Lean Training is usually an integral part of the lean journey. Lean Training occurs in the beginning to introduce organizations to the basics or to align teams with a variety of backgrounds and experiences in lean. Workshops and training sessions are conducted during the lean journey to add a new way of thinking or a new set of skills and/or tools. At some point someone asks “what is the return on the training?” Obviously, the course content and delivery need to be high quality providing the right balance of classroom delivery, application, and reflection on the real world use of the skills. However, there’s more to getting the return than having world class instruction.

I often think about my experience with golf when I think about lean training. I had the best videos, the best books, a top notch pro who gave me lessons as well as went with me as I played from time to time. I bought a set of very nice clubs. However, none of that could take the place practice and playing. I had to do my part on the course and at the driving range to get the return on all of the instruction and investment.

As an instructor and coach of lean leadership, principles, and rules, I get a lot of opportunity to see what works well to increase the “stickability” of lean training. Here are some methods used by leaders to increase the payback.

  1. Explain why the training is important before your team attends.
    It is easy to assume they see the importance or received the email explaining the need for the course, or by now have heard about it. They need to connect the business needs to the content of the course. The content of the course needs to be relevant to what they do. It is not unusual to hear that participants are in training “because Patrick says everyone will be trained on this.”  When we ask what trainees expect to get from the course, we get focused answers from those who mention having a conversation with their manager before attending.

  2. Develop a common understanding of what is expected of the participants when training is complete.
    A good place to begin is to schedule a discussion with participants when they return. Ask them to prepare one or two actions they would like to take using what they have learned. Some companies assign participants projects that apply new skills. It works well to have the projects support work that is currently part of the quarterly or monthly objectives. Another company has a routine called “Walk Out Wednesday”, time designated across the organization for direct observation and engagement. Often participants will see this as an opportunity to practice newly learned skills. It’s OK if the steps are small ones. Getting started is often the hardest part.

  3. Define how the new competencies will be integrated into routine roles and responsibilities.
    How does the participant’s work and routine change? This may be more challenging for those at higher levels in the organization than for those closer to the value added work. Are there routine, structured events to use the skills? Is a checklist needed? Make time available for the new skill to be practiced. One site manager set aside one hour every Friday for her direct reports to discuss their experiences using recently introduced A3 problem solving skills. Discussions were done as a group, sometimes in the conference room, sometimes in the operation. Develop a plan for your participants to have the opportunity to use the skills acquired. Practice makes permanent.

  4. Develop a team of internal coaches to support practice sessions.
    Some companies send a lead team through the training first and add repeat sessions with the goal of developing coaches. The coaches assist trainees on return to the real world. The lead team at some companies includes management at the highest levels in the organization. The coaches from the lead team work with graduates on return to be sure they know what good looks like. Coaches also provide someone to go to if they get stuck. The coaches also increase their skills, no surprise. Coaches can conduct After Action Reviews with participants or Brown Bag learning discussions at lunch to provide reflection and development.

  5. Cascade training is a cost effective way to spread training through the organization as well as engrain understanding and application.
    Cascade training is training that is delivered by a manager to the team. The benefits are clear. If I have to train it, I must learn it. If my manager trains me it must be important.

  6. As the Next Level Manager of the people being trained, consider how you can integrate the core principles and tools in your work as well as your interactions with your team.
    Your team needs to see you using and role modeling the principles and tools being taught to the organization. It is OK to tell them you are role modeling (it isn’t role modeling if no one knows you are doing it). One leader at a company with focus on lean problem solving asked “what is the problem statement” without fail when there was a gap between expectations and actuals. Another director made it a practice to participate in one “go see” walk daily with selected people to observe processes or progress on improvement projects.  Another senior manager drew A3 quadrants on the white board in his office, using the template to guide improvement discussions with his team.

  7. Know how you will make use of the lean training visible.
    How will you know your team is using the training through direct observation rather than reports? Be cautious of only looking at results. We all know they are important, but incomplete. You will need a method to observe the process that the training supports. Look for the practice and application of the skills. Finally, do you have a way to assess the competencies of your team as they grow in understanding and skill?

At the close of training sessions we ask graduates what they plan to do to use what they have learned in the next five work days. We also ask what will enable their success. At the highest levels or the lowest, there is remarkable consistency in responses – they need time, the support of their manager, and commitment from management to make the skills and thinking important.  Give these suggestions a try to improve the return on your training investment.