Lean Communication: Training or Learning? Standards or Kaizen?

Lean Communication is not Lean Vocabulary

A slight change of verbiage can make a big difference, especially in professional organizations. Hierarchies, rivalries, and other negative factors can influence the way employees and co-workers interpret even the most common phrases. Take “training” for example. At best, this can be interpreted as “apprenticeship.” It can be looked at as a mentor and mentee relationship. At worst, the trainee can feel like a beast of burden, being forced to follow commands. People use the word “training” to describe both types of relationships. To avoid misunderstanding, one solution is to change your phrasing; use “learning” instead of “training.” However, this only scratches the surface and applies a Band-Aid to the problem. Like any sort of Kaizen or problem solving, it is better to look for the root cause when dealing with Lean communication issues.

Training or Learning?

If people respond to the idea of training in a negative way, there is probably a deeper issue to deal with. If people think of “training” as a correction or punishment, they will probably react similarly to the phrases “skill acquisition” “professional development” or “workplace learning.” Employees need to know that workplace training is meant to benefit them, not just the organization’s bottom line. When people work better, they live better. It’s not one or the other. Carefully selecting words is not the most effective way to communicate this message. Instead, a company culture of Kaizen (continuous improvement) needs to be created through actions. Its not enough to tell people you want to help them, you need to prove it. Developing your company around its people is a great strategy, since better employees achieve better results. Many managers worry that if they train their employees too much, they will leave and seek better opportunities, but this is backward thinking. Richard Branson sums this up in a great quote, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.” If training you employee’s leads to a more successful company, your company will continue to provide better opportunities for everyone who works there.

Standards or Kaizen?

The same logic for Lean communication can be applied to standards. A lot of people worry that standardizing processes will undermine their professional expertise and creativity. This is because they interpret the word “standard” to mean “rule” or “law.” Once again, this is often because of a company culture that has treated standards as unbreakable regulations. As counterintuitive as it sounds to many managers, the best way to introduce standard work is to simultaneously introduce a system for changing it. That is why many organizations start with current state analysis and a Kaizen workshop. The entire purpose of standards in Lean is to function as baselines, so everyone can see the improvements that are made by changing them. Standards are not “rules” and should not be treated that way.

Lean and Kaizen

The underlying theme in all of this is that Lean cannot be separated from Kaizen. Standardization is not a revolutionary process; it is an evolutionary process. If training and standards come across as commands, then nothing will change. The best way to change is for every individual to reach toward his or her fullest potential.

July 24, 2015

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