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The “new” business math: Continuous improvement = continuous learning

Continuous improvement comes in many shapes and sizes. It can be process improvements, product improvements, innovation or a culture shift. If it is a better way, then it is improvement. If it is built into a mindset of finding better way, then it is continuous improvement.

Training is one area that improvement comes from and is often overlooked. I’m not saying everything can be saved by training because sometimes it’s the system that needs to be changed and no amount of training will overcome a bad system. However, when training is the solution set, continuous training supports continuous improvements. Too often the business case of training is overlooked and undersold.

Often we think of training for people that are new to a job, a one and done mentality. However, continuous improvement requires continuous learning. How do people that have always done a job one way learn how to do their old job a new way? Training. But that means three things have to occur:

1. Training needs to begin by completing a real front-end analysis. Stop short cutting this step. You wouldn’t build a new production line without a study nor would you run a new set of ads without an audience analysis. So why would you build training without a front-end analysis? Discover your real business pain that needs to be addressed

2. Design a real answer (solution-set) that addresses real business pain (Six sigma calls this “finding the  burning platform”). If training isn’t the answer, then fix the system. Forget creating “check-a-box” training because it doesn’t work. Use real business metrics to drive and sustain continuous improvement

3. Follow-through with interesting “must have” training. We’ve all sat through some pretty boring content and checked the compliance box. Be better than that. Build something that challenges the team. Change a life. Build your business with the long game in mind.

When you find yourself sitting on the team that’s tasked to “improve the business” and training becomes a topic of discussion, be sure to include:

  • Funding for a front-end analysis to identify the knowledge and skills needed (determine the business pain)
  • Funding for training to occur (build it right)
  • Time in the schedule that provides a designated timeline to learn what is new (ramp up)
  • Training validation. Answer the question, did training improve the business case? (If you design for evaluation in the front-end analysis you can measure your metrics here)
  • Continuous learning. Training (Learning) is not an event but an ongoing process (change your culture)
  • Just Enough, Just in Time (JEJIT) includes job aids, checklists, performance support systems (support your team)

In today’s business, continuous improvement means learning new things continuously. If we are not learning, we are not improving. They feed off each other.

Be intentional

Sometimes training isn’t the “only” solution.

This past week my husband and I were having dinner at a restaurant. We felt sorry for the person waiting on us as she struggled mightily in what was obviously a new job. My husband, a retired instructional designer and performance consultant, was irritated that our server hadn’t been provided with the performance support needed to succeed in her job.

I asked him, what would you have done differently? He immediately launched into how an integrated performance support solution could have helped because training (“how to do”) was only a part of the solution set.

Geary Rummler once said, “If you put a good performer in a bad system, the system will win every time”. And in our restaurant experience, the system (a busy floor filled with hungry customers) won over a well-intentioned employee.

For those of you who find themselves needing to train your employees or needing to create a performance enabled environment, there’s a book by Ron Zemke and Thomas Kramlinger called “Figuring Things Out, A Trainer’s Guide to Needs and Task Analysis”.

In it, there is a list of performance questions created by Robert Mager and Peter Pipe* that have formed the backbone of many performance approaches. These are good questions for you to ask at the next training meeting, and if you are a line manager, you’ll probably scare the training person by asking these.

12 Performance Model Questions:

  1. What is the performance discrepancy?
  2. Is the discrepancy important?
  3. Is it a lack of skill?
  4. Were they able to perform successfully in the past?
  5. Is the needed skill used frequently?
  6. Is there a simpler way to do the job?
  7. Do they have what it takes to do the job?
  8. Is the desired performance inadvertently being punished?
  9. Is not doing the job rewarding in some way?
  10. Does doing the job right really matter?
  11. Are there obstacles to performing?
  12. What are the limits on possible solutions?

What makes these questions important is that your performance model informs your approach to all things learning and beyond. If you don’t have a solid starting place, forget everything else. If you do not have a performance model for your team, you should consider developing one.

And these 12 classic questions are a good place to begin.

Be Intentional,

*Figuring Things Out, A Trainer’s Guide to Needs and Task Analysis”, 1982, Ron Zemke and Thomas Kramlinger, pg 18