Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Importance of Testing People Who Usually Aren't

I spent last night working with a bunch of surprised, bleary-eyed, slightly confused folks who are probably still wondering what the heck happened.
One of my clients staged a surprise disaster exercise at their headquarters to test the response skills of people who, up until last night, had never been tested on their response abilities.
You will find that most exercises are conducted with plenty of notice, on the day shift, with top management all over the place, in a pretty controlled environment. It is the way things are most often done in corporate America just because it makes sense financially (overtime for these events is often deemed unnecessary or overkill), the head honchos want to partake in such events (during the daytime, of course), and you get the biggest bang for the buck because you have the largest amount of staff usually on the day shift.
But what about the night crew? They are often working with much fewer people, at a time when no one else is around (note that CEOs and the like are hardly ever around the office after midnight), and are often assumed to be able to do what is expected during a disaster although they often don't make the in-service training ops specifically because of their schedules.
Overall the group did great, but the event did point out a number of things:
  • Is everyone in your crew trained? This goes for all of your employees but this can also be a reminder about your family. You might think that grandma doesn't need a fire drill because there is always family around to help her out but what if the rest of the family is out of town when the house catches fire?
  • Is everyone in your crew trained to the same level? Maybe day crew gets the most training because that is when trainers are on shift doing their thing but the night crew should need to meet the same training requirements as everyone else, if not more, specifically because there are fewer people to immediately respond at night to a disaster. Ditto for your family at home. If only the adults are trained in CPR and you have four kids of varying ages, do the math. The older people are more likely to go down and need the CPR performed on them for starters. Also, if you have six people in the house and only the two parents are trained in this particular skill, two thirds of your crew is left in the dark. Not good.
  • It may have been just me, but at the event, it seemed that the night crew was just different than the day crew that I see most often. They appeared to be older, frailer, and less "in the loop" (or maybe, just in their own loop) than the day crew. They seemed kind of like they were their own staff within a staff, very separate and very different. They didn't seem to be "lesser than" the day crew, just "different than" and although they did a great job at doing their jobs, it looked like something that the disaster response trainers may need to take into account because the day crew staff who does the planning for these types of things may end up assuming things about this group of people based on what they know about their day staff and those assumptions may not hold up when it comes to the other crew. On the home front, just because your family is trained to instantly respond to a dozen different disaster scenarios, don't just assume that the distant relatives that are staying at your home for a family reunion have even an inkling about what to do should a power outage/medical incident/other disaster strike. This doesn't mean they are "lesser than", just "different than".
  • There's nothing like a surprise alarm to wake people up, figuratively speaking. Obviously these people were awake and on the job, but I am guessing that the night shift is fairly routine and nothing much happens at night to get people out of their normal course of activities. A good surprise every now and then will keep people on their toes. Ditto at home. Throw some surprise challenges out to the family and see how they handle them.
  • The most important thing, when it comes to events like this, is that you need to make the outcome educational, not punitive. People will not want to play in your sandbox (or if forced, will do so with malice) if you embarrass or belittle them for what they don't know. Again, this applies at home too. By testing people, you see where their achievements, and most importantly, their weaknesses are. During a test is not the time to educate, berate, or correct people. A test is simply a way to see if people are doing what they are supposed to do, how they do it, and what challenges/failures they have. Stephen Covey had it right when he said to begin with the end in mind. What is it that you want to accomplish? You need to then provide the training, framework, goals, and objectives to the group you are targeting so that they will know what it is they are supposed to know/do. Then test them. Then train some more to work on difficult parts. Then test again. You get the idea...

Overall, last night's exercise went very well. After some initial surprise, the group seemed very happy to be included in what is often regarded as a "daytime event." They were glad for the ability to train with the pros, and they learned some very important skills that will help them be successful should a disaster strike their organization in the middle of the night.


  1. Very Good Point! As a night shift worker, I can speak to this firsthand. There is a very clear set of instructions to follow, but they don't always translate well into night shift. There are fewer workers, some areas have no staff on at night, and in the 1 1/2 years that I've worked there, never a drill on my shift. There are a few of us who have talked, and informally planned some quick alternatives, but with new staff coming and going all of the time, it will be a mess. Too bad.

  2. I was also one of those bleary eyed night shift workers. A few months ago I was finally, after three years, able to transfer to day shift. Night shift workers are treated as a completely different company. Like today. I built a new part, a type of part I haven't built SINCE I had been on day shift. I commented to my supervisor how surprised I was that the part went together so well on the first build, since usually the engineers foul it up for the first few times. He replied "Well, you're on day shift now! On night shift there's no way this would have been built." Yet it was me, the freshest person to day shift from nights, who was able to build it. Amazing. Don't neglect those underappreciated night workers too much. The big wigs never work with them or see them work. The only time the big bosses see the night shift workers names is when something goes wrong. But they somehow manage to force themselves to go to sleep at 1pm on a beautiful day and wake up at 10pm, when all their family and friends are just going to sleep. To make it on nights is to be a very determined person. Ok, I'm done ranting. Great blog!

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