Answering your questions on selecting employees to attend training sessions and addressing a supervisor who divulges inappropriate information

April 1, 2002

Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSP

Who gets new instrument training

Q: Will the panel suggest how to select who goes to training classes on new instruments? We are a large clinical laboratory and cant send everyone who wants to go. I want to be fair.

A: Terry Jo Gile advises, Often it is best to send the supervisor on the shift whose responsibility it is to staff that area. This way the supervisor can serve as a train-the-trainer for the work group. If that isnt feasible, select someone from the work group whom you have identified as a good trainer. This is the person who trains new employees or works with the MT or MLT students when they rotate through the section. This also is the person who is patient and works hard to problem solve current instrumentation. Attending instrumentation training is as much a privilege as it is a responsibility.

Larry Crolla adds, We rotate people and make those who go to training are training the key operators for that particular piece of equipment. Just make sure to keep a rotation schedule.

Alton Sturtevant recommends, I begin that decision process by answering the following questions: 1) Who will be the primary operator of the instrument? 2) Who is good at training others and willing to accept that responsibility? 3) Who can learn the most from the school? 4) Who can spend the time at the school without disrupting his/her personal life? 5) Who is a team player? 6) Who has spent the most time in training? 7) How hard will it be to train others on the instrument? and 8) Will the person take the training as a reward or punishment?

Dr. Sturtevant adds, One must focus on what is best for the laboratory when going through this decision process. There may be people who can never go to initial or subsequent training sessions for personal or other reasons. Some people are simply not able to absorb the amount of information required during the short and intense training period without first being trained onsite. These people can become excellent operators when trained in a less intense setting and are valuable to the laboratory, but should not be sent to training school as the initial trainee. They should be considered for training after they have become a proficient operator by onsite training. By going through this process, we can identify the person who will benefit himself/herself and us by the experience.

According to Marti Bailey, Individual performance, willingness to accept the obligations that derive from the opportunity, as well as business need, should be the primary considerations. New instrument training is one of the few perks available to bench technologists, and this certainly puts it into the realm of rewards. These training opportunities should be reserved for staffers whose performance is evaluated as above average. This ties opportunities for specialized training to job performance. To me, this approach is just common sense. It should not be too difficult to maintain a list of who has already been thus rewarded and which folks are on deck for the next opportunities.

Ms. Bailey advises, Its really important to document what obligations instrument training entails. Sending someone to training is obviously an investment for which you would expect to see a satisfactory return. Expectations might range from training the rest of the staff all the way to being available both onsite and by telephone for troubleshooting. Other obligations may include writing the standard operating procedures for the new instrument, handling validation studies, and performing specialized maintenance procedures. No one should be sent for training unless he/she is clear regarding the labs expectations upon return and agrees to the commitment. There may also be occasions when you may need to deviate from your list and send someone for training on a second instrument or someone lower on your list simply because of scheduling needs or special skills that one person has over the others. There will always be some cases where business needs must take priority, and your top performers should be able to understand this.

Bottom line. Identify the person who will benefit both himself/herself and the laboratory by the experience. Explain in detail your expectations for the training. The person must be a good teacher and communicator. He/she should have a positive attitude about sharing the knowledge and experience with other workers. This person must be able to absorb lots of information in a short period of time and retain that information.

Sharing inside information as a power tool

Q: I have a lower-level manager (supervisor) who has a tendency to tell all he knows. I cant quite call it gossip; however, he shares information he is privy to that is not for general distribution. Sometimes I think he uses his inside information as a power tool. How can I change this behavior?

A: Larry Crolla recommends, Tell him to keep information private. Tell him you are concerned that he discloses information that should be kept private. Also discuss with him that part of his role in the organization lets him obtain information that should not be disclosed outside, and if he keeps disclosing information, then he wont be included when such information is distributed.

Terry Jo Gile advises, I would bring the supervisor in and discuss confidentiality and specifically tell him what is and is not appropriate to share. Any further breaches should be dealt with via corrective action.

According to Alton Sturtevant, Gently remind him that while you may have a need to know what is being discussed, the same does not apply to others in the company. Also, let him know that you appreciate being informed of the information, but that he should keep that information confined to issues that you are both working on at the time to prevent others from overhearing. An exception to that rule should be when there is an issue that you should know about, but may not have been informed about. You should use your internal sources to determine if he is talking to others who do not have a need to know. If that is the case, you should let him know that you have heard that he is talking about issues that should not be shared with others and instruct him to discontinue that behavior. If you hear again from a reliable source, then you should formally counsel him on that behavior and let him know what the consequences will be if it continues. You should make routine announcements at staff meetings and through other company communications that sensitive information should only be shared on a need to know basis.

Marti Bailey reminds us, Critical attributes of managers at any level are good judgment and discretion. The higher the level of management, the more information a manager is exposed to. Since people providing information wont always specify whether its for public knowledge or not, managers often need to make judgments regarding if information should be shared and with whom. It is equally bad to misjudge information as being too sensitive to share as it is to mistakenly share sensitive information, so the onus is upon each manager to be skillful in making accurate assessments of how to handle information.

Ms. Bailey adds, The supervisor youre speaking of is either unable to accurately determine the sensitivity of information, or is able to make the distinction and, as you suspect, is abusing the power of his job. I think your best option is to confront him with the problem but give him the benefit of the doubt. Be very clear in explaining what the problem is. I hope that youve documented specific examples where he divulged information that he shouldnt have and use these as illustrations. You need to be assured that he understands the problem and that if it isnt corrected, disciplinary action will be taken. Part of the corrective action might be that he will specifically ask you if he is not certain whether specific information is for public knowledge or not. Be sure to follow up on any infractions immediately so that he receives rapid feedback when you feel he has erred. If indeed this supervisor is using the spread of sensitive information as a power tool, it is likely that this is not his only deficiency. I would be on the alert for other performance problems.

Bottom line. This supervisor is either unable to accurately determine the sensitivity of information, or he is able to make the distinction and is abusing the power of his job. Confront him and be clear in explaining what the problem is with several documented specific examples of where he divulged information that he shouldnt have. Make certain he understands the problem and that if it isnt corrected, disciplinary action will be taken. Request that he ask you if he is not certain whether specific information is for public knowledge or not. 

Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.

© 2002 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.