsibilities, goals, etc.) but it’s not where you invested your time and effort. You really learned through practice in the field. This is how we should look at our Human Performance Improvement training. Yes, the basics need to be delivered and understood, but the resources should be focused where the most benefit is gained: in the field, practicing.

If your next training is focused more on skills, like human performance, and less on technical information, consider where your resources are committed. Try to minimize the amount of classroom time and invest your time training on the job. Information is the necessary first step, but classroom training shouldn’t be the focus of the improvement strategy when applying these skills on the job is where the most benefit is gained.

When learning to apply skills and behaviors, training on your feet and not on your seat is what truly transforms the culture.

Toolbox Talks offers quick insights and thoughts to use for your toolbox (tailboard) talks. Dave Sowers is a founding member of Knowledge Vine, a veteran-owned human performance training and consulting organization that strives to reduce the frequency and severity of human errors in the workplace. He has almost 30 years of experience in power generation and the utility industry. He is a veteran of U.S. Navy Nuclear Power Program and holds a bachelor’s degree in resources management and a master’s degree in both management and emergency management and homeland security.