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Create a ‘Lean’ Learning Environment

With the U.S. economy on the brink of pulling out of its worst recession in recent memory, learning and development functions will be sprinting hard to on-board new employees, replace retiring boomers and move knowledge faster around the globe. And simply returning to pre-recession staffing and budgets won’t be enough to meet the challenge.

What’s needed is a major retooling of the way to train and transfer knowledge — one that is efficient, effective and eliminates what some might call “training waste.”

Luckily, there’s a learning framework for learning leaders having to operate under this less is more mentality: “Lean.”

Developed by Toyota, Lean is a systematic approach to identifying and eliminating anything that doesn’t directly add value. Lean methods are used in manufacturing, software development and health care — and learning and knowledge transfer are ripe to be the next frontier.

What is training waste from a Lean perspective? Simply put, it’s any training or learning activity that doesn’t directly help a learner perform better on the job.

By this standard, some might argue, it’s estimated that 80 to 90 percent of today’s training and learning activities are considered wasteful. Sometimes organizations simply swap one learning waste for another: an organization might replace ineffective classroom learning with equally ineffective computer-based learning.

So how can learning leaders correctly identify wasteful activities so we can eliminate them? Lean provides a powerful framework by grouping training wastes into eight categories — over-teaching, delay, extra steps, inventory, unused talent, transportation, defects and motion.

Over-teaching happens when we teach learners more than they need to know to accomplish the task at hand, or when we teach 30 people when only eight really need the knowledge.

Learners do not retain content that’s not immediately relevant and applicable to them and their jobs. Filling classes with people who have only marginal interest in a topic dilutes attention from those who really need to master the material, and it’s a waste of the hours of the “extras” in the room.

Delay is the time between someone needing to know something and when they actually learn it. Making learners wait for knowledge they need now, some might say, is the most damaging waste of all. While waiting for the learning and development department to create the perfect course, what do employees do? They guess, Google and gossip, with predictable consequences: mistakes, errors, injuries and negative impacts on customer satisfaction, costs and quality.

Extra steps are redundant and sometimes are considered non-essential learning activities. Scheduling classes, creating overly complex slides, printing materials, conducting level 1 assessments and even pre-testing people beforehand can all be waste. The only assessment that matters is whether performance improved after learning.

Inventory and unused talent frequently go hand-in-hand. Knowledge and wisdom abound in organizations, but this “inventory” frequently remains untapped and unused because learning inserts itself between experts and learners, becoming a knowledge transfer bottleneck.

Whenever possible, an organization’s learning function should focus on helping internal experts quickly and efficiently share their knowledge and expertise.

Lean’s Message
Lean knowledge transfer pushes learning professionals and organizations outside their comfort zones by challenging old ways of thinking and delivering training.

Based on the Lean model, learning leaders shouldn’t be focused on teaching everyone; they should be concerned with teaching the fewest number of people the least amount of relevant information as quickly as possible. This goes against the grain in a world where most learning and development efforts seek to teach the largest number of people the most content possible.

Applying Lean will drive your people to come up with new, and often simple, ideas for accomplishing tasks and delivering results. By eliminating training waste, Lean frees up time, money and resources that can be used to create and deliver learning that will help drive the organization to new levels of creativity, productivity and performance.

Todd Hudson is the head of learning and development consultancy the Maverick Institute. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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