That training was baaaahd! – “Sheep dip training” is not the answer to compliance

There’s a really baaaahd training practice running rampant in organizations and it’s called “sheep dip training”.  To get an understanding of what this is, you have to understand what “sheep dip” means.  According to the web authority extraordinaire, Wikipedia, Sheep dip is a liquid formulation of insecticide and fungicide which farmers use to protect their sheep from infestation against external parasites.  They gather up all of the unsuspecting little sheep and then begin to dunk them in the vat of poisonous liquid…for their own good, of course.

This is not unlike a popular training strategy used today.  It goes like this….

Dip ’em all!  Unsuspecting employees (the sheep) are herded into a training session (generally against their will) and are then subjected to painful lecturing on a compliance related topic like OSHA or GMP.  Everyone gets the same “dip”, at the same dosage, whether they need it or not.  The sheep suffer through it and then try to shake off as much as possible when they are released!  Trainers and Managers (the farmers) proclaim that the sheep are now “safe”.

Dip ’em in the same stuff, every time! Since the dip worked so well the first time, twenty six years ago, it must be good dip, so it stands to reason that farmers should use the same dip as before!  The sheep have started to notice that the farmers never seem to get dipped, and they even wear protective gloves, therefore; suspicion about the safety and efficacy of the dip starts to surface.  I would imagine the reason the farmers don’t need dipping is because they were dipped twenty six years ago and it must last longer for farmers.  ….or farmers are immune to the pesky parasites which afflict the sheep.

Dip ’em again next year!  If sheep aren’t dipped on a regular basis, they may be susceptible to infestation, so someone once declared that all sheep need to be dipped every year to prevent the scourge.  Plus, we know how “refreshing” the sheep find the dipping process, so they should be grateful they are so well taken care of, right?

There are numerous flaws with the “sheep dip training” strategy.

1) Not all sheep are the same, or respond the same to the dip.  Some employees need more emphasis on certain topics than others.  Training delivery, emphasis and duration needs to be commensurate with the learning objectives of each job function.  Learning is more relevant and transferrable when the trainees realize what the training means to them and how to apply it!

2) Not all sheep need the same dosage and concentration of dip to prevent parasites..and quite often a new formula will work better. Some compliance topics relate to everyone in the organization, but not in the same way, and not at the same levels.  Some employees will need to transfer the learning to behavior on the job, which would require good comprehension of the material and an understanding of how to apply those principles.  Some employees will only be in the vicinity of the risk, but never directly exposed, so their needs are clearly different.  By considering current events and the varied needs of staff, it’s possible to make compliance training fresh and relevant every time.  If your organization has been using the same old stale training over and over for years, you need to assess the efficacy of it.  It’s very possible that the training is past the expiry date!

3) Dip lasts longer on some sheep than others.  Depending on the level of risk involved, and the incident rate of particular non-compliances, some training needs to be delivered annually and some does not.  The important thing is to know if the regulations require “annual” refreshers, and for whom.  If the regulation doesn’t dictate the frequency of the training, it’s important to assess the risk level of each job function and provide the training commensurate with that risk.

Think about the training going on in your organization.  Are you a victim of sheep dip training?  If so, renew your training strategy to be more risk based and watch the morale and health of the sheep improve!