What happens next for new hires who achieve 100% complete for R & U SOPs?

After weeks if not months of waiting for your new hire, she is finally here, finishing up 1st-day orientation. Day 2, she’s all yours. Are you excited or anxious? The LMS (learning management system) printout of training requirements is overwhelming; even for you. Bottom line question running through your mind — when can s/he start carrying their weight for the department workload?

If your department onboarding is like most in the Life Sciences industry, your next milestone is the completion of all the required SOPs to be done Day 1, Week 1, and quite possibly Month 1.  After that, the learning journeys for new hires follow different paths depending on whether they will operate equipment or generate controlled documents and review reports.

For folks who run laboratory instruments or operate manufacturing equipment, a significant portion of the LMS printout of training requirements is to be delivered via On the Job Training (OJT); SOJT more specifically. Structured on the job training (SOJT) is an organized and planned step by step approach for completing hands-on training requirements. The SOJT approach uses some variation of the following OJT steps: Read, Observe, Practice, Qualify. And is managed by a qualified trainer who is monitoring the new employee’s progress until s/he is fully qualified.

Pay Now or Pay Later

Yet for many line managers, they want their trainees now. Ironically, the faster you “push” trainees through their training matrix, the slower the learning curve. This proactive vs. reactive dilemma is not new. Traditional OJT aka “follow Joe around” looks like a win – win for everyone on the surface. The new hire gets OJT experience, a SME is “supervising” for mistakes, and supervisors are keeping up with the production schedule. So what’s wrong, you ask? This hurry up and get ‘em done push often leads to more errors, deviations, and quite possibly CAPA investigations for numerous training incidents. It’s a classic case of pay now or pay later.

After 6 months or so, the trainee isn’t new anymore and everyone “expects” the new employee to be fully qualified by then with no performance issues and no deviations resulting from human error. Assumptions have been made about what he/she has learned based on time in the department. Unfortunately, this is the very reason for “getting the SOPs all out of the way” the first 30 days.  What is needed, is the ability to schedule when training requirements are needed based on the number of days from the start date. Really good LMSes offer smart curricula; when the first curricula requirements are satisfied the next curricula is then assigned with realistic due dates and so on.

Is SOJT Applicable Beyond Manufacturing and the Lab?

What about the new hire who is assigned to Quality Assurance?  Surely their role and job responsibilities are critical to the organization.  They may not operate complex equipment or run highly specialized testing instruments, but the documents they generate and approve using modern Quality Management System software are just as important for compliance.  Could the SOJT methodology be used here as well?  Perhaps for the e-doc processes.  And in many organizations, first round super users receive training from the vendor. 

But what about all the other non-equipment functions within the organization that are compliance-focused?  What happens after new hires reach “100% complete” with their training requirements? What is their version of On-the-Job Training?  If we require them to use the SOJT methodology, we bump into challenges.  For example, the following table highlights where the nature of their tasks do not fit neatly into the steps and certainly would not be consistently executed across the rest of the organization.

Unfortunately, the only “plan” for these employees is the list of required SOPs with due dates and possibly a few required courses.   The SOPs are listed for them via curricula and can either be found in an e-doc system, shared drive, or a similar controlled share point repository.  How to manage this list between now and the due date is really up to the employee.  After all, we hire adult professionals and if they are experienced, they know what they need to do; get their curricula done.  It is up to them to manage their own path. 

And in many ways, this individualized approach looks a lot like informal learning.  Jay Cross in his TD article, “Not Without Purpose”, tells us that informal learning respects workers.  Moreover, he believes that “employees thrive when given the freedom to decide how they will do what is asked of them.” 

When the formal curricula of R & U for SOPs is completed, the new hire begins his/her on the job experience.  And this is where non-linear learning takes place. It’s where learning and performing intersect. Where the demands of the job function require the learner to put into practice what he read and “understood” about the procedure.  Now the procedures come to life as daily problem solving gives rise to real learning opportunities.  In reality though, the retention rate for those early R & U SOPs is pretty dismal.  The best we can hope for is that they remember a procedure exists and they know how to search for it.  They are in essence repeating that exercise making the 1st round a waste of time and effort.

Yet, on the job experiences are the biggest source of learning for employees.  It is what ultimately qualifies them for their job.  But we are not formally capturing it.  At best, we remind our folks to update their CVs once a year.  In the SOJT model, it’s called practice and at least one time we document it. Then we formally evaluate the performance demonstration and capture it as the Qualification Event.  But in this other approach, gaps in performance go unchecked despite having 100% trained reports.  What documents their current qualified status, the original CV that was used at the time of hire?

“Unfortunately, the only ‘plan’ for these employees is the list of required SOPs with due dates and possibly a few required courses.”  Vivian Bringslimark, HPIS Consulting, Inc.

