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Focus On Training During A Recession To Stay Competitive

The current economic climate has most executives and managers on edge. With wild stock market fluctuations on an almost daily basis, keeping most companies from panicking is difficult. When half of your value seems to disappear with the drop of the Dow, the knee-jerk reaction is to begin cutting costs within the organization. Slashed training budgets are a common casualty of tough economic times, but organizations that teach and implement lean principles view training as a key function that should not be reduced. During a recession, training is a valuable tool for reinforcing a company’s culture, generating cost savings, and preparing for economic upturns. Generally speaking, recessions, periods of reduced economic activity, automatically set off alarm bells. However, post-World War II, the average length of a recession is only 11 months. In the big picture, this means that recessions are relatively short-lived events. When you look at the long-term strategy and mission of your organization, a recession will only reflect a small piece of your company’s overall history. Companies with foresight and planning use this time of reduced activity to refocus on their initiatives, including training. Rather than seek short-term gains by reducing the organization’s training budget, they recognize that training is what enables them to develop and retain their employees, hone skills, refine processes, and continually improve. By sharing information and investing in employees through training, companies with continuous improvement philosophies keep their employees focused on the organization’s long-term goals while getting people the tools to make small improvements on individual levels.

Accelerated Learninus on Training During a Recession to Stay Competitive

By Joe Panebianco, Director Senior Trainer and Design Specialist

Another vital characteristic of lean is its focus on eliminating waste and unnecessary activities. Behaviors, activities, and actions that fail to add value should be removed from the business or manufacturing process. Once a company creates this mindset among its employees, it will realize small improvements in areas it had never considered before. Most of the non-value-added activities that occur within organizations are found in human behaviors—not in automated manufacturing processes. By training employees in the mechanics of lean on the shop floor, you’ll begin to see its influence in other business functions as employees apply its philosophies in other aspects of their jobs. Unlike other types of training, lean training can be applied to any type of business (service and manufacturing, process or discrete) in any business function (manufacturing, marketing, accounting, technology, human resources, etc.) at all organizational levels. Greater efficiency, lower costs, shorter lead times, and improved processes can be realized across all operations.

Part One of Three

When employees have less work, they can still be productive if they use their downtime to learn new skills or train fellow employees. Learning organizations are masters at identifying internal experts and facilitating knowledge sharing. By doing this, these organizations reap several benefits: they foster teambuilding, realize cost savings, and build loyalty. One of the key hallmarks of lean is its focus on relationships. Lean methodology examines how an organization’s employees, customers, and suppliers work together as partners. Constantly evaluating these relationships continuously improves processes, systems, and products. The result of delivering products in close collaboration with vendors and customers is highly satisfied, loyal customers. Less variation among products and services results in a higher quality product at a lower cost. And while these benefits are appreciated no matter what the economic climate, they are even more valuable in uncertain ones. As competitors focus on cutting costs, your organization can continue to invest in innovation, growth, and productivity during slow times.

A Valuable Tool for Weathering an Economic Downturn

What are some additional benefits of lean training?

One of the key hallmarks of lean is its focus on relationships. Lean methodology examines how an organization’s employees, customers, and suppliers work together as partners. Constantly evaluating these relationships continuously improves processes, systems, and products. The result of delivering products in close collaboration with vendors and customers is highly satisfied, loyal customers. Less variation among products and services results in a higher quality product at a lower cost.

If all of this sounds somewhat familiar, it is because none of these ideas are new. The lessons a company can apply in order to do well during a recession echo the same lessons that Toyota learned in the 1940s. Realizing it did not have the money or resources to compete with larger car manufacturers like General Motors or Ford, Toyota figured out ways to do more with less. Its management embraced W. Edwards Deming’s concepts of teamwork, collaboration, and trust. In the end, it built a learning organization that focuses on developing and empowering employees, working closely with suppliers, and continuously improving its manufacturing processes.

