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How much is too much?

Mark Murrell

How much training is too much?

That's a question I never thought I'd be considering, but it turns out that there is such a thing as too much training.

When we first came into trucking, we found an industry where the workers were dramatically undertrained. Compared to other industries, trucking did (and for the most part still does) very little training. Considering how many regulations and safety principles drivers need to be familiar with, very little training actually happens. I'm not just talking about new entrants, but workplace training for experienced drivers as well. I understand the reason why that's been the case (the horribly disruptive effect classroom training has on the fleet and the huge cost it incurs, as a result) but people were definitely undertrained. We gave customers a subscription training service with unlimited use and told them to go nuts with it. We wanted them to do way more training than they had been doing, and just as important, get out of the mindset that training is something that only happens at orientation or when someone has a problem.

Now, it seems that some fleets have taken that to heart, testing the limits of how much training can actually be done with drivers in any month. As a result, I'm seeing situations come up now where some fleets are actually doing too much training.

Yes, I acknowledge that it's weird for me to be saying that - our business is selling driver training so it seems like I should want as much of it being done as possible. I definitely want as many fleets as possible to be training their drivers, but within each of those fleets there is a point at which it becomes too much and loses its effectiveness.

Monthly Driver Training

The "too much training" situation normally comes up when fleets are doing monthly training assignments for drivers. In these cases, they assign some block of training every month, and drivers need to complete it by month's end.

In general, this is a bad idea. Doing monthly safety training for drivers, every month without fail, is counterproductive.

Assigning training for drivers to complete every month over a long term isn't an effective strategy for improving driver knowledge, fleet safety, or workplace culture. If drivers are assigned new courses every month, it's often not because the fleet sees specific issues emerging and wants to address them (in which case it wouldn't likely be happening consistently every month). The fleet may be doing it because they're trying to embrace the idea of continuous improvement and want to create a culture where people are constantly learning, or it may be that they've heard that they need to do this and are just checking a "regular training" box. They may be doing it for their own reasons, because their insurer pushed them to, or perhaps because they hope it will minimize their risks if they end up in court later. However, it won't actually help any of those efforts.

Why not?

The simple answer is that you can't just dump content onto people and be done with it. You need to take time to review what happens after that content goes out, adjust the plans, work on any lingering gaps, and get the audience involved. All of those things work together to improve the risk profile and work culture, but there's no time for it to happen if new content is being served out every month.

To maximize the effectiveness of training, it's important to watch the effect over time and make decisions based on those effects: maybe the training worked beautifully and solved a problem, maybe it didn't do much at all. If new things just keep getting assigned every month, there won't be time to measure the real impact of any of it.

On top of that, not everyone develops at the same pace. There are some people who may love having something new to learn every month, but refreshing their memory of existing regulations and best practices isn't really going to fit the bill for that. Other people need more time to assimilate new knowledge and skills, so bombarding them with monthly assignments robs them of that opportunity. Of course, with drivers having different experience and skill levels, it's also unlikely that they're all going to need exactly the same content every month.

Finally, if it's something that happens every month, it becomes a chore. There's no way that people are going to find every monthly assignment timely and valuable, so it will just become one more thing they "have to do" at work. That's the wrong way to think about professional development, though, so the long term benefit will be minimized or negated altogether.

A Better Approach

So what should you do instead? How do you structure an ongoing safety improvement program that shows results, is more dynamic, and is still manageable to develop and deliver?

It's not that hard, but it requires a different approach.

First, think of it in terms of a monthly activity instead of monthly training. Training is one of the elements, but there are other activities that can be incorporated to support that training that are just as effective.

Start with a quarterly cycle of monthly activities centered around a specific topic area, perhaps structured like this:

That's just one example, but there are many variations available. There might be some live events in a particular month, or maybe someone finds a funny Youtube video that relates to the subject. Maybe drivers are asked to post related pictures on Facebook for a contest. What matters is that the monthly activities incorporate content specific to the company, and that drivers have a chance to participate rather than just being told to complete something.

By combining those elements, a more engaging program is created, the workforce becomes more invested in it, and the content gets ingrained more deeply into the minds and work habits of the participants.

By running it on a quarterly schedule the pace of activities gives people time to think about the content and adjust their daily habits accordingly. There's also more time to watch the results of those efforts in the field and adjust future plans as necessary. Maybe some people need some individual coaching in the subject afterwards, while others might demonstrate a natural aptitude that can be tapped in training and coaching efforts.

Note that there's still monthly engagement with drivers here. The practice of assigning new training every month may have stopped, but there's still interaction with drivers and the topic of the quarter gets a deeper focus.

There's also a better story when an audit or court case happens - not only is the fleet regularly training its drivers but it's also involving them in that process more actively and evolving the program to respond to industry and workplace changes. And since a more engaged workforce is less likely to leave, turnover can improve as well, making the story even better.

Hmm, better engagement with drivers, better turnover numbers, and a better story for auditors - those are things you can't have too much of.