To focus or not to focus, that is the question.

shallow focus photography of magnifying glass with black frame
Photo by Shane Aldendorff on Pexels.com

It’s safe to say that almost every small business has been through the process of defining exactly what service or product it provides.  In fact, most market savvy businesses will go through this process multiple times, to stay afloat and keep up with the pace of change.  Questions asked are likely to include whether a business should… 

  • Focus on a core service or product?
  • Broaden the offering and capture a bigger share of the market?
  • Specialise in one industry or have a general understanding of many?
  • Offer a one off service or something that needs an ongoing contract?

The answers to which are all critical for any business to know.

One thing we have learnt in almost 20 years of trading is that small companies must excel at something!

In our case, we are a digital agency.  More specifically, we’ve refined that down to providing ‘eLearning and digital comms’ for the heavy industries and transportation sectors.  Even more specifically, our specialist topic areas are non-technical skills, railway communications and site induction via our online platform SiteSentinel.

We’ve also learnt that it’s important to say what you don’t do!  This builds credibility and helps clients frame your offering. In our case, we don’t do Public Relations; we don’t do Marketing Communications; and we certainly don’t do print campaigns… 

…except for the fact that we’ve just done a print job! Our offering – digital comms and learning – is pretty well defined, so why have we dipped our toe in the print pond? The answer is simple: it made sense for the client.

The rail client wanted a set of cards designed and printed that workers could use to learn about non-technical skills.  The project was required within an existing programme of work that we were involved in and we were well placed to deliver it.  We used our knowledge of non-technical skills in the rail industry and combined that with our experience of creating and delivering eLearning programmes, to design the set of educational cards.

And now comes the critical part… we then brought in a partner company and leaned on their specialism – printing!  In this case the excellent print management company Birch Print – who printed a beautiful set of client-ready cards.

So, what’s the moral of the story?  Defining what you do, and don’t do, is key to attracting customers and making sales.  However, sometimes a job might come along that you are well suited to – just with a little expert help.  So it would seem that specialising, whilst remaining open to possible new opportunities through collaborating with trusted business partners, provides the best of both worlds.

Well… what a year it’s been!

black and white typewriter on table
Photo by Markus Winkler on Pexels.com

We certainly won’t be the only company looking back at 2020 around this time; but we’re so grateful to be looking back on a year of new clients and project wins.  We know not everyone will have the same luxury this year.

But, what did 2020 look like for us?

At the very beginning of the year we welcomed a new client, East Midlands Railway (EMR), to our SiteSentinel family.  Our work for EMR involved developing online worksite inductions for its Etches Park, Eastcroft and Neville Hill train depot sites – providing one seamless induction, test and administration interface. Since implementation, 2020 has seen the SiteSentinel system consistently delivering EMR with relevant, high-quality worksite induction information using text, photos, video and illustrations, as well as providing a competency audit trail for staff, visitors, and contractors.

During the summer we were delighted to increase our support to Greater Anglia – extending SiteSentinel out to its Cambridge Sidings depot, located opposite Cambridge Station. This sidings site provides stabling and train servicing facilities for Greater Anglia’s new fleet of commuter trains.  It was great to be growing our work with Greater Anglia!

We also warmly welcomed Network Rail to the SiteSentinel community.  We worked with the railway infrastructure manager to develop an online worksite induction for Reading Station.  This was an extremely exciting project for us, giving us the opportunity to really demonstrate the flexibility of SiteSentinel by applying it in a station setting.  The station induction included the usual visitor and contractor pathways, but also provided training content specific to station volunteers.

And we didn’t leave it there with Network Rail, we have also been working with them on non-technical skills… designing a training programme that supports the development of attention management in its operational staff.  We’ll share more on this in 2021!

So, despite the pandemic, we feel thankful to have had a good year – with new clients, SiteSentinel induction sites, and more bespoke training consultancy work.  Thank you to everyone we have worked with for supporting us!

What were your highlights of 2020?

Attention please! Lucid is working with Network Rail to develop key non-technical skills in its operational staff…

shallow focus photography of railway during sunset
Photo by Albin Berlin on Pexels.com

Imagine the role of a railway signaller… controlling the routing of a train, operating signals from a signal box or operations centre… the information screens, indicators, warning lights and alarms… all utilising highly technical skills developed through specialist training.  The development of these skills then occurs on the job, alongside experienced supervisors and managers until signallers are deemed sufficiently competent to go it alone.  But, are technical skills alone enough to safely direct trains?

All of the operational staff at Network Rail – including signallers, control room operatives, local operations managers, mobile operations managers – also need a whole range of non-technical skills (NTS).  These are the “social, cognitive and personal skills that can enhance the way…staff carry out technical skills, tasks and procedures” (RSSB, 2020) and include skills in areas like conscientiousness, communication, control under pressure, teamwork, planning and attention management.

Let’s think a little more about attention management.  Signallers may know a control panel like the back of their hand… but if they get even slightly distracted and spend fractionally too long focused on something else… will they notice a light has begun to flash?  Or something else unexpected?  It doesn’t matter how technically good a signaller is at managing their area, if they haven’t noticed a train in a section.  This is why non-technical skills – like attention management – are just as safety critical as the purely technical ones.  

At Lucid we are therefore excited to be working with Network Rail again to design a training programme that supports the development of attention management in its operational staff.  As big fans of a blended learning approach, we plan to design the programme to include a range of different training formats – including e-learning packages, video segments and worksheets.  In our experience, providing training content in different, but complementary styles – such as text, visual, audio or interactive – results in a wider appeal to different types of learners and also helps to embed the learning at a deeper level.  This means all of Network Rail’s operational staff can really benefit from the training programme and develop their skills in maintaining attention when it matters most.

So, what’s all the fuss about Non-technical Skills (NTS)?

telephone

The term ‘Non-technical skills’ has become such common parlance in the rail industry that people just talk of ‘NTS’ now, without even giving a second thought to whether people know what the acronym means.  So, what are NTS and why are they so important?

Non-technical skills (NTS) are the interpersonal or ‘soft’ skills like collaboration, communication, leadership, decision making, situational awareness and teamwork that we all use every day, but in a work situation are critical to getting a job done safely and efficiently.

In contrast, technical skills are those which enable us, for example, to make something, operate a machine, fix an engine or carry out a technical task.

Because we use NTS in our daily lives, and historically haven’t received training on how to develop them, NTS haven’t always been given the same status or kudos as their technical counterparts.  However, most industries are waking up to how critical NTS are to overall system safety and efficient and effective business operations.

Let’s consider an example… at short notice a rail track signaller needs to change a green light to red.  The signaller is technically adept and makes the physical change in light status without error.  However, the signaller also needs to warn the train driver that the signal has changed using a radio call.  This conversation between the signaller and driver has become safety critical.

The signaller needs to communicate – lucidly and concisely – that a light on the drivers’ route has unexpectedly changed.  It requires audible clear speech, as well as words that the driver understands; it should also involve a simple check that the driver has understood before finishing the call.  If the communication is inadequate then it creates a real risk that the driver is unsure or unaware of the imminent red signal, giving them less time to brake and possibly causing them to pass a signal at danger.

Acknowledging the importance of NTS, we’ve developed a programme for Network Rail to train their signallers in eight key NTS that they need to do their jobs safely.  We’ve also created a suite of training modules for RSSB on safety critical communications for the whole rail industry to benefit from.

So, what are the key NTS in your job or industry?  Which ones are the most critical to safety?  How does your company ensure everyone has those skills?