Once your company has resolved to stay its course and not cut back on training during an economic crunch, you will still want to make sure that your training dollars are spent wisely. One way to do this is to make sure that the training that is offered is targeted so that its impact is greatest. Analyze your business and understand what value streams are strategically important to your business. Where do you have the opportunity to grow the business, capture market share, differentiate yourself from the competition, and create value for the customer? Focus your training and continuous improvement on techniques and issues that will transform this area of your business. By doing this, you will be able to maximize the return on investment of your training costs and grow in any type of business climate. Another way to train that is cost effective and fast is through an e-learning platform. E-learning enables companies to teach lean concepts quickly and communicate their messages to the masses at a relatively low cost. It is an excellent platform for teaching the principles, concepts, and theories that form the basis of a lean journey. Once your employees have mastered the rudiments of lean, they can quickly apply what they have learned on the shop floor and across the business functions.

The choices a company makes in how it reacts to a recession play a large role in how the organization will emerge from an economic downturn. Focusing on training during a recession can give a company a competitive edge. By developing your people and updating their skills, you can build important employee loyalty. Customer satisfaction, improved quality, and lower costs are side effects of implementing lean training. Continuing these training programs during a recession makes a company stronger in the long run and also makes recessions a lot less fearsome than they may first appear.

What Is A Learning Organization?

At the start of every kaizen event I ask the group, “What are your expectations?” The most common answer is, “To learn.” They may say to learn about the process that we are going to improve, to learn more about an area of the company that they are not familiar with, or to learn about the principles of the Toyota Production System and how they are used to improve a process. As a facilitator, my expectations are not only to achieve the business objectives of the event, but to help the group learn so that they know the process and the principles, and can make improvements every day, thereby creating continuous improvement. The common thread in all of these expectations is to learn. Learning is an essential part of continuous improvement. As Jeffrey Liker states in The Toyota Way (p. 251), “Of all the institutions I’ve studied…I believe Toyota is the best learning organization.” Jeffrey Liker in The Toyota Way shares the 14 management principles that have helped Toyota become the largest and most profitable car company in the world. Principal number 14 is: “Become a learning organization through relentless reflection and continuous improvement.”

Shared Vision

All groups or organizations that have achieved greatness have had goals, values, and missions that are deeply shared throughout. Do not mistake “shared vision” with a company’s vision or mission statement— they may not be t he same. Shared visions motivate and drive people to excel, not because the boss tells them to, but because they want to. Many leaders have a personal vision statement they never articulate to the organization. These types of leaders may still be effective in their roles because they are charismatic individuals and motivate people to follow them.

A fundamental tenet of the learning organization is that the act of looking inward and examining our core thoughts and beliefs is an important tool for furthering personal mastery and continuously improving ourselves.

Systems Thinking

The final characteristic of a learning organization is that the organization utilizes systems thinking. Systems thinking involves taking a macro look at the world or an organization, rather than only seeing discrete, individual units or events. Through this broad perspective, we can observe patterns and cycles in an organization—how all individual members are interrelated and influence each other—rather than viewing events as isolated occurrences or separate parts. Finding this interrelationship of seemingly unrelated activities requires a systems thinking approach. It requires a systems perspective to comprehend how every event within an organization helps shape the future of the organization and channel those collective events into lessons learned on the path toward the shared vision.

As one seasoned Toyota manager commented after hosting over a hundred tours for visiting executives, “They always say, ‘Oh yes, you have Kan-Ban systems, we do also. You have quality circles, we do also. Your people fill out standard work descriptions, ours do also.’ They all see the parts and have copied the parts. What they do not see is the way all the parts work together.” (Senge, p. 11)

When they leave the organization, the motivation of the employees will leave, too. In order for an organization to have a common commitment, focused on long-term results and achievements, its members must have a shared vision that lasts well beyond the tenure of any one individual leader. A great example of this is when John F. Kennedy said in 1961 that America would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade. This single statement became the shared vision motivating a nation to achieve its goal even after it lost its leader.

Personal Mastery

Personal mastery is the individual’s motivation to learn and become better, much as a craftsman or artist is driven to master his discipline. In a learning organization, personal mastery tells us that we are committed to a lifetime of learning and are able to realize the results that matter most to us. An organization’s ability to learn is determined by its individual members’ desire to learn—either the drive to develop, improve, master, and excel exists or it does not. For that reason, you need to have individuals that are truly committed and motivated to the shared vision.

