Get a grip on staff training to unlock productivity gains

Recent headlines about the data breach at Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs (HMRC), and insurance company Norwich Union being fined for failing to secure customer information, should have given every employer a wake-up call.

Employee mistakes can cost your organisation dear, and responsibility for these errors will more than likely land at the door of the board directors and, ultimately, the human resources (HR) director.

The mistakes made in both cases were because staff did not fully understand their job roles and responsibilities and the results of their actions. Of greater consequence, however, is that the senior management teams made the disastrous assumption that they did.


If the HMRC staff had known the full procedure for sending internal documents, and Norwich Union call centre staff had realised the implications of giving out personal information, they could have both avoided security risks to the consumer and saved themselves both money and negative publicity.

Unfortunately, HMRC and Norwich Union are just the tip of the iceberg, and this is a scenario that will be repeated time and again until organisations recognise that a large number of employees simply do not understand their jobs.

As a workplace data specialist, Cognisco has worked with hundreds of companies, including 12 of the world’s top 100 brands, and our research – based on more than 1.2 million employees – will, therefore, come as a shock to many: on average, 23% of staff do not understand at least one crucial aspect of their job. This has massive implications for any organisation, and can reduce business performance and put the business at increased risk.


No level of traditional training would have helped HMRC and Norwich Union overcome their blunders, however. Most training only demonstrates that employees have memorised the information given during the course. But do employees actually understand the information they have been given, and will they be able to use it in a practical way?

Employers have a responsibility to their employees and customers to make sure that each and every member of staff understands the requirements of their job, is assessed regularly to identify skills gaps, and is coached to ensure they reach their full potential.

Both Norwich Union and HMRC may have avoided these catastrophic incidents if they had ensured all of their staff actually understood their job role.

And how big can the problem get? Well, if nearly one-quarter of your staff are under-performing, what impact is that having on your bottom line, and is it potentially exposing the business to greater risk? Of course it is. Regardless of how many staff you have, if 23% of them are not working to their full potential, that means your business is not running effectively.

In the time it takes you to read this article, research shows that 36% of employees could be doing something wrong – food for thought, isn’t it?


But employee understanding and competence in their job roles is no longer just an issue for HR directors. As we have seen recently, it can have an impact across the business, and board directors are going to have to wake up – especially with the introduction of the revised Corporate Manslaughter Act in April, which will see the responsibility for employees’ actions fall at the door of the senior management team.

By regularly assessing the understanding of your workforce, you put your organisation in a far safer and more productive position.

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