Creating a Culture of Continuous Improvement Through Effective Training

By Chinweike I. Eseonu, Oregon State University

An industry partner recently attended a presentation in which one of one of our students presented his work on strategies for creating a poka yoke lean system. He looked over the tools that had been designed to help workers visualize lean principles, tools, and practices and exclaimed: “You’ll need a degree in psychology” to get any of this done! Over the past decade, lean research has evolved from a pure focus on tools for lean implementation, to a socio-technical approach that seeks to determine the effect of several factors, such as team characteristics, the quality of leadership, and cultural traits, to name a few. Across the literature, the recurring theme is that lean implementations have a better chance of success if people understand the reason for the change, understand the effect of the change on their work functions, and feel they have some control over the process and process outcomes.

U.S. companies spent 55.4 billion dollars on training in 2013, with most (72%) mandatory training conducted online. According to Spear and Bowen (1999), training in the Toyota

Production System (TPS) succeeds because it:

(1) Clearly specifies work content, sequence, tuning, and outcome;

(2) Maintains direct, well-specified, authority–responsibility relationships between customers and suppliers;

(3) Specifies simple and direct product and service pathways; and

(4) Uses peer instructors for training as much as is possible.

Since we spend so much on training, it is important that engineering managers are able to design effective training systems and evaluate effectiveness before training is delivered. Wiseman, Eseonu, and Doolen investigated the determinants of training success, with focus on three factors: time, communication, and resources.

In the study, Evaluation criteria for Time refer to the convenience of the training schedule, and the amount of time spent on pertinent/value-adding material (as perceived by participants). Evaluation criteria for Resources address the nature and quality of training material (are resources appropriate and pertinent to trainees work experience? Is training easily accessible?). Finally, the communication variable refers to the quality of interaction between trainers and trainees, including employee ability and willingness to voice concerns about training.

Do these findings resonate with you? Have you intensified time and communication efforts in training programs for continuous improvement or otherwise? What were the effects on change adoption? In the Wiseman et al study, time and resources were identified as the most significant variables for training evaluation (effective communication improves time and resource effectiveness). In the spirit of continuous improvement, please share your thoughts, comments, experiences, etc. Also come back and leave a comment or suggestion if you test the time and communication factors in the future.