fire hoseLet’s say it is important that employees know how to act when auditors come up to talk with them during an inspection for compliance. To get good audit results (the business need), employees are expected to know and describe the quality systems, protocols and procedures they work within (this is the behavior they need to show to auditors). The specific skill they need to learn and master is to reply to questions pleasantly and accurately, and above all, using few words. A typical solution would be for a company to pull people off the floor and show some PowerPoint slides of likely questions and ideal answers and then return the employee to the job

The job of an auditor is to examine organizational systems to be sure they meet compliance objectives. One way they delve deeply into those systems is to quiz employees. They walk up to employees while they are working and ask them something about a procedure, or something they observe, or even an opinion about a task, and then they fall silent, often boring their eyes into those of their victim.  This is when auditors find the juicy stuff: Exceptions, excuses, errors and general slip ups as their target rambles on. They may fold their arms, raise an eyebrow and ask probing questions as the person trails off. Behind the auditor, the company leaders wring their hands, clear their throats and add to the general tension and collective perspiration.

Now let’s take a look at the results of the training. When the auditors come, leaders of the employees are hoping to observe short, accurate and pleasant responses to auditors. Alas… nine operators talk too much, without directly answering the question, potentially alerting auditors to other issues to look into. Five operators talk too little, not answering direct questions, causing auditors to ask more and more questions, and to look even less convinced they are getting the information they require. Five to six of the most experienced operators do pretty well, with short, accurate and confident answers.

Let’s examine the impact of the training effort. This table summarizes the effectiveness of the Auditor Prep Training efforts, using four levels of training effectiveness.

Effectiveness of Auditor Prep Training- According to the Kirkpatrick Scale of Effectiveness
Level 1 Did the learners like the training? We do not know, we didn’t do smile sheets
Level 2 Did the student learn the training content? We do not know, we didn’t test or observe them in class
Level 3 Did the students use what we taught them? No, a number of operators talked too much or too little
Level 4 Did this training help the business? No, the auditors had a poor opinion of learners’ cooperation, and uncovered more problems


The fire hose approach to training means that we are “telling” people what to do, but not teaching them how to do it. Adult learners need some time and opportunity to apply new concepts, with activities, practice and reflection to deepen understanding, leading to the ability to perform the tasks when called upon.

Adapted from Building Giants: A Proven System to Transform Your Workforce Through Effective Training available here.

Katy Caselli is an Industrial/Organizational Psychologist with expertise in training design, performance improvement and effective training techniques.