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Dougherty and Gray

 

John Dougherty with Chris Gray

Today, more than ever, formal, focused and effectively tailored education programs are a must for building and maintaining your organization's skill base and your competitive position.

New Competitive Realities
The 1990's have brought us new competitive realities. Ten years ago, high quality, state of the art products were enough. Today, they are only table stakes: they'll get you into the game, but, in the long run, you can't compete with them alone.

Today, for example, most companies must also provide excellent pre-and post-sales service nearly everywhere on earth. And the kind of global service that customers demand now can only come through superior people whose skills are constantly maintained, enhanced, and fine-tuned to the needs of specific customers and the marketplace in general.

One of the most successful MRP II users of the last 15 years, The Coca-Cola Company, recently produced a videotape in which executives talked about what MRP II means to them and to their sites. One executive, George Gourlay, Senior Vice President responsible for concentrate operations, said: "Where we have implemented MRP II successfully, training became a way of life. Management recognized the importance of training and skill building, and that has stayed with us over the years." For them, MRP II has not been a passing fad or project. Instead they've assimilated it into their management culture as a structure and approach for improving how they manage their business. And manage their business they do: eight different sites on four continents have achieved Class A recognition, and more are on the way. Trained people is how they've done it!

"Training as a way of life" isn't just this company's experience, and it's certainly not an MRP II-only phenomenon. The universal truth is this:

Business improvements come through your people. You must view your people as strategic assets, not just fixed costs to be trimmed in a rush to downsize, restructure, or re-engineer.

Whether you are implementing or reimplementing MRP II, Agile Manufacturing, Customer Linking, Efficient Consumer Response, TQM, JIT, Design for Manufacturability, Quality Function Deployment or any other improvement initiative, you depend on your people to not only accept but also use the new management tools and techniques.

"Training as a way of life" isn't just a slogan, it's the only practical method to make improvement happen.

Technology Drives Change
New techniques, approaches, tools, and technologies often spur companies to change and improve. There doesn't seem to be a better motivator than someone else in the same industry using a new tool or technology and getting superior results. Yet history has taught us that companies who focus solely on a tool or technique without a clear vision of the process they are trying to improve and how they want to improve it, get results that often fall far short of expectations.

Technology alone will not produce the results you want or need. Our old friend and mentor, Ollie Wight, once said about the new technology of his time: "MRP II isn't a computer designed system. lt’s a people system made possible by the computer." That’s never been truer than it is today, and not just for MRP II, but for every technology-based initiative that a company undertakes. In fact, every significant improvement initiative of the last 30 years has been dependent on people to produce the results.

People are the answer. Your challenge is to unleash the power of your people to find and implement solutions to everyday problems. Your own people typically know more about what needs to be done to their own work processes than anyone else, inside or outside the company. Give them superior tools, education and training to understand the potential of those new tools, and time to implement them, and they can and will produce outstanding results.

Turning an "Expense" Into an Investment
Here's how other successful companies have developed education and training programs that truly work:

Behavior change not fact transfer 
Effective education gets people to change how they do things. Transferring facts, theories and techniques without providing a clear understanding of how to do a job differently may actually be counterproductive. It frustrates your people, costs you money, and you get nothing for it.

If you want to get behavior to change, you'll have to think about several elements of your training program. For example:

Basic approach: Too often today, companies don't follow an approach designed for effective adult education. The Learn/ Recite/Pass-a-Test (and then, too often, Forget) model used in high school and college is fine ... if all you need are certificates stating "mastery of concepts." It's the basic flaw in many Professional Certification programs: lots of people pass who never demonstrated in practice that they can manage using the tools in which they are certified.

Until concepts are translated into change, you are no better off. Every education program that you conduct should end with "what do we need to change in our business to make these concepts work? What are the specific changes we should pilot? How will we measure success? And when will we review the effect of these changes?" In other words:

Design an education model that's more like Learn/Discover/Apply, with the emphasis on Apply.

Direction: Make sure your education program covers current practices, problems, and company goals, not generalized examples and theoretical issues.

Audience: Include everyone who must participate in the change, regardless of their previous experience or intellectual understanding of the process or technique.

Process not function oriented
It's a rare company that can make change and dramatic improvement by having a single department or function make isolated changes. Breakthrough improvements only happen when cross-functional processes are improved in a way that optimizes company-wide performance and efficiency.