Training, Education and Experience or Any Combination Thereof

Through our recruiting and hiring process we hire experienced people or at least that is the intention.  For clinical operations, it is paramount to successful recruiting.  When filling clinical operations roles, potential hires need to have solid compliance foundations and previous experiences.  But it’s their expertise that gets them hired.  So, you would think they don’t need much new training.  And yet, many of the SOPs, protocols and trial studies are new and evolving so they need to know what’s in these documents.  When high performance includes compliance achievement, it is a must have for these roles.

The good news is that these new hires are highly intelligent, have a strong desire and work ethic.  They are conditioned to facilitate their own learning to transfer their knowledge and clinical skills.  After receiving their curricula assignments, their learning journey resembles more like the organic nature of informal learning where they experience natural learning discoveries on their own.  It is not uncommon then, that Clinical Operations departments tend to operate independently from the rest of the CMC organization with their own set of SOPs and unfortunately form independent silos.

Expanding QA L & D Scope

More recently, QA L&D has begun to partner with ClinOps to better meet the needs of this population and support their role in the future of the organization.  At first glance, inserting ClinOps into the Quality Training System may sound like the easy solution.  But when 300 must-read / need-to-know documents show up in an LMS printout, “it just does not make sense” remarked a Director of Quality Systems.

So rather than structuring their on the job experiences as in the SOJT approach, these folks need an On-the-Job Learning (OJL) methodology that curates their documents and information they need while learning in the flow of their work assignments; not at all once at the beginning of their journey.  Employees want to learn their procedures when they need it the most.  It saves time and reinforces what they read because now they are applying what they just read. 

The effectiveness check is truly their work product.  We can evaluate how well they followed the procedure to produce the output of their responsibility.  This is a far better measure than a 5- question multiple-choice knowledge check for the procedure during week 1 of onboarding. Some would argue that productivity is hindered because the task is suspended while the learner is searching for the procedure.  Which is more lost productivity, reading the SOP for the second time or reading it the first time and executing the task correctly immediately after?

Ken Taylor, President and Editor in chief for Training Industry, Inc., believes that formalization allows us to recognize the impact that this self-directed learning approach has on their performance.  The formal part is the list of documents “that they need to know”. What’s missing is their “final performance demonstration” when we can declare the employee is qualified! When is their Qualification Event captured?

REAPS for COJL

If we revisit the SOJT Model above with the intention to modify for C-OJL, Curated On the Job Learning, it might look like the following:

Read: REAPS

While 300 documents is overwhelming, the better approach is to ask, “what will they do with the information they read”?  And then ask, “when do they need to know this” rather than assign it too far in advance.  Believe it or not, there are times when reading may be acceptable.  When the outcome is awareness only or for information only and no effectiveness check is required or a performance outcome affected by the application of the information, then read can be used.  But please do not call it training.

The initial onboarding should not just be a hyper focus to get the list done.  “As L&D Professionals, we need to provide context over content to our audiences”, says Mark D’Aquin.  Context can be achieved when the curricula requirements are presented as an intended curated list of “content” for the individual’s role and how carefully the requirements have been mapped to performance-based outcomes. Not only does it add a layer of personalization, it highlights just how important the job functions and the outcomes are to the organization.  These discussions with the supervisor and possibly the mentor(s), involves not only the role, but timelines, expected work products and “reports” that will be peer reviewed for compliance and company standards.

Engage: REAPS

Assigning a buddy or pairing them with a peer mentor provides just enough structure to allow the new hire to build positive relationships with peers and begin to build psychological safety where they feel safe to contribute or challenge the status quo without fear of being rejected or isolated. For example, many professionals bring with them their previous employer’s procedures and practices. 

And while it may be the same industry, even the same role, invariably the new company will require differences in their procedures. This means new hires have to unlearn their previous knowledge and relearn new terms and methods rather rapidly.  Mentors can facilitate this process by meeting with new hires to help them debrief and reflect on these changes, ensuring that the new hire leaves the conversation with the right summary of steps. 

“Debriefing is a critical conversation to reframe the context of a situation to clarify perspectives and assumptions, both subjectively and objectively”. “The process of coming to know why an action was taken reveals the knowledge, assumptions, values, beliefs, and feelings behind the action and attaches meaning to information. Critical reflection bridges past learning within the context of a new situation.”  NLN in collaboration with INACSL, June 2015.

In their TIQ May June 2020 article, Emily Blancato & Shelley Stanley, insist that “there must be structure not only around the task but who the new hire should be partnered with to complete it”.  They recommend the following:

  • Identify what your existing employees need to support your new hires in these sessions.
  • Ensure the existing staff will have the time and balance necessary to provide a positive experience during their time with the new hire.
  • Confirm the staff understands the expectations of the program.
  • Prioritize the most common tasks first to allow both the new hire and the team to see immediate productivity gained.

