Over a coffee with a colleague, she shared with me an interesting trend emerging in followership. For decades, most training and development has been focused on executives, managers and front line supervisors with the justification that improvements made at those higher levels will be reflected in the behavior and results of the staff at the front line. And while there is some validity to that trickle-down strategy, companies are waking up to the idea of redirecting their training efforts to the employees at the front line who can have an immediate impact on results. We’ll explore more on that below.
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The challenge with focusing training and development only at the leadership level is that it relies on the trickle-down approach. The goal is to impact the leaders who then in turn take their new skills and impact employees at the front line.
The challenge is that many of these new approaches and techniques become watered down and get lost in translation between what leaders heard and what they are prepared to apply back on the job.
One forward-looking company took the bold step of shutting down production for an entire week in order to put everyone in the company through one week of intensive training on continuous improvement, lean and problem solving techniques. You might be agast to think about shutting down for a week – after all you would be losing 2% of your production.
The company rationalized the decision by equating it to a plant shut down to maintain and upgrade equipment. Instead of upgrading equipment, they upgraded the people.
The president of the company said he was completely astounded by the results. The very next week after the training, employees were immediately putting their new skills to work, making changes to work flow in order to reduce waste and improve throughput. Many employees commented that they didn’t know they had permission to make changes and improvements. Financially, the company was more profitable after the training and morale and attitude shot upward as well.
Even if you can’t quite buy into the idea of shutting down production for a week, consider running a little experiment. Set up a pilot group where you bring employees in and train them on many of the same concepts you would train supervisors and managers. This could include identifying opportunities for improvement, communication, conflict, team building and problem solving. Then set them loose and see the kind of impact they have on your organization.
Leaders will continue to require development to help them in their role. After all, even the most enlightened employees will become frustrated if their manager doesn’t encourage them to make improvements. If you have gone the leadership route in the past and want to take it to another level, consider opening up the training to your front line staff.