Your first challenge will be to identify which cross-functional processes need the greatest improvement and then prioritize them. The second, and larger, challenge will be to charter and educate cross-functional teams who can initiate and lead the change process. Your cross-functional teams must understand both the existing processes as well as the new philosophies, tools, and techniques. Then they have to "spread the word," propagating the new approaches through a combination of education and hands-on coaching.

Focused not diffuse
One of the costliest mistakes of the last 30 years was the educational approach that tried to teach everyone everything that they could know or might ever need to know in the future about a particular technology, philosophy or initiative. Education must be narrowed from "could know" to "needs to know now". Specific problems must be defined, goals set, and specific initiatives identified and broken down into as many small steps as possible. Education then must target the facts and behavior change required for the "next step" improvement. In a multi-step implementation process, multiple education steps should be planned and spread over time to match the implementation plan.

Time phased not front loaded
Education must be spread over time. People involved in defining problems and solutions and implementing the initial changes should be educated early on. Other people who will be involved only after the design or initial change process should be educated later, closer to when they will actually be involved in implementing new behavior. In other words, do a little education followed by some change right away followed by a little more education and some more change, followed by a little more education followed by some more change. This way, if the results that you get from a change don't work out exactly as you planned, you can adjust and correct early on. And as the changes start to produce results, you build confidence that what you are doing is worthwhile, and enthusiasm for additional change.

In our experience, educating and changing in small increments seems to work a lot better than the alternative: a massive education process that defers change, often beyond the horizon of people's interest, enthusiasm, and confidence.

Breaking any long project into 90 day increments that combine focused education and change that produces business benefits has the best chance of creating a self-reinforcing, self-perpetuating, and successful implementation.

Jonathan Kozol said it best in his 1981 book On Being A Teacher, "Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win."

Generating short term benefits is the key to "continuous improvement" and an on-going learning culture. In an effective program, people complete their learning by doing, not by studying or passing an exam.

Inclusive not exclusive
From the start, get the people who know the most involved in leading the change and the education. Even if they do not conduct the education and coaching sessions, your most knowledgeable people should participate along with those that know the least. Why! - it's simple:

1. The more knowledgeable people can accelerate the learning process for the others by connecting concepts with concrete examples and applications in the company

2. By participating, they lend credibility to the importance of the change.

3. They can participate early in the design process for change, rather than waiting until the end and critiquing someone else's thoughts.

The focus of education is to get a group of people to understand basic principles and then, as a group, decide how to apply them to a particular situation. No one can be excluded from the process if you actually want something to work differently at the end. You may have people who are "certified" in a particular discipline or who, through previous jobs or experiences understand the theory, terminology and techniques of a particular initiative, but unless they are part of the education process for the entire group, they'll find it difficult to facilitate or lead the improvement process.

Tailored not generalized
Effective education recognizes the realities, peculiarities, and specific situations in your business. Make sure that your education program covers those techniques, approaches, and ideas that will be applicable to the particular business environment. Even though something may be intellectually stimulating, resist teaching people about it if there is no chance that they will ever implement it. And where possible, make the connection to company terminology specific examples, and even current systems or software formats.

Basics as well as advanced topics
Avoid skimming though those parts of a body of knowledge considered "old fashioned" or not "state of the art." Too often education designers presume that everyone knows "all that stuff' -- like how to reduce cycle time or set ups, techniques to improve inventory record accuracy, statistical techniques for tracking problems, Pareto'ing key factors, and doing root cause analysis. Whether you have employees in new jobs, or people who've never applied those basic tools in their existing jobs, more often than not you'll need to review the basics.

John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary basketball coach, once said: "So many kids ask me to teach them the 'tricks of the trade.' In this game you have to learn to dribble, pass, and shoot. The tricks are easy."

In manufacturing and supply chain management, like in basketball, you've got to learn, reinforce, or reemphasize the basics first, or little else matters. Some topics may not be exciting, sexy, or "state of the art," but to generate the results that you want, the basics must be well in place or the "advanced" techniques simply won't work.

Training as a Way of Life
Get started today! Your ability to compete in the future depends on what you do with your people and their skills now.  Make education and skills improvement a way of lift, and your company can be an exciting and rewarding place to work for a long time to come.

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If you have specific questions about this article or want to discuss it, call John Dougherty at 1 603 528-0840 or Chris Gray at 1 603 778-9211.

 

The Partners for Excellence specialize in helping companies set up comprehensive measurement programs and improving overall resource management performance.  Contact us at 1 603 528-0840 or emailThis email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..