Training and Education

How to deal with staff that do not follow business procedures

Recently I have had to deal with staff who have not followed the correct business procedures and also those who just do not listen.  This can be a frustrating position to be in, but a position that I am sure some of you have also been in.  One of the hats that I wear is that of the “Food Safety Consultant” to a handful of food businesses.  These food businesses are generally family run businesses that do not employ a full-time qualified food safety specialist or specialist quality manager. As a food safety consultant I am responsible in developing, implementing procedures and training staff in food safety, quality and compliance procedures.  This is similar to the role that you may play in your food business as a quality assurance manager.

Right product, right label

Labelling is a pretty big deal in all of the food businesses that I consult to.  We need to make sure that the right label goes on the right product. This is for legal compliance, customer satisfaction but more importantly allergen advisory. Pretty simple concept. Put the right label on the right product.

I complete intensive training of staff responsible for this activity. This training is delivered both face-to-face and on-the job.  At the time of training and during subsequent follow-up training, all people trained were deemed competent in the work instruction of placing the correct label on the correct product.

So every thing is going well (well so I thought) until I get a phone call from the business owner.  A shipment of product had been withdrawn by a major retail customer after the selected product had been identified with the incorrect label applied. I was left wondering why and how this happened when I knew that all staff responsible for the labeling activity had been adequately trained in the task.

The investigation

It didn’t take long for me to get to the bottom of my ‘how’ and ‘why’.  With any non-conformance identified, we always conduct a thorough investigation which includes identifying the root cause.  The investigation uncovered that:

  • Pre-operational checks (which check that the right labels are available for the correct product to be packed) were not been completed at production ‘start-up’
  • Records for start-up checks were being falsified by the supervisor.  Records were completed at the end of the production shift.
  • Records to support checks completed during the production were also being completed at the end of the production shift.

When the supervisor was questioned as to ‘why’ the standard procedure was not followed, the reply was “I don’t have enough time to do the checks and fill out the paperwork before start-up”.  To correct this issue more time was allocated along with re-training for the entire packing team.

Fast forward 2 days

I decided to undertake a spontaneous inspection two days later to see if the pre-operational label checks had been completed and recorded as required and at the correct times.  I was astounded to find that the checks again had not been done and the records not available to support the checks had been completed.  Short of slamming my head up against a brick wall, I took several deep breathes in and out, and then repeated that process…again

Take Action

So how do you deal with staff who just won’t follow the correct business procedures?  Getting people to change their behavior is tough – especially when they have  been doing things a certain way for a long time and, from their point of view, it’s working for them.  In a nutshell, there is really only two choices:

(1) You can make it more appealing to change, or

(2) You can make it less appealing to continue to behave in the way that they have been behaving.

When deciding on your action, keep in mind, that a simple non-conformance with a labeling procedure can potentially harm or injure your customer or cost the business tens of thousands of dollars in product recall and/or withdrawal action.  The following actions are what I normally follow:

Explain business procedures

Explain what the procedure is, why it needs to be completed, and what the consequences are if the procedure is not followed. These would be covered off in the initial and refresher training process.  It would also be covered again during any staff performance counselling.

Check the Process

Check the process.  This may mean every day and during every production shift you as the QA manager, walks the production line and observes the workers implementation of the procedure.  When you consistently observe no issues, you can cut down to less frequent checks.

Human engineer the process

Build in a stupidity factor into the procedure.  The more you can remove the need for staff to make a choice, the better.  For example, rather than have five (5) different labels available on the line at once, just have the one for the product that is being packed.

Performance Management

Have a strong performance management system in place.  You will most likely need to talk to your HR (human resources) department about this.  If you are consistently finding a staff member not complying with the procedure, it may be time for them to move on or you relocate them to another section of the business.

Have your say!

I would love to hear from you regarding this issue.  Do you face the same problem, or is it just me?  Do you have trouble with some of your staff not following business procedures? Let me know how you deal with situations like this by leaving a comment below.

12 thoughts on “How to deal with staff that do not follow business procedures”

  1. Kathy Richard

    Our company is very small; a total of 6 employees. We have an on going issue with 1 of our staff members and upon reading your article, have tried the various actions listed. We have summed it up as being a “personality” problem. Despite the 1 on 1 discussions to discuss these issues, they continue. She is great at what she does in our company and tries to help everyone, but many times her “things to do list” is not complete, her accountability for these tasks are always followed by her “reasoning” as to why they are not done (which usually are untrue). My boss and I have discussed at length as to what we should do next. To fire her would truly hurt our small company; the time & money we have invested in her (4 1/2 years) would be a great loss…appreciate any help. Thanks

    1. Amanda Evans-Lara

      This is a tough one Kathy but not unusual compared to some other businesses. It really comes down to what your business owners will accept against the consequence. Maybe look at it from a risk management perspective. Additionally, if this person is senior in the business, it sends the wrong message to other staff members who are conforming to the expectations and requirements.

