Signs and reminders: Don’t assume they’re read

By Hugh Alley   

Industry Manufacturing manufacturing performance training

Use standard work to describe the best way to do a task.

Describe the best way to do a task.

Sign, sign, everywhere a sign.

The 1971 song Signs by the Canadian Five Man Electrical Band complained about the proliferation of signs, and the way they limit behaviour. Still true today. Just unpack any piece of equipment to see all the warning labels.

No doubt some lawyer has decreed that this limits the vendor’s liability. But if you are running production, it’s likely the signs and labels aren’t helping performance. They’re an attempt to guide behaviour to avoid adverse consequence.

So what’s an alternative to relying on signs and labels to guide behaviour?


Your starting point should be standard work. Describe the current best way to do a task, and include the tips, tricks, safety issues and make-or-break points that make your employees successful.

Cover these points in training. If you use a proven instruction methodology, such as Training Within Industry’s Job Instruction, during the course of that training, you’ll be verifying whether or not the learners have actually grasped the key points.

There are other advantages associated with incorporating these key points as part of standard work. First, it’s much easier to assess staff and correct them when you have a point of reference. Second, as you audit their work, you’re not concerned what they’re doing will work, but whether they’re conforming to the standard. Third, with a standard, you aren’t judging their knowledge or skill, only whether they’re performaing a task using the prescribed method.

Have a performance problem to fix? Focus on building standard work and using that as the basis for training.

Hugh Alley is an industrial engineer based in the Vancouver area who helps organizations achieve significant performance gains in delivery, quality and cost. Call (604) 866-1502 or e-mail

This article originally appeared in the July-August 2019 print issue of PLANT Magazine.


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