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Content vs. Context

Posted by admin on June 2, 2013

We’ve been helping a large manufacturer integrate critical thinking skills (CTS) into the conduct of operating at the plant.  The engagement started with teaching the leadership team a suite of processes for making decisions, solving problems, preventing problems, taking advantage of opportunities, and setting priorities.  The application work of these processes was for the leadership team to decide who in the plant needed which skills and at what level of competency.  

The leadership team decided that all employees need problem prevention and problem solving skills in order to improve asset reliability and, therefore, profitability.   They also decided that the level of competency for various populations in the plant was different due to the role people would have in problem solving and problem prevention. 

Supervisors received in-depth training in these processes so they could use these skills with their employees.  Maintenance and other technical personnel also received this in-depth training so they could apply the process to everyday job concerns.  Machine operators are receiving awareness training so they know what questions are asked in effective problem solving, what facts to gather and the process terminology so they can communicate effectively with others in the plant about problems.

A critical component of our work in the operation is the development of coaches, who are internal resources who have received in-depth training in all the CTS processes.  Their role is to facilitate the use of the processes by various groups and individuals in the plant.  So no matter who is using the processes, whether the plant manager, a supervisor, a maintenance specialist or a machine operator, they can call on a coach to help facilitate.

All this background is to get at the title of this blog:  Content vs. Context.  Sure it would be great to train everyone in the operation in the content of all the CTS processes.  But what would be the use if an employee group is not required or expected to use the process in their job?  For example, it would make no sense to train machine operators in decision making if they are not going to use the skills on the job.  It not only wastes time, but it could cause frustration because they have a skill they can’t use.  The context of their jobs does not require that they use this skill, at least not on a regular enough basis to develop and maintain a competency.   If they do need to use this process, a coach can facilitate a session to apply the process in the context of what the group is trying to achieve.

The other area for context is understanding which process to apply when.  This is a critical need for the plant leadership when it is confronted with a complex issue. Often it requires breaking down the complex issue into more manageable sub-issues and applying a different CTS process to each sub-issue to reach resolution.   By setting priority on each of the sub-issues, the team decides which to tackle first. 

Successfully integrating anything new (a process, piece of machinery or tool, a program, product) into a company requires content and context.  Employees have to understand the content of the new element (what it is, how it works) and the context (how it applies to their jobs, why it’s important, when they should use it).  Focusing purely on content, as many companies do, will often mean that the company doesn’t realize the full return on its investment.