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Why Mass Training In Anything Doesn't Work

by Olga Flory
October 16, 2013

Why Mass Training In Anything Doesn't Work

by Olga Flory
October 16, 2013 | Comments (6)

Over time, I have developed a strong distaste for the word “mass,” no matter the context.

  • Production? - Good! Mass production? - Hmm…
  • Media? - Exciting! - Mass media? - Cringe…
  • Turnpike? - Sure, why not? - Mass Turnpike? - Avoid at all costs! Ok, the latter is a different story, but you get the picture, right? 

Now, how about mass training? Why do the same companies and organizations (that spare no effort developing a one-piece flow in their operations) brush this concept aside when it comes to people development? Why do we readily acknowledge the usefulness and numerous advantages of making things one by one, or in small batches, but fail to apply the same thinking to the critically important process of learning and development?

Most organizations mean well when they come up with a plan for deploying training across the board. They genuinely believe this demonstrates their commitment to Lean while inspiring employees to improve their work. Instead, this kind of training "en masse" often produces an opposite effect because in most cases it starts and ends in the classroom, providing little or no connection to real-life problems employees struggle with in their work areas.

Moreover, after hearing in the classroom about all the great things that are going to happen as the company transitions to Lean, most people struggle to take their new learning back with them. Purely out of habit, most end up going back to business as usual. As a result, they quickly lose interest in lean or any other improvement methodology for that matter.

How about we stop resorting to mass training as a "blanket solution" for all organizational problems and start applying lean thinking to the way we develop people? Meaning, let’s start with making a clear connection between a problem that hinders a worker’s (engineer’s, nurse’s, creative writer’s, mechanic’s, executive’s, etc.) ability to do a good job and the training support we are going to provide them to help solve this problem. Then develop a blended learning process that will help employees learn specific concepts and develop skills needed to solve their particular business problem. Lastly, let’s reflect on the effectiveness of the learning process we’ve come up with, make necessary adjustments, and design the new round of learning.

(Yep, it’s the same PDCA thinking we strive to use in our work processes, and it works just as well when applied to people development.)

What do you think? Are you willing to give it a shot? 

The views expressed in this post do not necessarily represent the views or policies of The Lean Enterprise Institute.
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Frank Donohue October 16, 2013

Although in most circumstances I prefer a more tailored and custom learning process much the way you describe here, I also believe there is a place for a more blanket approach of training provided that there is not much deviation or multiple ways of performing a function.

In other words, if there are only 5 repeatable steps to pumping gas in your car, (1- take the cap off the gas tank, 2- select the grade and quantity of gas you desire, 3- remove the nozzle from the pump 4- insert into the gas tank, 5-pull nozzle trigger and start pumping) then there isn't much need for custom training or group discussion. That is how it is done.

Good article though.

Frank D


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Olga Flory October 17, 2013

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I completely agree with you on what you said about standardized training. If we extend your example to lean tools and take, say 5S, we'll have to agree that there's not much room for tayloring such a class. The point I was trying to make was not about the need to customize every training program but rather about ensuring that any learning event is intended to help an organization close a specific gap and providing an opportunity for training attendees to apply lessons learned to their work.


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Steve October 17, 2013
5 People AGREE with this comment
I 100% agree with the article and have data to support it. The most important part of any training or development is timing followed by an environment where it can be put into practice. Failure and probably resentment will follow without the right conditions in place. 

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Patrick M Kelleher October 23, 2013
1 Person AGREES with this comment
Excluding any comment on the mixed metaphor that actually does a good job of making a point on mass or collective efforts in general. The blog does not get at the root cause for the problem which is the general descruction of the apprenticeship structure. In addition to excessive reliance on collective training, the delivery system in many cases has been automated to computer delivery and there is an excessive reliance on written procedures and go look it up.
There are several references to the Toyota culture where the culture is "I have a problem I go ask my leader, or I see somebody having a problem and I go help" that creates the working for each other culture.
Some of the trade unions continue the craftsman - apprentice structure for training, although outside of Germany and particularly in the US this effort has fallen prey to a Union focus on political power in place of trade exccellence.
Three geneartions ago, sons were taught by fathers either in the fields or the shop. Mothers taught daughters in the homestead. Life skills and culture were passed on along with the trades.
Training programs need to recover those complementary aspects of training. Not return the some '50's (18 or 19)ideal of culture that carried horrible baggage, programs that fit the needs of the people in the organization and are effective more than cost efficient.

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Ali Fouani October 23, 2013

I agree with you 100%.  Class room training is not that effective and does not produce good results.  I have tried different approaches for training and the most effective training is actually the one that you do not teach rather you mentor and give just the right information for people to latch on and let them go and investigate, come up with solutions, etc. 
The lean thinking and also integrating design thinking into the process works best.  The training needs to be practical and not "academic", simple enough so it sticks.   

As an example, you do not get trained in a class room environment on how to get a driver license.  You actually get trained via a mentor and actually practice driving to the point you are ready to take the actual test.

 Excellent article Olga.



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kevin kobett October 23, 2013

Mass training gets the ball rolling. This initial mass training is a simple class; the only lesson is how to identify a problem. For example, I look for irritated people. If someone is irritated, a problem can be found.

Nothing more happens until someone identifies a problem. Mentorship then takes over. You mentor the entire work cell, not just the one who spoke up first. First step would be to find the root cause with everyone's help.

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