In the early 2000s an email was sent through our organization from the finance. The gist of the email: a random audit of employee expense reports revealed that 100% of expense reports contained some sort of error (yes, ALL of them). We were all being required to go through Expense Report training. I recalled the audit as I had to answer questions about three of my own expense reports. Interestingly, two of the three did NOT have errors as the auditors had made a mistake (still trusting that 100% figure?), but the third expense report did have a problem. I didn’t properly summarize the Value Added Taxes that I had incurred on an international trip.
Now, think of your own organization. Your organization has a problem. Something has gone wrong. A process that was previously working fine is no longer performing well. You know this because of your full email inbox, or texts, pages, and phone calls. You get some of your best people to look at the situation and recommend some actions. And they come back with the answer “training”: We need to re-train the workers. They forgot something and had they only followed the instructions the problem wouldn’t have occurred.
I see this line of thought regularly. Training is the answer. But is it? Didn’t we train the workers in the first place? What did Einstein say about doing the same thing over again and expecting different results?
Let’s go back to the company having issues with expense reports. Here’s the rest of the story. The expense report manual at this company was available as a Word document of some 36,000 words. On page 43 of the manual was a single sentence stating, “value added taxes should be summed up and the total written on the front of the expense report document with a box drawn around it. Please label the figure in the box as VAT.”
So, my error could have been avoided if I had only noticed those 34 words out of 36,000. How many other errors were due to a handful of words hidden somewhere in this onerous document? How effective would training for this bad process really be?
In our daily work and in our work around lean thinking and practice, I’m not suggesting we completely forego training. I’m suggesting the root of most problems is actually in the process design. When a problem is discovered, dig into your current process. Go to the gemba and map it. Understand how it is performing and ask, “why” it isn’t performing as expected. A well-designed process requires less training than a poorly designed process. Often training or in example cited above, retraining, is just a crutch. It doesn’t solve your problem at all.