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Case Study (Roles): Inventory Management

Submitted by  on January 31st, 2014

wooden hand with jigsaw pieceIn my Expert View, titled Training Expectations: Roles and Performance, I looked at the negative impact on training effectiveness when employees turn up to a training event without a clear idea of their roles and responsibilities. Manager and employee confusion over roles often reigns when the training program is part of a poorly thought-out change initiative. Perhaps the organization is merging with another company and tasks will need to be divided differently amongst employees. Or perhaps a new accounting system is being implemented, necessitating the creation of additional roles.

In my Expert View, I urged managers to ask and answer two crucial questions before the training program starts:

  1. What new roles and responsibilities will these changes necessitate? What key result areas will the new roles and responsibilities encompass? Which employees will be impacted?
  2. For each Key Result Area, what are the performance expectations? How can these performance expectations be expressed in terms of measurable objectives and observable behaviors?

Roles and Responsibilities is one of eight factors in Leslie Allan’s PRACTICE Approach™ for improving the impact of training. Find out more and get Leslie’s high impact training guide.

In this blog post, I want to expand on the first question about who will be impacted by the change and how will their responsibilities differ. I will do this by revisiting the example I introduced in my Expert View.

In this example, a company manufacturing consumer electronics recently implemented a new inventory management system. The new system involved a hardware upgrade to the company’s servers and the installation of new inventory management software. The training department invited production planning department and warehouse employees to a demonstration of the new system. The demonstration included some hands on exercises. Over a period of six weeks, the software vendor delivered the training competently to a little over 70% of the eligible employees.

Three months after the training, the training participants’ managers expressed their disappointment to the Human Resources Manager. They were upset that only a core of production planning and warehouse department staff was using the new system. They were also very dismayed that the expected efficiencies from the new system did not eventuate.

The Human Resources Manager met with the production planning and warehouse department staff to find out what went wrong. The employees complained that when they tried to use the new system following the training sessions the inventory data was incomplete and inaccurate. Managers had assured the employees before the training began that the data would be fixed when, in actual fact, they could not agree who should be entering the data.

It was left up to some enterprising individuals to enter the data in their own way, leaving inconsistencies and duplications in how the data was stored and reported. Other employees quickly gave up on the system and went back to their tried and tested paper-based methods.

What could managers have done differently to ensure that the training program was a success? Turning to my first question above, I encourage managers, at the outset, to decide on the who aspect of the change. In this case, they needed to work with the systems vendor and project manager to conduct a role analysis. A role analysis will identify the new and changed tasks required to be done in the new system.

I suggest grouping the tasks under specific Key Result Areas. A Key Result Area is a grouping of activities within a role for which there is an identifiable outcome or result. In this example, Key Result Areas could include:

  • data management
  • system upgrade and maintenance
  • supplier relations
  • accounting

Once identified, each Key Result Area can then be populated with the relevant tasks. The existing problem of inaccurate data in the new system concerns the first Key Result Area in the above list; data management. The managers in our case study can then work with the production planning and warehouse department employees to flesh out the various tasks in the data management Key Result Area. For example, these data management tasks could include:

  • enter Bill of Materials, purchasing and dispatch data into the inventory module
  • customize and print reports as requested from managers
  • audit data for accuracy and produce monthly audit report
  • set up new inventory categories as required

Once the Key Result Areas and tasks for each area are categorized, managers will then need to decide on how the areas and tasks will be apportioned. Questions to ask at this point include:

  • Which Key Result Areas and tasks will form the basis of newly created roles within the organization?
  • Which Key Result Areas and tasks will be allocated to existing roles?
  • Which employees will be migrated to new roles?
  • Which employees will adopt new Key Result Areas and tasks as part of job enlargement or job enrichment?

These are the hard questions that need to be sorted before any training on the new system takes place. When managers avoid these difficult questions, change initiatives and their related training programs suffer. In this example, after five employees left the organization in frustration, the management team created new Data Entry Officer and Systems Manager roles. The existing Warehouse Clerk role was made redundant, with the current incumbent being offered the role of Data Entry Officer. When the offer was not taken up, they were offered a Warehouse Picker role, which they duly accepted.

Trainers need to be very cautious about conducting training programs for which the prospective participants are unsure of their roles and responsibilities. Starting such a program before these questions are clarified for everyone concerned is setting up the program for failure even before the program begins.

Some managers are only too happy to leave it to the trainer to communicate changes to people’s roles or to sort out the confusion in the training room. I encourage program designers to identify unclear roles and responsibilities at the program design stage and to work closely with participants’ managers to bring certainty to people’s roles.

Now that you are on your way to identifying roles, Key Result Areas and tasks with a proper role analysis, the next key question that you need to ask and answer before training begins is what performance standards should you expect from each employee affected by the change. It is to this question that I will turn my attention in my next blog post. Stay tuned.

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