The success of your business depends on your frontline employees. These employees interact directly with your customers, your suppliers and government regulators. If they don't get it right, your business suffers. It's in your interest to make their jobs as easy for them as possible. Sure, you need to offer them challenges along the way. Otherwise they may lose interest and go find another employer. But you don't want them messing up when your customers, suppliers and regulators are depending on a flawless transaction.
One underutilized tool for helping your employees get it right is the job aid. This type of device sits external to your employees and is designed to give them assistance in completing a task. Effective job aids can reduce the amount of time that your employees need to spend undergoing training as they will no longer need to remember vast amounts of information. That's the role of the job aid. Do not think that job aids can replace training entirely. However, they can be a highly effective supplement to training. In fact, some training aids used by your trainers can be successfully imported into the workspace. Discuss with your trainers which training aids may be of benefit in people's day to day jobs.
So, under what circumstances can job aids be used productively by your employees? Consider implementing job aids in these situations:
The task is required to be done infrequently, with employees prone to forgetting the process steps. (Such as a monthly inspection.)
The task is complex, with employees finding it difficult to comprehend all of the factors involved. (Such as diagnosing complex equipment faults.)
The task carries high risk consequences if done incorrectly. (Such as injury to life or limb or damage to a very expensive component.)
The knowledge base required for completing the task is either large or is constantly changing. (Such as advising on hundreds of product variations.)
On the other hand, do not implement an on-the-job aid if the employee is required to perform the task automatically, without conscious deliberation or assistance. For example, some emergency services staff may be required to act spontaneously. Here, taking the time to refer to a job aid may rob the situation of precious seconds, putting the injured person's welfare at further risk.
Here are ten types of job aid that I encourage you to consider, with some examples of application.
A checklist is a form comprising of a list of items that are checked off one at a time. Its purpose is to ensure that all items on the list are accounted for, usually as a prelude to some other activity.
- items to be completed before an application form is accepted
- parts to be collected before items are sent to the assembly line
- qualities to be inspected before product is dispatched to the customer
As with checklists, reminder cards are used primarily as a memory prompt. They are usually pocket-sized for easy transportability and often laminated to give durability. Unlike checklists, they cannot be modified by the user.
- summarizing steps in conducting a performance appraisal
- listing keyboard shortcuts for a software program
- illustrating steps in administering a vaccination
Procedures and Process Maps
Procedures and process maps are documents that an organization uses to convey to people why actions are performed, who is responsible for performing them and how they are to be performed. Procedures are predominantly in text format, whereas process maps rely primarily on diagrams to graphically represent the flow of activities.
- creating a purchase order
- inducting a new employee
- adding an inventory item
A mnemonic is any kind of visual, verbal or literary device used to help people remember. They can be images, rhymes or acronyms and are commonly used in helping people learn. You can build mnemonics into the other job aids mentioned, such as procedures, reminder cards and diagrams.
- knuckles representing number of days in each month
- rhyme indicating to pilots in which direction they should correct their instruments
- first letter of each word in a sentence representing the order of musical notes
A template is a preset format that limits how something new will be created. It can be in the form of a pattern, layout or stencil and can be used for the creation of documents as well as physical objects. Their primary purpose is to save time in recreating the same style, shape or structure and to ensure standardization.
- web page design template
- dress manufacturing template
- document templates for reports, letters, resumes, etc
Forms can be considered a special kind of document template. Forms contain empty data fields and are designed to collect data according to a preset structure and from a number of sources. Within an organization, they are especially useful for ensuring that all of the required information is collected prior to handing a process over to the next department.
- applications (job, training, admission)
- finance (purchase order, receipt, invoice)
- questionnaires (customer, supplier, user)
Calculators and Ready Reckoners
A "ready reckoner" is any device that helps people perform calculations. It can be in the form of software or in hardcopy. Using such devices in the workplace reduces the amount of training required, as it saves employees from performing lengthy calculations. Another lasting benefit is that it helps to reduce the chance of error.
- redundancy payments calculator (software)
- lookup tables for calculating timber roof rafter dimensions (hardcopy)
A diagram is a graphical representation designed to explain how something works or how something is constructed. It is used to illustrate concepts, ideas or relations and can be in the form of a drawing, sketch, plan or chart. Diagrams used during training are excellent candidates for migrating to the workplace.
- color code chart for resistor values (an electronic component)
- cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) technique diagram
- floor plans showing emergency exit points
Online help for users of software is now an expected inclusion with all major software programs. Done well, it can reduce error rates and improve user productivity. For users of organizational systems who deal with complexity, yet are expected to respond quickly, providing such online help is of similar benefit. Before you think about rolling out an "information heavy" training program, consider placing the information where and when it is needed.
- accessing and entering medical records
- retrieving case law examples
- managing customer contact data
Mistake Proofing (Poka Yoke)
Mistake proofing (or poka yoke) is a concept originally championed by Japanese manufacturers. It involves modifying materials, tools or equipment with the objective of reducing or eliminating entirely the chances of error.
- keyed battery charger connectors that prevent reversed connection
- manufacturing jigs that prevent the insertion of wrong parts
- color coded equipment leads that prevent the insertion of incorrect leads
Designing and implementing one or more of the above types of job aids can have a significant impact on productivity, efficiency and accuracy. As an added benefit, employees that do a better job are more satisfied employees. And that leads to less absenteeism and turnover and a more harmonious workplace. Get together with your employees, learning and quality management professionals to discuss how job aids can improve your business performance. Set up project teams to design and install your new workplace helpers. Then sit back and watch your employees soar.
The above is a condensed adaptation from Leslie Allan's book, From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance.
Leslie Allan is Managing Director of Business Performance Pty Ltd; a management consulting firm specializing in people and process capability. He has been assisting organizations for over 20 years, contributing in various roles as project manager, consultant and trainer for organizations large and small.
He is also the author of five books on training and change management and is the creator of various training tools and templates. Leslie is a member of the Australian Institute of Management and the Quality Society of Australasia. He is also a member of the Divisional Council of the Victorian Division of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD). Leslie may be contacted by email at firstname.lastname@example.org
Find out more about implementing job aids in your workplace. Check out Leslie Allan's highly practical electronic resource for building and delivering effective training programs. Visit the From Training to Enhanced Workplace Performance information portal to find out how to download the free Introductory Chapter and start using Leslie's comprehensive employee performance guide and toolkit today.