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In previous blog posts in this series, I've shared some business benefits of online assessments in compliance including helping "test out" of training, helping confirm understanding and helping your workforce retain critical information.

In this post, I’d like to raise the question “can assessments reduce human error”? If you use assessments with a system like SAP Assessment Management by Questionmark, can you reduce the chance of mistakes and errors by your workforce, and so reduce the chance of regulatory compliance fines? There is a good case that valid and reliable assessments can reduce errors.

Why do compliance mistakes and errors happen?

I recently read a US Food and Drug Administration report which looked at key failures in Good Manufacturing Practice that led to food safety recalls in the US. In one analysis, 32% of errors were contributed to by “ineffective employee training” and 26% by failure to follow standard operation procedures. In another analysis 24% of errors had key factors of “defective employee training” and failure to follow process was also significant.

I’ve also been looking at reports of errors relating to blood in UK hospitals, where an interesting root cause analysis has been done (see here for more information).

This suggested 6 root causes for errors:

  • Process or procedure incorrect (22%)
  • Procedural steps omitted (23%)
  • Concentration error (29%)
  • Training misunderstood – it covered the area of the error but was misunderstood (15%)
  • Training missing – out of date or did not cover the area (6%)
  • Poor communication/rushing (5%)

From these two examples, it seems that 40-50% of errors in these areas are contributed to by ineffective training and failure to follow process.  I suspect that failures in training and failure to follow process are important for most organizations.

How can assessments help prevent errors?

Some errors happen because training is misunderstood or mis-delivered. Perhaps the training covers the area but the employee didn’t understand it properly, can’t remember or cannot apply the training on the job. Perhaps the employee simply can’t remember the training. Or perhaps the trainer didn’t do as good a job as he/she should have. Assessments check that people do indeed understand. They also reduce the forgetting curve and can be used to give scenarios or problems that check if people can apply the training to everyday situations.

Other errors happen because training is different to what the real job involves. If the problem is that competencies or tasks needed in the real world aren’t part of the training, then job task analysis, using surveys to ask practitioners what really happens in a role, is a great way to correct this (see for more information).

What about process errors – how can assessments deal with failure to follow process? One way of dealing with this is to include questions about the process, or questions that give scenarios and ask the participant to respond with the next step in the process or the correct way to do it. Another way is to use an observational assessment.

In an observational (or workplace) assessment, an observer watches the participant perform an activity and assesses their performance against a checklist. This is a good way to identify whether procedural steps are omitted. Using SAP Assessment Management by Questionmark, you can deliver observational assessments via a smartphone or tablet (as shown in the picture on the right), which makes it very practical to go into the workplace and observe performance. See this SlideShare for more on observational assessments.

How can assessments give you early warning of problems?

Another angle on how assessments can prevent errors is that they can give you early warning. Online assessments using a system like SAP Assessment Management by Questionmark are one of the few ways of contacting and getting input from your entire workforce. They can be used to give you early warning of potential future problems before they cause pain. They let you see into the future.

Qualitatively, you can include space for comments within tests and exams or send out employee surveys to identify issues of concern, particularly on ethical issues. Such surveys and comments allow you to identify concerns from employees about ambiguities in the rules or processes or concerns as to whether the rules are to be followed. For example, the UK Ministry of Justice comments:

“Staff surveys, questionnaires and feedback from training can also provide an important source of inform

ation on effectiveness and a means by which employees and other associated persons can inform continuing improvement of anti-bribery policies”.

Quantitatively, you can look at topic and assessment scores, broken down by department and with trends over time to see weak areas. If a compliance test for sales people prior to a new product launch identifies weaknesses understanding one aspect of the product, it’s an area to target with additional training. Or if one region scores poorly in a particular topic, you can look at why this is and deal with the root cause. Identifying areas of weakness can, on its own give a return on investment in online assessments.

Summary of business benefits

I hope this summary is useful to help you see the business benefit of assessments. The key benefits of using assessments in this area are:

  • Around 25% of compliance errors are contributed to by failure to follow the right procedural steps. Assessments, particularly observational ones can help you trap and correct these.
  • A similar amount of errors are contributed to by ineffective training; assessments can significantly reduce such errors because they check understanding.
  • Online assessments are one of the few ways of touching all your workforce, and you can use them to qualitatively survey your workforce to identify cultural issues or improper behaviour before it impacts too seriously.
  • They also allow you to see trends of weaknesses or lack of knowledge or skills and act before this impacts your business.
  • By reducing the chance of errors and mistakes, you add business value, both in making your workforce more productive and reducing the chance of regulatory fines.

You can see the 5th and final post on this series "it takes 20 years to build a reputation and 5 minutes to ruin it" here.

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