Merge's Blog

Training employees – GPS or paper map?

GirlMapGPSDo you remember when Global Positioning System (GPS) devices were not as ubiquitous as they are today?  I do.  I remember having no choice but to use paper maps; studying one before I went somewhere important, turning it sideways and upside down while standing at a street corner in order to orient myself in the right direction, and looking for other landmarks around me to pinpoint my location (once I realized that I was hopelessly lost).

Yes, I admit it, I love GPS devices!  After all, what could be easier?  A pleasant voice telling me to turn left, drive for 6 miles, turn right, make a U-turn and then arrive at my destination.  And if I happen to miss a turn, the just-as-pleasant reprimand — “recalculating”.  Essentially, the GPS has taken what used to be a complicated journey and broken it down, step-by-step, into a series of instructions that I can easily follow.  Which is great!

Except … if someone were to ask me about a location even one block off the path that my GPS gave me, I wouldn’t be able to offer any answers.  Because as great as the GPS is in giving me specific instructions, its biggest shortcoming is that it gets me from point A to point B without ANY realization of what is around me.  As frustrating as a map could be, its one great advantage was that it gave me a big picture view of the entire area.  So in the end, perhaps maps are better than GPSs.

There’s a parallel to be drawn here in the workplace.  How many times have you seen a member of your staff blindly follow a list of step-by-step instructions without understanding the big picture?  Many well-recognized (and highly-regarded) quality management standards and systems require a step-by-step task or instruction list that employees can follow every single time.  So a GPS.  And as long as things remain typical and routine the process works.  But if all the employee understands is the process (so the what and the how) without understanding the logic (the why), then the moment something unusual or extraordinary is encountered, everything falls apart.  What’s missing is the map!

So the question is — GPS or paper map?  In the workplace, should we be using a GPS or should we be teaching employees using maps?  What do you think?  Weigh in please by adding to the Comments below.

P.S. I wrote a similar blog post back in March last year: Training employees – process or logic?  Give me your thoughts on that as well.

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