Focus on Coaching to Raise Driver Training Effectiveness

Posted on March 9, 2016 by Steve Mentzer - Also by this author

Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick long ago defined four levels of evaluation to determine the effectiveness of any training program:

Level 1 (Reaction): To what degree participants react favorably to the learning event.

Level 2 (Learning): To what degree participants acquire the knowledge, skills, and behaviors intended for the learning event.

Level 3 (Behavior): To what degree participants apply what they learned when they are back on the job.

Level 4 (Results): To what degree targeted outcomes occur.

It is common for the bulk of effort being put forth by any training department to focus on Level 1 and Level 2. This typically manifests as the time we spend planning for and executing the prescribed training activities that form our learning programs.

Many organizations are now finding that they have the most potential for achieving performance improvements by focusing more energy and resources toward Level 3 activities, such as coaching.

We can measure the impacts of Level 1 and Level 2 by looking at an operator’s discipline with respect to the presence or absence of key performance indicators, such as adherence to proper following distance, speed management, squaring off turns, smooth braking and so on. If our training efforts were effective, we will expect to see the key concepts taught during Level 2 activities being displayed by our operators as daily habits expressed by their normal driving behaviors.

Observations can be made during “ride alongs” (aka “mystery rides”), or we can use technology to help us identify performance anomalies that can serve as the basis for coachable moments. An anomaly represents a behavior or skill that was observed to be below standard. This is an area where we will want to focus our coaching efforts.

For example, an event captured by a digital recorder can be evaluated for root cause and the video can serve as an example of operator behavior or performance that requires improvement. The video can help to inform a trainer, supervisor, or mentor regarding a plan for correcting this behavior through a private one-on-one coaching session. The video can also allow the operator to observe what they did that requires improvement.

The goal of coaching is to provide feedback that will help an operator change their behavior or improve their performance in a very specific way. The feedback given must be objective, actionable and delivered in a timely manner to be effective.

Objective feedback is specific, clear and concise. Comments such as “you need to improve your performance during bus stops” are vague. It is better to offer something such as “you need to improve your bus stop performance by waiting until the passenger doors are completely shut (i.e. rubber meets). Always wait for this to happen before initiating forward movement of your bus to leave the stop.” Now the operator knows exactly what needs to be done to improve their performance. Once this practice (of waiting for the doors to fully close) is observed as a daily behavior (and becomes habit) the coaching can move on to other areas of behavior and performance that may require further improvement.

The recommended advice offered above is actionable in that the operator can physically do what is asked of them to improve their behavior. In the above example, the operator is certainly capable of waiting until the passenger doors have reached a fully-closed position before leaving the stop. Taking this further, the operator can safely judge the doors to be fully closed when the rubber on each side of the door meets and no further movement of the doors is observed.

Finally, the feedback must be delivered in a timely manner. If an undesired behavior is left unchecked, the operator may repeat the performance. Repeated performance becomes habit if left uncorrected over a period of time. As an example, an operator that fails to maintain a safe following distance is far more likely to be involved in a preventable rear-end collision than an operator that consistently maintains proper margins. Therefore, the operator should be notified as quickly as possible when an undesired behavior is observed so the problem behavior can be identified and corrected.

When left uncorrected, the operator may not be consciously aware of the slip in their performance. This places them at a greater risk of having a preventable incident. Ultimately, this is not a game of “gotcha,” where we look to slam an operator every time we find them falling below standard, but rather we should view this as a means of reinforcing the proper behaviors to ensure standards are met that will keep the operator safe.

Essentially, a coach facilitates a process of continuous improvement. The coach also ensures that the “target” remains fixed and that each and every team member is given a fair and equal opportunity to succeed. Coaching isn’t just telling or dispensing information, it is a two-way communication process. Good coaches ask questions and listen intently to the answers their operators give them to gauge the most effective and appropriate way to help the operator do their jobs effectively.

Good coaches also remain positive throughout the engagement to prevent the operator from feeling threatened, which can lead them to becoming defensive or closed off. Remember: coaching is about building up, not tearing down.

Effective people consistently do things the right way. Coaching is meant to help encourage the desired level of consistency by your operators as they perform their duties. The more help and support we can offer to reinforce the immediate training activity, the better results we should expect in terms of safety performance. Achieving safety performance improvement is the goal for all training programs.

So what do you think? Does your training process provide elements of effective coaching? Does everyone in a coaching role within your organization know and promote the agency’s standards for core skills and safe driving behaviors? When corrections are required, can guidance be given in clear and actionable terms that will enable your operators to generate the desired results in a timely manner?

If you haven’t provided coaching at your organization, start small and grow your effort. The return on your initial effort will encourage further expansion. Good luck.

Steve Mentzer is Enterprise Sales Director, Public Transit and Government Fleets, for Lytx.

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