Team Learning

Examples abound of sports teams that, although filled with individual stars, still have a losing record. Likewise, there are management teams that are staffed with high performing individuals that produce poor earnings or bankruptcy. “When teams are truly learning, not only are they producing extraordinary results, but the individual members are growing more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise.” (Senge, p.9) This is how individual learning becomes a mechanism for team learning. In effect, team learning becomes a force multiplier of personal mastery, with one person’s lesson quickly being passed on to the entire organization, accelerating the learning and improvement process exponentially.

Mental Models

Mental models are the assumptions and beliefs that are the foundation for how we interpret the world around us. Mental models also drive our behaviors. In most cases, we are not even aware of our mental models. It can be something as simple as making an assumption about the type of person someone is based on how that person is dressed or wears her hair. Mental models cause us to take a certain action or to take no action at all. Here we must be willing to look inward, examine and challenge our mental models, and be open and willing to change.

Now I know what you are thinking: shared vision, personal mastery, team learning, mental models, systems thinking —that’s a huge amount to develop, implement, and spread throughout our organization. We will never be able to adopt all those practices—or by the time we do master those, we’ll be so far behind that what is the point? But what you don’t realize is that the entire kaizen week is a microcosm of a learning organization. The scope and objectives for the week is theshared vision; the mental models are the tools of the Toyota Production System (i.e., batch vs. flow production). No one individual is capable of producing the results that a full kaizen team produces, but by assembling a team of employees who are each responsible for discovering the current state and sharing what they have each learned with the team, the team achieves results that surpass anything one individual could have accomplished on his own (personal mastery and team learning.) During a kaizen event, no project area can be considered in isolation— before changes are made, the team must understand the interrelationships and identify how a change will impact other areas of the organization (systems thinking.) By continuing these practices beyond a kaizen event and applying them to all aspects of your business, you will have taken the first steps to becoming a learning organization.

More than 100 different Instructional System Design models exist, but almost all are based on the generic “ADDIE” model. In 1975, Florida State University developed the ADDIE model of analysis, design, development, implementation, and evaluation, which was selected by the Armed Services as the primary means for developing training. At the time, the term “ADDIE” was not used, but rather SAT (Systems Approach to Training) or ISD (Instructional Systems Development). Each of the five steps in the model has an outcome that feeds the subsequent step.

Analysis Phase

In the analysis phase, instructional goals, objectives, and behaviors are defined. The learning environment and learner’s existing knowledge and skills are identified. Below are some of the issues that are addressed during the analysis phase:

  • Assess the audience and identify its characteristics.
  • Determine what information will be covered in the training—that is, learning objectives, exercises, content, and subject matter analysis.
  • Specify the types of learning constraints.
  • Identify delivery options and media selection: online, classroom, self study, on-the-job.
  • Develop ways to measure the effectiveness of the training.
  • Identify the timeline and cost for project completion.

Design Phase

In the design phase, we take the audience assessment, learning objectives, exercises, content, subject matter analysis, and media selection from the analysis phase and design the training program. The design phase should be systematic and specific. Systematic means a logical, orderly method of identifying, developing, and evaluating the training program. Specific means each element of the instructional design plan needs to be described in explicit, unambiguous terms. These are steps used for the design phase:

  • Identify and list the learning steps required to perform the task.
  • Develop performance tests for the training.
  • List desired behaviors that each learner should ideally demonstrate prior to training.
  • Sequence and structure the learning objectives (e.g. easy tasks first).
  • Develop the project’s instructional, visual, and technical design strategy.
  • Create storyboards for the class or classes that are being designed.
  • Create a prototype of the training.
  • Design graphics and materials that will enhance the training experience.

Development Phase

The development phase is where the developers create and assemble the content that was created in the design phase. Programmers work to develop and integrate various materials, graphics, and visual aids with the media selected for the training. The project is reviewed and revised according to any feedback given.

  • Develop activities that will reinforce the learning.
  • Select the delivery method, such as overheads, handouts, or podcasts.
  • Review existing material so that you do not reinvent the wheel. You might find you are able to incorporate some existing materials into the new program.
  • Develop the instructional material.
  • Review the materials to ensure they accomplish all goals and objectives.

