Training = Programming

I have been thinking a lot about the issue of training lately.

Training-by-Powerpoint.jpgA few years ago, I was giving a presentation about workforce knowledge and training at the annual Warehouse Education and Research Council meetings in Chicago. My original idea for the session, "Are You Taking Notes? The Fakin’ That We Are Makin’ It Syndrome," focused mostly on getting the most out of training. For WERC and other organizations, the presenter comes up with the presentation idea months before the event. In this case I think I came up with the idea the previous summer.

There is a problem with conceiving a presentation concept and description before you create the presentation — message creep. Message creep is when your presentation strays from the original topic toward something more interesting, and perhaps better. I had message creep in my presentation.

The official description read:

The speed of change in warehousing demands new skills, and associates in your facilities may not have kept up. When the training budget gets squeezed, how do companies afford the cost of training staff to pick up the pace? Attend this session to hear some ideas on how to stretch that budget, how to measure the quality of a training course and make it relevant to your needs. Don’t let the fakin’ that we are makin’ it syndrome take over in your company.

My presentation turned out not to be exactly what was outlined in the description. I would talk about the fact that many warehouses employ under-trained personnel who think they know what they are doing, but don’t. I would talk about training. I would talk about how companies can get more power out of the training they do. But I wouldn’t be talking about stretching budgets or measuring the quality of training courses.

I had a very good reason for changing the content of my presentation. Frankly, training is not worth the expense the way it is administered today. Taking that thought one step farther, I don’t think that training was ever really worth the money. That is, not training alone.

Training is necessary but is insufficient. Training is necessary to program people to execute tasks following a specific process. Training is not teaching. Training covers the micro level — what to do.

As the headline suggests, Training = Programming.

I assert that training is nothing more than programming the MK1 Human Being to perform a specific set of tasks with little thought. Training is the “just do this” form of instruction. Training focuses on specific tasks, in a specific order, with specific tools for a specific application. Training seldom teaches people to make decisions, to make choices.

Making choices requires an understanding of the outcomes of the options. Yes, you can develop processes that predetermine decisions, and those processes can be engineered so that the process can apply a decision matrix and and dictate the correct course of action. But you can’t develop training that teaches people to reason, to figure out the technology, to make the right decision when the overall systems are as complex and dynamic as they are today.

Most of the training in warehouse and logistics operations focuses on the specific steps required to complete the task. Training focuses on unloading a truck, driving a forklift, completing a receiving document, picking an order, or invoicing an order. Companies develop processes and functions that subdivide the effort needed to complete a business process so that tasks can shared by a large group of people, each person doing a specific part of each task. This approach is the assembly-line process used by companies that make things. But when it comes to warehouses, whose operations are more complex, it is almost impossible to predetermine all of the vast combinations of options.

That is why I think that training is necessary, but insufficient. Training is not enough. For people to make rational decisions about a complex organizational environment, they must know how to predict the outcomes of their decisions. Predictions require experience and knowledge.

Managers are not the only people who must consider the outcomes of decisions. Because our warehouses and logistics systems are so complex today, and because of the drive to cut management payroll costs, more of the decision-making process is delegated to the employees on the floor and the clerks in the offices. This is where most training fails. Training focuses on teaching people to complete a set of tasks without thinking, to just execute the steps.

That is why my presentation was going to stray from the detailed description above. I went on to talk about generating knowledge in organizations, the necessary and sufficient ingredient that fortifies training, and the effectiveness of the people in the complex systems we call supply chains.

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