The Secrets of Successful Employee Training… Do or Die!

If you could pick only one, what would you say is the single most influential area or process inside of your business that will determine your overall success, or failure, as a company for the next 20 years to come?

A lot of things probably come to mind. You might be thinking about your overall business structure or marketing model. Could it possibly be your CEO or leadership decisions? Would it be the adaptability of your supply chain in response to market conditions? I would argue that above all of those things, a successful process for employee training is the most important area your company could focus on to ensure long term growth and success in your industry.

When we talk about Lean, what we’re really talking about is processes. The company who “thinks Lean” thinks in terms of processes. They think about eliminating waste through excellent process creation, discipline, and unrelenting PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act). Following along with this analogy, if processes are the basic “building blocks” of Lean, then I would argue that the people operating those processes are the lifeblood of Lean. The bottom line is that your processes are only as good as the people executing them on a daily basis.

Over the past 6 weeks, I’ve been reading through Toyota Talent: Developing Your People the Toyota Way. This book has radically changed my view and understanding of both the importance of a robust training process and the long term impact it can have on your business. Training our people properly seems to be one of the most important, yet overlooked aspects of many businesses today. As Lean thinkers and doers, we should be implementing processes to eliminate waste and streamline our training experiences both internally (employees) and externally (customers). From a very high level, here is what training should look like in a Lean environment:

  1. Identify Critical Knowledge
  2. Transfer Knowledge to Others
  3. Verify Learning and Success

While this model might seem overly simplistic, there are some key points in each of these steps that can make or break your overall training effort, so don’t miss out!

Identify Critical Knowledge

This is by far the most important stage of any successful training effort and in most cases it seems to be completely overlooked. When initiating a training of any kind with another person or group, the goal is for the right information to be transferred in the right way to produce the right results. If we don’t preemptively take time to plan and agree upon what the right information is, there is no way we should expect the right results to be produced. If we are believers in Quality at the Source, then taking the time to identify the right pieces of information is essential to our training process.

When you’ve been performing a task for a long time, it is easy to overlook the amount of accumulated “know-how” that you’ve gathered. It is easy for you to forget the layers of understanding that are involved in knowing what the correct output looks like and what the most important value added steps are in the process. It cannot be overstressed that determining exactly what these critical pieces of knowledge are is essential to your trainee producing the right results. Once you know the critical pieces of information, you also have to document them in a standard format. If you have not outlined and documented the critical pieces of knowledge, how can you ensure that you will convey all of the information needed and convey it in the correct way during your training effort?

One of the best ways to document those critical pieces of knowledge is to use a Job Breakdown Sheet:

I won’t get into the details of creating this document, but you can see that each major step is identified, key points within that step are pulled out, and the reasons for those key points are explained. It is crucial to boil this Job Breakdown Sheet down to the most basic level of the job tasks. If you are at too high of a level with this document, there is good chance you will be missing critical knowledge needed to perform the tasks. For the scope of this piece, I won’t spend time explaining the method used to break down each job task, but the main idea is to keep drilling down until you’ve hit the most basic operations involved in each task and can explain both their impact on the overall process and why they are important.

With your completed Job Breakdown Sheet in hand, you are prepared to move on to the next step. (I realize that the time investment to create standardized Job Breakdown Sheets for every task inside of your organization is daunting, but you can start small with this and build up over time.)

Transfer Knowledge to Others

Once you have created an effective Job Breakdown Sheet, your actual training process should be very much simplified and straight forward. As previously stated, the goal of any training is for the right information (already gathered at this point) to be transferred in the right way to produce the right results.

For the actual training, the trainer will be walking the trainee through the job task using the Job Breakdown Sheet as an outline. Each step should be explained individually and the reason for each step (how it adds value) should be explained clearly so the trainee starts to get the bigger picture.

There are a few things you can do as a trainer to ensure a more effective training every time:

  • Clear your schedule to make sure the training period will be uninterrupted.
  • Clearly set the scope of the training session and do not allow other topics to be discussed within that session.
  • Prepare the training environment so the trainee will be fully engaged once the training starts.
  • Don’t plan to teach more material in one session than can be processed effectively. This will vary from person to person, but keep in mind that knowledge absorption will start slowing rapidly after a certain point. (usually around 30 – 60 minutes of a training session)
  • Keep in mind that training is more of an art than a science; be prepared to respond uniquely to each individual based upon their learning needs.

Verify Learning and Success

This final step should be happening both during the training and for weeks (and possibly months) to come depending on the complexity of the task. Here is an example of what this looks like within the immediate training:

When you are preparing your material and training schedule, make sure to build time into the training session for the trainee to practice whatever is being taught directly in front of the trainer. As the trainee is practicing the task, the trainer should be correcting any errors and verifying the success of the trainee. This cycle of teach/practice/verify should be happening for every single task that is being taught.

Think about your own company… how many times do you or another trainer teach a large amount of material to a trainee and then walk away to resume your work and assume they will execute it just like you taught the first time around? Without a disciplined process in place to ensure results, we shouldn’t be expecting a consistent and high level of performance from our employees.

As well as verifying learning in the short term, our team leads and manager type employees should be checking up on new employees on a regular interval until they are assured that quality is being met or exceeded. If we leave the trainee to fend for themselves and “figure it out”, we might never see the results we are expecting.

The biggest mental shift that has happened for me around the topic of training during the past few months is this: The output and performance of a trainee is a direct measure of the quality of the trainer. Not only is the success of the trainee the direct responsibility of the trainer, but the quality of the trainee’s work can even be used as a KPI to evaluate the quality of the trainer and training method.

We live in a culture where individual blame is the norm. I can promise that an amazing shift would happen in your company if your trainers start taking ownership for the performance of their trainees and your leaders and managers started viewing one of their primary roles as a teacher and trainer. I’ve heard it said that a Lean culture is a learning culture, and there is no better way to create a learning culture than by the leadership of your organization embracing effective teaching and training as one of their highest priorities.

So… now that you’ve heard my thoughts, what are yours? Feel free to share some good or bad training experiences you’ve been a part of and what made them effective or lacking.

Also, be sure to check out the upcoming Lean Supply Chain training courses at Georgia Tech.

Written by Colin Willis, Lean Logistics Specialist at LeanCor

Posted by LeanCor Supply Chain Group

LeanCor Supply Chain Group is a trusted supply chain partner that specializes in lean principles to deliver operational improvement. LeanCor’s three integrated divisions – LeanCor Training and Education, LeanCor Consulting, and LeanCor Logistics – help organizations eliminate waste, drive down costs, and build a culture of continuous improvement.

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