Implementation Phase

During the implementation phase, procedures for training the facilitators and the learners are developed. The facilitators’ training should cover the course curriculum, learning outcomes, method of delivery, and testing procedures. Preparations of the learners’ materials include training participants on new technologies (i.e., podcasts, webcasts, etc.) as well as student registration. This is also the phase where the project manager ensures that he books, CDs/DVDs, and any software needed are in place and that the learning application or website is functional.

  • Create a management plan for conducting the training.
  • Conduct the training.

Evaluation Phase

The evaluation phase consists of tests designed to assess the effectiveness of the training process—that is, assess the training material, instruction, delivery method, and the learners’ retention.

  • Review and evaluate each phase (analyze, design, develop, implement) to ensure it has accomplished its intended goals.
  • Perform external evaluations—observe that the tasks that were trained can actually be performed by the learner on the job.
  • Revise the training to make it better.

Performance tests are a key evaluation measure that can be used to assess how much of the training has been retained. During a performance test, the learner is required to demonstrate a skill that has been learned by using the skill in a simulation environment or role-playing experience. For example, a classic performance test that virtually all of us have gone through is a driver’s test.

Before the student is awarded a driver’s license, he has to demonstrate that he has mastered the basic skills required to operate an automobile. This is done with the student using an actual vehicle, operated under the close supervision of an evaluator who uses a checklist of performance steps that the student must perform in order to pass the exam. This performance test, like all well-designed performance tests, exhibits three key characteristics:

  • The student must demonstrate key skills in a specific order if he or she is to pass the test.
  • The test involves any necessary equipment in the appropriate setting—that is, it comes as close as possible to simulating an actual experience.
  • The evaluator knows what behaviors the student must demonstrate and the parameters for the successful completion of each step within the test.

While performance tests are often viewed as a critical evaluation measure, they are also essential learning components for the adult learner, who learns by doing.

So think of this as the pre-work or part of the marketing that needs to be done before the learner even starts the training. If we just tell someone, “Hey show up on Monday at 1 p.m. for some training,” we have done nothing to tell him/her what the training is about, why we are having the training, or how it will help him/her (what need it will satisfy). We need to take the time before, or at the very beginning, of the training to explain not only what the participants are going to learn, but why they are in the training. This is especially true with LeanSigma® training. If you just get up in front of a group and start to teach takt, flow, and pull, people are going to be sitting there saying, “Why am I here, how does this help me in my job, and what do they expect me to do with this information?” They walk away from the training not knowing the value of the materials they just covered or how it will help them. So a vital part of developing any training program—laying the groundwork—is communicating the reasons and benefits of the training before the student even enters the classroom.

Laying the Groundwork

One potential shortfall of the ADDIE system is that it does not lay the basic groundwork for adult learning. As mentioned in previous articles, adult learning theory tells us that adult learners are needs-driven. This means that adults will be most interested in training when they are aware of the need for change and that the training itself will help them with that change.

About Joe Panebianco, Director, Senior Trainer and Design Specialist

A former operations manager with broadmanufacturing and business experience, Joe Panebianco came to TBM in 2003 after more than a decade in industry.

As operations manager at Paramount Die Company, Joe implemented lean principles throughout the organization, reducing lead time by 90 percent and eliminating all late orders for the first time in the company’s history. Additionally, he worked on developing new manufacturing techniques, including methods for automatically controlling machined tolerances to less than one ten-thousandth of an inch. During his tenure at Bayside Controls, Inc., Joe held leadership positions and was part of the management team that grew the company 50 percent annually for six consecutive years, transforming Bayside from a small machine shop to a leading manufacturer of precision gear systems. At TBM, Joe is sought after for his team-building and leadership skills, as well as his ability to help clients visualize and develop a transformation plan. He is uniquely skilled in effectively interfacing with all levels of an organization to facilitate change.In addition to working with clients such as American Achievement Corporation, Assa Abloy, Hubbell, Pratt & Whitney, Sigma Lighting, and Special Metals Corporation, Joe is an instructor at the TBM Institute. Joe has a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering from Loyola College of Maryland.