  2. It is always the same excuse. “We don’t have enough time”. Working with management that doesn’t understand what we do are tough too. Work orders created by our director and I never be able to track my work order properly because he switched the worker’s work around and never place a lot code on the WIP. What do you do when your director is the one who is not concern? I have tried training the director but same thing repeat

    1. This type of situation makes your job very difficult. When management are not committed to the food safety / quality compliance cause, it is only a matter of time before the business will fail. This is generally by food recalls, food poisoning or private litigation. I certainly do not envy your position Fel. All I can suggest is that you persevere with your education and try and do your best.

      1. That is why I choose to work only for those who appreciate what we do. I eventually left the position with a bunch of recommendations, that I hope would be implemented. One of which is getting correct potable water supply even if they are repacker.

  3. I suggest you need to go to the business owner as that invariably is the root cause. If the business owner wants it done correctly it will happen. All the training you give will not work if “behind the scenes” the business owner has another agenda (cutting staff numbers etc. or not fully understanding what the training is for)!

  4. This is so relevant to me as I suffer the same behavioural issues. but I have started implementing very strict rules and take action for non conformance.

  5. I believe many of us who have worked in a capacity of consultant and/or as a regulatory officer feel your frustration with the described scenario. Education and training are essential components of a good food safety program. HR and a strong management team build the foundation for the departments team framework, if there is a breakdown in one of these areas, training may not overcome it.

    It is difficult to create employee satisfaction and provide sufficient motivation when intrinsic and extrinsic motivations falter. HR has to identify personnel who demonstrate a strong sense of personal accountability, good work ethic, who will become invested in the culture of the company in small windows of time from dwindling pools of qualified workers. No easy task especially for jobs that are less demanding and can be viewed as dead end or entry level positions.

    Management is tasked with actually managing those under them. I find a great amount of the breakdown occurs from management who feel overwhelmed by too much responsibility. Upper level management and owners need to be aware that insufficient management staffing will adversely affect their bottom line. It is necessary to have a management team who is knowledgeable, has the appropriate tools, and the actual time to manage their staff. Spreading a managers time too thin, giving them more tasks then feasible to for them to actually oversee their staff is counter productive.
    It is not uncommon for supervisors who have to much to control at given points in the operation to ‘dry lab’. Whether by production time schedules that call for them to be too many places at the same time, too large an area to monitor, or too many employees to monitor at a given time, an over burdened manager or supervisor is set up to fail.
    I have found designating a smaller group of employees to a supervisor allows the supervisor to perform better. They have time to monitor activities, continue the training process, and improve processes. Breaking down tasks to specific personnel also enables a more practical method for implementing accountability. Having both management and employees sign off on work verification sheets is another valuable tool and helps minimize ‘dry labbing’.
    The section about of removing the stupidity factor resonates strongly with me. If the labels for a production run are the only ones available, they are the only ones that will be used. Recalls and market withdrawals are costly and preventable through good controls. When one reads the FDA and USDA notices of recalls a common cause is from labeling errors.
    I cannot stress enough the importance of leading by example. Employees will model the actions of supervisors, management, and ownership.
    Thank you for you well written article.

  6. As a CEO I see this issue in a great amount of the hospitality businesses that I visit regularly. Most of these businesses work very hard at implementing ‘simple’ and easy to follow processes and or procedures that are designed to make hygiene important, but not a ‘task’. Some have been successful, others are a work in progress. But I think the answer is education and processes that are easy to work with, or a hygiene ‘Champion’ that has the teams trust.

  7. Carol Williamson

    Hi Amanda, I think at some time everyone is going to come across these employees and yes it is a struggle both with the employee in question and with management who want more processing and do not want to give the time for what they see as not important things to them such as cleaning, monitoring etc. I have a close down supervisor who places a C for complying on cleaning and a pre-start up supervisor the next morning who then checks and places an NC (non conforming) on the same cleaning areas. When questioned it was stated it was clean to his liking. I took pics and performed swab testing of the dirty areas to show him. To overcome this I have fine detailed the work instruction on total cleaning. eg clean under and over conveyor belts ensuring that all pulp residue is removed from all areas etc. This was one area that was astounding as a clean from the top was ok and we will forget about the things that are hidden. I now have spot inspections and have also with management re-organised our production so that I can have a day at the end of the week just for thorough cleaning. I think at the end of the pm shift instead of a good clean clock off time was more important which made it hard on day shift to have to perform a full clean instead of just a sanitiser. In saying this most of our cleaning is through CIP but there are certain areas that the CIP system does’t do. This is certainly a very good area to have a following on to see how we QM deal with the situations.

  8. Hi, Amanda, we have a product line and run many labels including private that can total over 7 types in an 8 hour period. So we have been there done that! I base my decisions to prevent occurrence on the root cause and follow-up on the non-conformances. Training is very expensive and if upon evaluation, certain employees fail to get it, we make a kind decision for them to move on. I find out that most of the times if the employees do not love their jobs this is bound to happen. However a production sup for example always want increase yields, and that is where I find that sometimes something like this would happen. In that case, then I would explain the business procedures.

  9. Etrecia vd Westhuizen

    I am having the same problem. Not only from staff members but also colleagues and management. Especially with the family business it is extremely difficult to dealt with such issues and not to be told to keep your nose out of the production line.

    Doing rounds and check ups, as I am going through I do train, train and re-train with little increase of performance. Even with thorough explanation the why’s and how’s it stay difficult to achieve what one want to.

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