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Sustainable Behavioral Improvement – Investing in People – T.A. Cook

wanichko_TA Cook

T.A. Cook

Jerry Wanichko,
Director of Consulting Operations

Very few companies today recognize behavioral improvement as a vital means of obtaining better business results. Instead, most focus on cutting headcount, investing in capital, buying new or better scheduling systems or benchmarking themselves. However, without addressing the fundamental behaviors required to drive results, companies are missing the single most important element needed to establish sustainability.

Defining Behaviors

Behaviors are those daily activities and responses we can observe in others.  For tasks to be completed properly and efficiently, the required behaviors must be clearly defined, specific and measurable.

Consider the role of a maintenance First Line Supervisor (FLS).  His key behaviors should include: setting job performance expectations, following up on work in progress in the field and problem solving when actual performance does not meet planned expectations.  Today however, the focus has shifted to reading and answering emails, reporting, attending meetings and training sessions, along with a multitude of other tasks which keep the FLS behind his desk all day long.

The first step then, is to define the key behaviors needed from each successive level of management. Caution must be taken to ensure the assigned behaviors are the correct ones: are they in line with existing systems, processes, roles and responsibilities? Will they provide the management with the desired business results? Are they measureable? Can they be aligned with Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to facilitate tracking and reporting?  Only when the answers to these questions have been clarified, can the next step towards improvement be taken.

Effective skill-building

Upon promotion, each FLS is given a catalog listing procedures, process flows, roles and responsibilities and is trained to manage labor relations, email and reporting systems. However, the “playbook” does not specify the fundamental behaviors the FLS has to demonstrate day in and day out: he is not equipped with the soft skills required to be an effective supervisor or people manager. Achieving that requires training: the second step is to provide the FLS with the right guidance to enable him to carry out his duties successfully.

For effective learning to take place, workshops should be conducted which demonstrate and build the people skills necessary for the FLS to perform optimally.  The workshop series should occur over a number of weeks, breaking the content matter into digestible modules: sitting in a 40-hour training session is not productive. However, spacing the workshops a week apart allows the material to be absorbed and put into practice before the next session.

Consistent coaching

Importantly, spreading out the workshops also means that on the floor coaching can take place in between. This third step should be led by trained coaches and supported by managers. In order to properly forge skills, feedback and regular interaction is crucial: the on the floor component of the learning process is critical for the FLS to be able to build effective supervisory ability. For it to be successful, it must be consistent: sessions that occur ad hoc will not make a difference.

Obviously, there is no exact rule which stipulates that behavioral improvement can be accomplished in a specific number of weeks. People learn at different paces and are naturally resistance to change.  A scorecard which objectively measures the desired behaviors and evaluates progress over two to three months however, allows both trainer and coach to identify where remedial training is needed. Let the results determine the appropriate timeframe required for sustainable behavioral improvement.


Focusing on behavioral improvement as the means of attaining sustainable business results is ultimately less expensive than buying a new scheduling system or investing in capital enhancements. Yes, benchmarking is typically faster and cheaper, but it does not implement lasting change: it only identifies the size of the gap that needs to be closed.  Instead, invest in developing your true assets: your people.

Jerry Wanichko is the Director of Consulting Operations, North America for T.A. Cook Consultants.

For more information about T.A. Cook, please visit:

T.A. Cook Consultants Inc.
21 Waterway Avenue, Suite 300
The Woodlands, TX 77380
Telephone number: +1-281-362-2716

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