Monday, October 24, 2011

Training-An Investment in People

Is training best applied at the moment of application or is training something that is best done ahead of time so that when application does happen the trainee knows what to do?

The answer is-It depends. Training, by definition is skill based and generally is best done near the time of application. Education, on the other hand is learning that is not always tied to application right away, but conveys underlying concepts that help with execution later. In the business world, these two definitions are generally rolled up under the moniker of "training". This creates a problem with execution because managers generally understand that training is usually best applied near the point of usage and that most of the learning that occurs with training is through application of the learned skills. Some say this is 70% of the learning that occurs in training, while a frequently cited number of 10% is applied to classroom training environments.

Many times these figures are cited as a rationale for not investing in any sort of educational activities for employees. In reality, the majority of learning of skills is accomplished through application, and that number is probably close to 70%. This is where I part ways with other managers however. I believe that there are unmeasured benefits for investing in skills training and education of your people. Chief among these benefits is the sense that these employees get of being a part of the future, being thought of as a valid part of making that future happen. It can help create a sense of belonging to a group and enthusiasm for the vision that skills training is meant to support. I know these benefots exist because I have seen them in my people. By sending some of my less enthusiastic people to key skills training activities, I have seen their performance improve, their motivation increase.

Now for education. Education is those topics of knowledge that underly what you teach in skills training. Education is not necessarily meant to be applied immediately but accomplishes certain important goals such as: creating common language, creating common understanding of the world around us, creating common vision for what the future could be and should be, introducing different values and philosophies such as lean or six sigma. Here's the problem. Education often times gets mislabelled as training and is then usually done only when absolutely necessary. Sometimes when this happens, the side effects are painful. I'll give an example: I recently participated in a Value Stream Mapping exercise with a functional group. In this exercise I attempted to introduce several different lean ideas, such as balanced work, pull systems, cellular flow. The team was having none of it, mainly because they didn't know what it was before the event and did not have any opportunity to think about how it may apply to them. In the end of the event, we identified several Kaizen events that needed to be done in the process and we assigned leaders from amongst the group. Then a week passed, and nothing happened, then another couple of days passed, and nothing happened. So finally we got the leaders together and learned that they didn't know how to lead a Kaizen, no one had ever taught them what to do, so we had to have a quick class on Kaizen Leadership so that these folks could get it done. This is an example of education that should have been applied well before the event. If it was part of everyone's knowledge base, they would not have lost as much time trying to figure out what to do. I had one of my employees who was not a part of these events participate in the class and he immediately changed how he was approching a lean activity that I had given him months ago.

So, what is training and what is education? Sometimes the answer is the same and the only difference is the timing of the event, other times its the level of detail given, other times its the expectation set as an outcome of the session. It depends. Good examples of what are typical training topics are Six Sigma, and Lean Tools such as Visual Factory Management, 5S, Gage R&R, DOE, etc..

Some of these might also be educational topics as well but only at a lesser level of detail. For instance: Six Sigma Champion training is really education for champions on how to speak the language of six sigma and ask the right questions of the practitioners. Lean philosophies such as Value/Non-Value add, pull systems, flow, Kaizen Leadership, etc, while they have an application aspect to them, can also be educational at a higher level.
The bottom line is that training and education are investments in the future performance of the people in your organization. Just as Deming said that "It is not necessary to change, survival is not mandatory", so it is true with training and education. If we expect our people to change, we have to provide them with the road map for the change we seek, and the opportunity to learn how to read it.


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