Can training save lives?

Of course it can. Would you rather be operated on by the surgeon with more training or less training? Would you rather be rescued by the highly trained firefighter or the one who barely passed the program? Would you rather be stuck in space with the well trained astronaut or the one who skipped a few classes?

Beyond experience, the quality of schooling and training is the only thing that separates the good from the bad. We can all agree that more training, in some situations, can lead to life-saving outcomes. Beyond enhancing specific skills needed for the job, there are other, less obvious, skills that can also save lives.

In the training industry, we concentrate a lot on the visible “performance enhancers” that make us better and more prepared than our peers, but we often lose sight of the “performance distractors” that can be just as critical to successful outcomes. These distractors can sometimes be as detrimental to performance as a lack of training. Learning how to avoid performance pitfalls, and remain optimal performers under challenging, stressful or adverse conditions, is just as predictive of performance as learning exciting new skills. Just think of how many highly trained, otherwise top performers could be completely and summarily undone by a bad temper, a big ego or poor communication skills.

A Performance Distractor

One of the biggest distractors of optimal performance at work is employee conflict. The inability to navigate or resolve personal conflict with managers, peers or subordinates can be devastating and demoralizing. Who wants to get up in the morning to fight with a boss or co-worker? As adults, we rarely change the nature of our work, but we frequently change the environments where we do that work. We typically change jobs not looking for new work but for new work environments, different conditions and, most importantly, different people. A large body of research on workplace conflict has estimated that 2.4 hours per employee per week are spent trying to manage conflict at work. Other studies have estimated that managers spend between 10% to 50% of their time managing conflict between employees — losing up to half their productivity!

If training at work can help employees avoid just a few of these conflict hours per year, mitigate negative outcomes or expedite resolution, imagine how much more productive those employees can be. The impact of this kind of conflict resolution training could be huge. Imagine showing tangible results that quantify the business impact and return on investment to the organization that sponsored the training. Further, imagine if these employees were not just serving customers and driving profits but serving patients who entrusted their health and well-being to them. Being more productive, for them, means far more than just bottom-line profits; it could mean life or death.

The Study

Upstate University Hospital, a level 1 trauma center, developed and adopted a conflict management training program for its 9,000 employees. The program teaches all employees, including physicians, how to identify and mitigate escalating conflicts by using “U-TURN” techniques, which are meant to postpone, de-escalate or resolve a dispute. If used correctly, these simple communication techniques can alleviate or even reverse a pending escalation or put a conflict on hold until both parties are able to talk to each other. Thus, everyone can remain intensely focused on patient care.

To measure the impact of the training, the hospital identified a sample of participants and used a comprehensive six-level evaluation approach to show the value of the program. This measurement included a return on investment (level 5) as well as a new understanding of the factors that can drive higher adoption and greater impact in the future (level 6).

The Results

Level 1: Ninety-two percent of participants found the program to be valuable and relevant.

Level 2: Eighty-percent learned new and valuable information and techniques.

Level 3: Ninety percent were applying one or more of the conflict resolutions behaviors or techniques back on the job. The greatest improvement came in their ability to communicate through conflict and continue that high level of communication until they reached a positive outcome.

Level 4: Seventy-seven percent improved their job performance as a result of the training, with an average 63% reduction in conflict hours. Average improvements for these participants were:

  • 5.1 conflicts avoided
  • 4.4 conflicts de-escalated
  • 4.1 conflicts fully resolved
  • Estimated 40% reduction in employee or patient complaints per year

Level 5: The hospital saved $2,138 per employee per year, with an average ROI of 1,325%. If 4,500 caregiving employees applied the training consistently across the hospital, the organization estimated projected cost savings of $9.6 million.

Level 6: The cost savings and ROI for employees with supportive managers and co-workers were 2.2 times higher than those with low support, meaning that the training could be twice as impactful with the right support back on the job.

Training can save lives. In no workplace is this fact more apparent than in a trauma hospital environment. Tensions are high, decisions are critical and time is of the essence. Here, quality care depends not on one person’s perfect performance but on everyone working together and working correctly. Here, communication, resolving conflict and ridding the team of performance distractions can become just as critical as the technical skills that traditionally enhance performance.

This study demonstrated that conflict training can result in great cost savings and ROIs for the stakeholders, but even more important are the returns for the people who really matter: the patients. You can’t monetize these results. Perhaps one of those seconds, minutes or hours of conflict that they avoided didn’t just add a penny or dollar to the bottom line but a second, minute or hour to a life-saving procedure that really needed that distraction-free time. And perhaps the return on that extra second, minute or hour of quality care meant another month, year or even decade added to someone’s life.

How’s that for a return on training? What would you pay for another decade?