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Lean Training is a waste of money!

Bang for Buck?

Now, given that I’ve made a living out of delivering Lean Training of one sort or another for the past 12 years, the title “Lean Training is a waste of money” may seem a little odd.

In that time I’ve trained thousands of people in hundreds of businesses of all types: Manufacturing; Care; Commercial and always tried my damnedest to make it an enjoyable and worthwhile experience for the participants, and something genuinely valuable to their employers, both during the training and in terms of having a legacy of people who are capable of doing things differently, and who just may feel a little bit better about the place they work, and the things they do.

But I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, in the cold light of day, the huge amount of investment those employers have made in that training, both the delivery cost, the ‘time off the tools’, the disruption to the execution of their product manufacture or service delivery, plus all of the other attendant costs,has simply not been completely worthwhile,or full value for money.

And that hurts.

It’s not all Bad!

Okay, I’m not in any way suggesting that being involved in Lean training is a complete waste of time, as I could point to many instances where the work that I’ve done has made a positive impact on both the people and the business. It has led to more engaged employees, better collaboration between departments and levels of authority, improved systems and processes and in several cases put a huge extra chunk of money on the bottom line. Such instances are hugely satisfying and gratifying.

Its why I do what I do.

However, if I were to do a cost/benefit analysis across everything I’ve ever been involved in, it’s really difficult to provide a convincing argument that what has been achieved has been fully effective, and has delivered for those businesses ‘what they expected’.

I am somewhat comforted by the words of the great W. Edwards Deming, who once said of training, “when you spend money on training you know how much it costs you, its right there on the table, but the benefit, you’ll never know”. In other words, even if there is little or no immediate apparent benefit from having trained people, the skills and knowledge learned may emerge months or years later, when the situation provides an opportunity for them to be deployed.

But this was somewhat ‘cold comfort’, so I felt I had to find out why, despite all of that effort, I couldn’t see sufficient improvement occurring in the places I’d worked so hard to enable there to be so.

Maybe it’s me?

So firstly, I had to consider the painful possibility that it was because of me. Maybe I simply wasn’t a good enough trainer, coach or motivator to impart the necessary knowledge and then let the skills blossom.

I guess we can all aspire to do better than we’ve done in the past, and are doing now, but I honestly had to conclude, bolstered by some very positive feedback from many of my students and clients, that I was at least adequate enough not to be the primary cause of there being insufficient benefit derived from my training.

Maybe it’s the method used?

I considered the methods I have used over the years to see if there were any obvious shortcomings there.

Much of my early work had been based around a ‘Lean’ NVQ programme (Business Improvement Techniques) which covered all of the basic elements of Lean (Continuous Improvement, Workplace Organisation, Visual management, Problem Solving) and required both evidence of ‘knowledge’ having been instilled through classroom training, and ‘competence’ confirmed by each student taking part in real-live Lean activities in their own workplaces, to make genuine improvements in some aspect of what theydo.

As the funding for such programmes began to recede, they became less popular as an option due to the extra cost of the educational elements of the programme, however as the process seemed sound enough, I continued to base the majority of my work on the is base concept of: Tell; Show; Do, which is the cornerstone concept of great coaching.

What WAS expected of the training?

So if it wasn’t my training, or the way that I was doing it that was the main reason that after so much work, there was insufficient improvement in the businesses these people worked for, I considered what my clients were expecting when they asked me to train their people.

It might seem obvious... to leave them with deployable skills they didn’t have before.

But why? So what? What did they ACTUALLY expect to HAPPEN?

And this is where it got interesting, because it became apparent that very few of the people who engaged me to train their people had a clear idea how those skills would be used once the training is over.

Training ‘Lean’ to employees is a fairly unusual concept, because in most training scenarios you are imparting knowledge and skills that are likely to be needed and used pretty quickly.

For example, if you are teaching someone to weld, there is a strong likelihood the business urgently needs a welder, and so his skills are immediately deployed once he is competent, as a part of his ‘day job’. Similarly, you are unlikely to be training achef if your business hasn’t any need for him to cook anything once he is trained!

But with Lean training it is very rare that you are training people for whom it will be their ‘day job’ once they are competent. In the overwhelming majority of cases these people, all of whom are aware of the basic tools, concepts and techniques of Lean, and who have proved they are capable of executing improvement activities, return to their own jobs as fitters, purchasers, engineers or whatever, and unless the employer HAD established a clear idea of how those skills were now going to be deployed, the result is that they have little or no effect on business performance, not because people are unwilling to use them, but because they simply don’t get the opportunity to do so!

The Great Disconnect

And that’s the reason I titled this article “Lean Training is a waste of money” because Lean Training ALONE, without a means for people to use those skills, it is quite literally a waste of money, because what you have is what I call “The Great Disconnect”.

On one hand you have people who COULD contribute to improving the business, they know how to, , they’ve proven they can, but are disconnected from the opportunity to do so because businesses haven’t installed all of theother things necessary so that they actually CAN do so.

Passing the Baton

This requires there to be a point at which the businesses considers when and how it is going to let their people loose armed with these new skills, to make the kind of improvements that will identify waste and convert it into value for the organisation, thus improving performance and strengthening security for all.

This will entail the business considering its policies and strategies, systems and procedures, and crucially its climate and culture, and then identifying what needs to change to create the time, methods, forums and support mechanisms for these skills to be unleashed.

On your own two feet

If these things don’t happen, and the Great Disconnect is allowed to remain in place, then the moment that all of that training will be used to everyone’s benefit will never arrive, and so the money will have been wasted.

Worse, the business may throw more money at their desire for the benefits of Lean on further fruitless training or in the form of expensive consultants, who will probably extract some benefits, but when they leave the organisation, with them will go the opportunity for further improvements, because the business has never learned to stand on its ‘own two feet’!

You get nothing for nothing

The take-out here is that there are many, many more things that need to be in place for a business to create a Lean organisation, and they all require a great deal of time, effort, investment and commitment, and therefore not training undertaken in isolation, regardless of how good it is, will create that situation without everything else being addressed.


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Published at: 26-05-2020