When compared to the SOJT approach, this looks similar at first glance.  The difference is that SOJT Qualified Trainer, is the primary driver in completing OJT indicating curricula requirements.  In the COJL approach, the learner is the driver while the mentor is an appointed resource to foster connections with others to get clarity on content at the time of need and provide recommendations for additional resources.

Apply: REAPS

When the work products start to become deliverables, this is the biggest opportunity to check for effectiveness of the training requirements and the balance of formalness vs. autonomy. It is not only performance oriented, there are feedback loops to have more powerful conversations focused on supporting the new hire’s learning experiences and growth. 

“If you are not taking the time to be specific in your feedback and connecting that feedback to learning, your direct reports won’t be successfully competent or autonomous – or motivated”,  Annemarie Spadafore, 2020, p.28.

It is not intended as control, but as specifics for areas to improve, stay accountable and therefore grow.  For example, if Mentors are not skilled in facilitating debriefing discussions, supervisors can ask new hires to self-report their own learning debriefs and share them with their direct supervisors as a means to guide these periodic check in conversations.

“Jay Cross believes that ‘employees thrive when given the freedom to decide how they will do what is asked of them.’”

Sign-Off: REAPS

Ideally this would happen with the direct supervisor, but it is acceptable for the mentors and designated peers to perform this formal qualification event.  What can be used as evidence?  The final work product of the new hires as they successfully demonstrate their job responsibilities and functions as described in their Job Description.  These Q-Events formally connect the dots of the new hire’s CV to Position Requirements to Job Function and back to Job Description, documenting the full cycle.

“By focusing on the complete journey of the learner and adding structure to that journey, we will be able to better understand the impact of all elements of the learning experience”, Ken Taylor, 2019, p.3.

Let’s go back to your new hire that you are anxiously waiting for.  When was the last time you reviewed her training requirements?  Have priorities changed?  Does she truly need to read the first 100 SOPs by the end of the month?  Will you entertain the idea of letting her read and UNDERSTAND them in the flow of her work rather than by some arbitrary due date?  Who would you assign as her mentor or peer buddy to help her become more engaged and integrated into the company’s culture?  Are you at all interested in her post-orientation onboarding experience? Most importantly, will she prematurely leave the company because of a subpar learning experience?  – VB

Curated On the Job Learning (COJL) StepCompliance Focused Role Based Training
Read – curated curricula documentsPresent the list of documents as a curated mapping for the individual in their role.
Engage – in discussions with mentor Create a vehicle for intentional social sharing exchanges.
Apply – what you read to your taskSchedule debriefing check-ins with supervisor.
Peer –  review of finished work product – Does it meet approved document expectations?Provide meaningful feedback to increase competence and professional growth.
Sign Off – Qualification EventFormally capture documented evidence for each identified job responsibility check point as listed in the Job Description.
  • Adelman, P. “Developing the Next Generation of Physician Leaders”, CLO, MayJune, 2020, 45 -47, 52.
  • (Argyris, 1992; Argyris & Schon, 1974; Brookfield, 1986,1990, 1993, 1995, 2000; Freire, 1970/2000; Mezirow, 1978, 1990, 2000; Schon, 1983, 1987; Tennyson, 1990, 1992; Tennyson & Breuer, 1997; Tennyson & Rasch, 1988). In National League of Nursing, “Debriefing Across the Curriculum”, International Nursing Association for Clinical Simulation and Learning, June 2015.
  • Blancato, E., Stanley, S. “5 Ways to Maximize Your On-the-Job Training Program”, TIQ, MayJune, 2020,40-42.
  • Cross, J. “Not Without Purpose”, T&D, June, 2006, 42-44.
  • D’Aquin, M. “5 Steps to Formally Make the Informal Part of Your Content Strategy”, TIQ SeptOct, 2019, 36-39.
  • Jacobs, RL, Jones, MJ. Structured On – The – Job Training: Unleashing Employee Expertise In The Workplace. San Francisco: Berrett – Koehler,1995.
  • Kirkpatrick, J, Kirkpatrick, WK. “Harnessing Informal Learning”,  TIQ, MayJune, 2020, 28-31.
  • Spadafore, A. “Back to Work”, TD August, 2020, 26-31.
  • Stashak, S. “Non-Linear Learning: A must have for higher productivity”, OREILLY Blog, June 28, 2019.
  • Taylor, K. “Thinking More Broadly About How Adults Learn”, TIQ, SeptOct, 2019, p.3.

Who is the Author, Vivian Bringslimark?

Need some advice on how to set up an On-the-Job Learning program? How’s your Structured OJT Program working out?

(c) HPIS Consulting, Inc.

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