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Time to Lean? Time to Learn.

The following guest post is courtesy of our board member, David Creelman.

Ray Kroc, who built McDonald's into a global chain, is famous for saying “If you've time to lean, you've time to clean.” A better slogan for today's front-line workers might be “If you've time to lean, you've time to learn.”

Training front-line workers has always been difficult because they are dispersed in many locations and are too busy to take a day-off (or even an hour off) to go to a training course. However, they do have little blips of free time: 3 minutes here, 5 minutes there. That free time could be used to clean, but it could also be used to learn.

Smartphones are what makes the difference. It would have been impractical to put a learning kiosk in, for example, every McDonald's location, but now we can deliver excellent training via the person's own mobile device. The technological leap of affordable smartphones, makes a new approach to training possible.

To take advantage of smartphones, training needs to be delivered in very short chunks–and that's an entirely achievable objective. Manage the whole thing with the right learning management technology and you'll have all you need to deliver and track the training a front-line worker needs.

New technology (smartphones) and new training modules (short chunks) are two of the pillars of change. The last pillar is mindset. Managers of front-line workers will normally be happier seeing staff doing something (even if it is just gazing outwards, hoping a customer will walk in) rather than looking at their phone. Companies will have to convince managers that ongoing training matters, and also find some way to visibly show that the person is accessing a learning module, not social media. Mindset is the toughest challenge, but that's what change management is for.

Does ongoing training pay off? That should be an empirical question. A company could run all kinds of experiments to see what kind of training has the biggest impact on results. However, I must admit that one of the payoffs I would seek has little to do with better unit performance. The jobs of front line workers are threatened by automation. Their best hope for a bright future is learning new skills. If a company creates an atmosphere of continuous learning then that should have spin-off benefits in their employees' confidence in their ability to master new things. A company can't teach the specific skills these workers will need for future work; it can teach employees to be good learners.

It's hard to break out of the idea that learning takes place in classrooms. That old model still can deliver results, but it was never suitable for front-line workers. At last technology has created the opportunity to provide great learning that fits neatly into a front-line workers day. Let's embrace it.

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