Stop Wasting Your Time With Training

by Douglas R. Rosensteel, CMC

Executives spend millions every year to train employees in everything from Communication to Six Sigma. The answer to most organizational problems, right? The concept is unbelievably powerful. There is nothing more valuable or productive than highly trained employees. Yet training has historically failed to produce the desired results. How can that be? To transform employees into highly trained employees, we insert training, right? That, in a nutshell, is why training fails. Transforming employees into highly trained employees by inserting training is like transforming cow into shish kabob by inserting skewer. The result is not shish kabob, but profoundly annoyed cow. Employees often describe their training experience as, “Two days of sitting in uncomfortable chairs listening to Management Nirvana that does nothing to help me do my job better.”

The reason for this reaction is simple; the training does not solve the problems the employees deal with every day. Most training is designed for the instructor to teach efficiently. However, the objective of training should not be for the instructor to teach, but for the participants to learn. That’s a whole different ball game.

It all comes down to this question – how and when do people learn? While it is true that different people learn in different ways, i.e., some prefer lecture, some prefer hands-on activity, etc., that is not the point. The fact is that people were learning long before there were teachers. Children learn to speak long before they go to school. They learn to master the spatial relationships necessary to build a tower of blocks without lessons from a Professor of Structural Design. They learn to pit Mommy against Daddy to get what they want without ever sitting through a course on Team Psychology. In short, they learn whatever they need to learn to accomplish the things they want to accomplish.

According to Daniel Quinn in his book My Ishmael[1], “…small children are the most powerful learning engines in the known universe. They effortlessly learn as many languages as are spoken in their households. No one has to sit them down in a classroom and drill them on grammar and vocabulary. They do no homework, they have no tests, no grades. Learning their native language is no chore at all, because of course it’s immensely and immediately useful and gratifying to them.”

Adults are no different. We learn things that are useful and gratifying to us; the more useful, the better. Therefore, Useful is the key to the successful training program.

Most training initiatives do not meet the Useful criterion simply because they do not solve the employee’s problem. Statistics training is a classic example. Though one of the most useful process improvement methods yet developed, statistics training often results in reams of charts and calculations that provide no value to the person doing the job. The last thing your employees need is more time-consuming paperwork.

How, then, do we make training satisfy the Useful criterion? Very simply, the course must be designed to solve the problems of the participants. If the boss is very controlling, teaching empowerment will be boring at best and counter-productive at worst. “Upward-management” training, however, would satisfy the Useful criterion. Do your employees constantly have to work around missing components? If so, training in procedure writing will not be useful, but workflow analysis will.

Training that is Useful has a very interesting side effect – an impressive return on investment. High scrap rates were costing one manufacturer over two million dollars annually. To solve the problem, they wanted to train employees in Statistical Design of Experiments, or DOE. A well-known process improvement method, DOE is useful for reducing manufacturing scrap.

The Vice President of Manufacturing wanted the training to be effective, and knew how to create a vested interest in using it. Production workers constantly complained about problems on the main production line. Assembly took twice as long on that line because nothing ever fit. So DOE training was designed to solve their problem.

Before jumping into the classroom to learn statistics, the participants watched as a DOE expert used the technique on the main production line. It worked remarkably well. The participants were able to assemble parts in half the normal time because they fit together better. That made DOE Useful, and classroom training was designed around that successful experiment. During the seminar, the participants analyzed the experimental data and realized that the improvements they saw in production had been predicted on paper. They almost didn’t realize they were learning statistics. After the seminar, the participants used DOE whenever they had problems. Not only did DOE become a regular part of job, it saved $1.1 million that year.

Shish kabob. N’est pas?

[1] Bantam Books, 1997

ISBN 0-553-37965-8

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BHD Technologies, Inc. 2015