LEAN LEARNING: A better way to use training budgets

By: Giorgi Lominadze

Entering the organization's office, we often notice the walls covered with frames certifying that employees have gone through various training. My first emotion is a pleasant feeling about the employer that cares about the employee's development. But do these "frames" really target employee's actual needs?

A survey conducted by ShiftELearning.com shows that only 12% of employees apply new skills learned on training, and another survey conducted by McKinsey suggests that only 25% of respondents find that training measurably improved performance.

TrainingIndustry.com, survey shows that organizations' worldwide expenditure on training in 2019 summed up to USD 370 billion. Considering the training programs' "success rates," it is sad to realize that most of the funds, time, and human resources allocated to the employees' learning and development programs are wasted.

A fascinating article in the Harvard Business Review, "Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development," by Steve Glaveski suggests that switching to the Lean Learning approach can solve the huge issue.

There are two reasons Lean Learning is appealing to me. One is the word "Lean," meaning that Lean Management Methodology is applied to the learning process. The second, without knowing what lean is, the concept described in Steve Glaveski's article itself.

Lean Management
In 2014, my business partner suggested reading The Lean Startup book by Eric Ries since we were building an IT startup together. I loved the book, but it appeared that Lean didn't "touch" me.

Fortunately, in 2018 my employer, at that time, Evex Medical Corporation, organized a one-week training "marathon," led by Brion Hurley and Irakli Naridze, about lean management. The week was enough to get me "poisoned" with the philosophy.

Lean management originates from Toyota, known as Toyota Production System (TPS). The lean approach fathers developed the principles for the production process, but later, it found application in various industries like Healthcare and IT.

The lean methodology is based on delivering maximum value to the customer by eliminating waste (removing all non-value-adding steps) from the process through continuous improvement.

The "house" of lean clearly describes the lean management philosophy

LEAN LEARNING: A better way to use training budgetsGiorgi Lominadze

The lean leadership style supports the idea of shared responsibilities and shared leadership. That's why the two main pillars are continuous improvement and respect for people. To put it in other words, "Ask people how can they perform the job better and help them to execute the needed change." The five pillars in the basement of the "house" support the main two's firm standing.

Genchi Genbutsu (go & see): Reduce the distance between you and the place where the actual work is done. Please go and see how employees perform their job.

Kaizen (Change for good): By involving employees, make gradual changes to improve productivity/efficiency, thus increasing delivered value to the customer.

Challenge: Always ask questions and challenge the status quo.

Teamwork: Create self-organizing teams and amplify learning.

Respect: Employees are the center of the organization.

By implementing lean, the pillars guide organizations to focus their employees on value-creating activities by building smart processes and efficiently allocating resources in their possession.

This article won't be enough to describe the lean management philosophy. Still, one of the principles described in Management on The Mend by John Toussaint may help the reader feel the essence better: Lean management leaders believe that 99% of the problems are caused by poorly designed processes, not the employees.

Lean Learning
In his article Steve Glaveski describes lean learning as a) learning the core of what you need to learn; b) applying it to real-world situations immediately; c) receiving immediate feedback and refining your understanding; d) repeating the cycle. Reading this, I felt Deja Vu, but when I read how to apply lean learning, I recognized several approaches we applied in the Department of Commercial Analysis.

This happened in Evex Medical Corporation when I was asked to create the department. I had to gather a team with high analytical and technical skills to work with big healthcare data. The main challenge was to combine healthcare knowledge with the skills needed to work with big data.

After gathering the team, we agreed to treat our analytical reports' users (employees in the organization) as customers and deliver value. To meet the "customers" needs, we had to learn.

We agreed that there is no dumb question, and it must be asked as many times as needed to understand a given topic. We encouraged our team members to approach anyone in the organization who had expertise in the field. After doing so, this member was sharing gathered information with the team members. Thus, creating something like a virtual knowledge-base. This helped us a lot to learn fast.

When we had an interesting piece of a problem to solve, we used to project the computer screen on the wall and let all employees listen and participate in thinking and suggest the techniques/tools we should have applied, thus encouraging teamwork.

When a "customer" asked for a new report, we were diving deep into the processes related to this report through interviews. During these interviews, the experienced interviewer invited the newbie to the process of "interrogation." By doing so, we were "killing several birds with one stone": a) Understanding and learning new processes; b) calibrating customer need; c) sharing experience of asking questions with the new 

employee; d) helping the new employee to faster engage in the process of doing and learning.

We also practiced CSR (Cross-functional Social Responsibility), meaning that we have notified all departments that if they needed help in analysis, reporting, or tools for manipulating data, we were there to help. This approach enriched our perspective, thus giving us the ability to master various techniques and tools. This process also accelerated learning and helped us root a customer-centric approach in every department member.

It is worth noting that we haven't spent a penny on the training directly related to our work, but we have been having fun and delivering the results, i.e., value to the customer.

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