Sunday, June 13, 2010

Here are 3 Factors you should consider before you plan a Training Solution

There's a worrying trend in Bollywood these days. Producers have started to believe if they follow numerology and spell their movie names with an extra character or two, they'll happily get to a hit! As a result you get movie names such as Do Knot Disturb, I hate Luv Storys, Heyy Babyy, Singh Is Kinng, and what have you. Well some of these movies turn out to be commercial hits, and others bomb at the box office - which tells me that all this noise about numerologically correct names is just industry superstition. I want to laugh at the producers, but then I have a sinking feeling. Turns out that in the corporate world, we have superstitions of our own.

In almost all companies there's a superstition that somewhere in the closets of their training departments, there's a magic wand that'll make their performance problems disappear. Throw in a disengaged training team and eager consultants, the moment a client utters the words 'training' or 'elearning', we start to salivate at the prospect of displaying our wares. In the real world however, performance issues are multi-causal and it's no wonder that most training or elearning fails to improve performance.

This may seem to be almost a 'common-sensical' thing for all of us L&D professionals to remember, but the results we see are quite the contrary. So I've decided to write a blog post about the first few things we should consider before we plan a training intervention or an elearning course. This is definitely not an exhaustive list and I hope you can add to my preliminary thoughts.

Process Factors

I've recently been observing a very popular departmental store. If people buy vegetables, then depending on the time of the day, it can take them 30-60 minutes to get out of the store once they're ready to check out. Here's what happens:
  1. Once customers get their vegetables, they need to stand in a queue to get their veggies weighed.
    • There are four weighing counters.
  2. It takes them approximately 10 minutes in line before they can get their veggies weighed.
  3. It doesn't take that long to get the veggies weighed - most customers get done in two minutes.
  4. It then takes customers another five minutes to get to the billing counter and stand in queue there.
    • There are about 10 billing counters.
  5. Depending on the time of the day, it can take extra time. In the best case it takes customers at least 12 minutes in line.
  6. It takes the billing counter about 5-10 minutes on an average to bill the customer.
So, as a consequence of those steps, here's the cycle time for billing a customer - 10+2+5+12+10=33-39 minutes.

“A bad system will defeat a good person every time.” – Deming
Now a very naive, yet lean improvement to the workplace can work this way:
  1. We scrap the weighing counters and add four more billing counters for customers.
  2. We make a small adjustment to the billing counters so the billing associates can also weigh the vegetables.
  3. Customers don't need to move between counters anymore. They go straight to the billing counter when they've made their selection.
  4. Now this means that the billing associates will add about two minutes of weighing time to their billing process. So it can take 7-12 minutes to bill a customer.
  5. This said we now have four extra counters, so we can still keep our customer waiting time down to 12 minutes.
In our newly aligned workplace, it can take 12+12=24 minutes to get a customer out of the door once they make their selection. Moreover we can service 14 customers at a time as against the previous maximum of 10. That's at least a 27% increase in productivity, isn't it?

My solution may be missing important details, but the point I'm trying to drive through is that very often the reason for sub-optimal performance may just be a badly engineered workplace or process. Fortunately the Lean toolkit gives us a really useful tool called Value Stream Mapping, which allows us the see the waste in our business processes. So before we rush into a training solution, a value stream mapping exercise to visualise the whole process may just be the right thing to do.

Performance Support/ Leadership Factors

I'm in the middle of an interesting discussion at work, where we're discussing the importance of training in onboarding people. Frankly, I feel that traditional training is a bit overrated when it comes to making people competent at work. True competence comes from real experience and contextualised support. Training can only help heighten people's awareness about a skill. No amount of training however, can guarantee that all individuals will emerge totally convinced and skilled on your practices. Depending on where they start from and their ability to learn, people may either emerge competent, confused, brainwashed or with cognitive dissonance. This is an awkward, but realistic mix of results. The truth however is that no amount of training will make this mix any different. To expect unconscious competence at the end of training is equivalent to believing that giving someone instructions to swim is will make that person a competent swimmer.

As with most skills embedded in our muscle memory, we learn from experience. In the work context, experience can come only from working on a real project - training simulations are fine, but no substitute for the real world. So I challenge managers and leaders to provide the right kind of performance support and coaching to help people perform at their jobs. And I challenge L&D professionals to investigate if the people you're trying to help have the right leadership and performance support at work. If not, then the solution may not be training. It may mean that you need to equip team leaders with the ability to teach their team members on the job using lean methods.

Motivation Factors


Knowledge is only one dimension to performance. Beyond the knowledge of what one needs to do to perform well, one needs the motivation to excel each day. Unfortunately most workplaces focus on extrinsic factors to encourage people to do well - training, incentives, the fear of being admonished or fired, etc. I can't do any better than Dan Pink to explain the things that motivate people - the above video does a really great job. Before embarking on a training solution though, it may be useful to investigate answers to the following questions:
  • Can the people you're helping direct their own jobs to some extent?
  • Does the job satisfy their urge to get better and better each day? Does it even matter to them if they get better?
  • Do they have a purpose with which they come to work each day? Is that purpose bigger than just getting a paycheck?
If the answer to any of these questions is "No!", then you should perhaps drop the idea of training, because that is unlikely to change performance. The answer to performance problems may just be at a completely different level.
If you look harder, you'll realise that training is hardly the solution to most performance problems. Don't get me wrong - there's a time and place for training. All I'm saying is that putting all your eggs in the training basket leads to nothing but huge disappointment at most times. Let's think beyond the training box - in fact let's stop believing that performance problems only have to do with a knowledge or awareness gap. As I'd said earlier, performance issues are multi-causal. Let's get to the root causes and if and only if people lack the knowledge to do their jobs effectively, let's embark on a training solution. What do you think about that? Let me know by leaving your comments on this blogpost.

2 comments:

Joe Deegan said...

Great post and thanks for sharing the Dan Pink video. That is a very interesting perspective on motivation. This makes me wonder if paying salespeople on commission is an effective solution. I'm looking forward to sharing this with sales execs in my organization. Great food for thought.

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