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.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Is any continuous improvement good continuous improvement?

Ask any quality manager and they will probably tell you that driving continuous improvement is a big part of their job. Sometimes, we'll take any continuous improvement we can get. However, I suggest that not all continuous improvement is good continuous improvement. So, what make continuous improvement "good" and more importantly what does not fit the bill?

Regardless of what your system of continuous improvement is, lean, or six sigma, the customer is at the center of it all. All that we do for CI should be connected to the customer in some way. The problem sometimes comes when we have a system for CI but we don't fully understand all of the elements correctly or we don't give proper guidance about what is off limits. I'll give an example. In a recent situation, I found that shop personnel had made a decision to stop doing some important quality checks on the product. When I asked why, I was told that they were trying to save time (one of the 8 lean wastes) and they didn't think the checks were all that important anyway.

After I parachuted back to earth from my launch into the stratosphere, I realized that what had happened was that some cursory training had occurred about lean wastes and that we should strive to eliminate them, then no guard rails were put put up to indicate what things would be off-limits, and so people were searching for ways to reduce cycle times and the quality checks were a convenient target for a couple of reasons. They are extra work to the process of building the product, they are non-value added (the customer does not want to pay for them), and no one told them they had to keep doing them. So the quality checks were stopped.

Only one problem, if we consider lean from the customers' viewpoint. They want a high quality product exactly at the moment they need it. Quality checks are not a part of that equation in an ideal world where quality is built into the product and the process. In the real world however, some non-value added work is necessary to ensure the customer gets the high quality product they are paying for. Its non-value added but necessary, sort of a necessary evil kind of thing.

So, not all CI is good CI. The only good CI is that which does not sacrifice anything that is important to the customer.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Whats Better? Satisfied Customers or Loyal Customers?

If you are running a business, what would you rather have, satisfied, happy customers or loyal customers? I suspect many might say that the idea of a satisfied customer seems like the right visual in their minds eye. Some one who is pleased with the experience they have just been through, leaving the store with a smile on their face and contentment with their purchase. Trouble with that is that your in business to make money. I know, I know, the standard mantra is that satisfied customers will come back again and again. That may be true, or maybe its not.

Loyalty and satisfaction differ in one significant respect: action. Satisfaction is defined as a feeling about a past interaction or set of interactions. Satisfaction is fleeting and does not translate to actions on the part of the customer. This is where loyalty differs. Loyalty is focused on the buying behavior of the customer. Research by the Corporate Executive Board (an industry benchmarking research company, discovered that loyal customers were more likely to behave differently in three ways:

Loyal Customers

1. Recommend the supplier to others more often

2. Increase purchases

3. Partner with the supplier on new opportunities

To contrast, Satisfied Customers

1. Purchase based on price

2. Purchases remain steady or decline

3. Will readily jump to competitor based on price, availability, or negative experience

4. No partnership on new development

So which of those sounds like the customers you want? I don't know about you but give me loyal customers any day.

So whats the difference? Is there a difference? Turns out there is a difference. A satisfied customer is merely a spectator in the operation of your business. What I mean by this is that their involvement is more superficial, more circumstantial, and more subject to change at a moments notice than the loyal customer.

Ever had a conversation with a die hard car brand enthusiast? There is no swaying them from their brand, and if you press hard enough strong emotions and maybe some fists will fly. That's loyalty. They know all of the gory little details that make their brand the best. They are in it up to their eyeballs. Satsified customers really do not know much about the brand they have purchased, and as such, do not have a strong attraction to it.

I'll relate a personal experience. My wife owns a General Motors car. The now defunct brand has been problematic from the beginning. I have owned various General Motors brand vehicles over the years. Some have been pretty good, but none have been great, none have wowed me in the areas that matter most to me. I have been a satisfied customer, but not a loyal customer. Now back to my wife's car. Like I said, problematic from the first, but thats not the end of the story. We have owned problematic cars before from other brands (not GM) and I would consider owning one again if I did my homework and found their quality and engineering to be good. I will never allow another GM product into my garage again though. To say that I am a dissatified customer of GM is a vast understatement on par with saying that World War 2 was a minor disagreement between friends. Never, I say, NEVER will I own another GM. Why such strong emotions on this brand? It was not the problems alone that caused it, it was the problems and the fact that they could not be solved in 6 (count them 6!) tows to the dealer, it was the problems and the tows and the lack of fixes, and the moronic engineering that makes it so I can not change a burnt out headlamp, and the poor structure that required suspension work normally reserved for cars older than decade.

In short, my several ownership experiences with this car have led me to conclude that as a company GM is not competent at what it and sell cars. The entire experience has been awful, thoroughly and completely awful. Interestingly enough though, I may never have arrived at this conclusion were I not a die hard car brand enthusiast for another brand. About 8 years ago, I bought my first Japanese car, a Subaru. Now let me say that I didnt get the whole "Subaru Love" thing for the first couple of years, but after we bought my wife's car, I started to notice all of the things that I did NOT have to do to my car. In 8 years, nothing but regularly scheduled preventive maintenance. If the headlamp goes out (which it has) I can replace it myself in about 10 minutes for about $20. No ball joints needing replacement after 60,000 miles, no intermittent electrical outages. No problems at all. In my entire car buying adult life, I have never owned a car this well put together, this well thought out. In short, I am a very loyal Subaru customer.

So this little story brings us to the essential element of loyalty versus satsifaction. I'll give you one guess which brand my next car will be, and one guess which brands it will not be. Subaru will be rewarded with my money in short because I see that they are competent at what they do and I am loyal to them for it.

So, which kind of customers do you want?