Training that Matters

Dewey Clark had just received a call from a former student, Alexas Butler, who was a plant manager.  “Dr. Clark, I really need your help.  Our primary customer is insisting that we train our employees on Deming’s quality practices.  I don’t want to go through just the motions of exposing employees to a PowerPoint presentation which will have minimal impact.”

Clark wanted to help but despised doing what he called sheep dip training.  As a child, he had helped sheer sheep where every sheep had to be forced to swallow dip to prevent worms.  The sheep hated it, and the value was questionable.  To Clark, corporate training had many of the same traits as dipping sheep.

In support of Alexas Butler, Clark agreed to do the training but chose to use an approach he used in class called Discovery Learning.  What he did was to create a series of short case studies from his experiences with companies who had quality problems.

When he met with employees, he asked them to read the case studies and tell him what they would do.  He captured their comments on a flip chart and drew a box around central points that came up.

When the employees had finished the case studies, Clark told them about Edwards Deming and his leadership in quality improvement.  Then he posted a list of 14 quality practices from Deming on the wall and asked the employees to look at the list.  He said nothing about the list.  He just waited.

After the employees had time to absorb the list, one of them would say something like this:  “We’ve been telling management what Deming is saying, but no one listens.”  Alexas Butler was in the back of the room.  Clark could tell she was steamed, and then she stood up and came to the front of the room.  “Guys, I apologize.  You’re right.  We haven’t been listening to you.  I’m making an appointment to get my ears cleaned and my eyes focused on what matters.”

Following the training, Clark and Butler did a debriefing on the training.  “That didn’t go as I expected,” said Butler.  But I’m really glad you took the approach you did.”  Clark responded by saying “I don’t know if you ever took my class on facilitation, but I developed an approach I call Discovery Learning to facilitate change.  The case studies I used were to set on the context for why quality is important.  When I had the employees tell me what they would do, that phase is called emotional acceptance.  I don’t believe in telling.  I try to facilitate discovery.  When they were telling me what to do, they were sharing what they already know.  I was just helping them discover their own knowledge.  Then when I told them about Deming and how they already know what Deming was saying, they were emotionally accepting the quality principles.”

“What’s next?”  Butler asked.  “That’s the phase I call building a believers’ network.  You need to start making changes now to make them believe you listened.  You won’t win everyone at once, but over time you will win them over if you are relentless in your improvements.”

“Anything else?”  Butler asked.  “Yes, don’t forget to create memory anchors.  Every time you make an improvement use some symbol to remember the change by.”  “Can you give me an example?”  asked Butler. “I once did a project with a prototype shop where the constant complaint was the red tape it took to build something.  One memory anchor was a napkin with a design sketch.  And beside it was the phrase:  ‘Bring us a napkin and we’ll make your design’.”

Butler stood and shook Clark’s hand.  “One thing I learned today was the training needs to be designed to making change happen, not just to fill a mandate.”

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“The discovery of the power of our thoughts will prove to be the most important discovery of our time.”  – William Jones (philosopher)

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