Train ‘just in time’ to make your messages stick

Whether training sticks could be a question of timing, says Georgina Bromwich.

Back in the 1960s, Toyota coined the phrase ‘just in time’ to describe its approach to car manufacturing. Every single vehicle that comes out of its Japanese production plants is made up of thousands of parts – creating challenges for stock keeping and storage.

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So to cut waste, they tailored their production plans so that they’d only ever supply factories with what they needed, when they needed it.

High street staple, Zara, makes clothing along similar lines. Unlike most of its competitors, Zara keeps production close to home, in Spain. They make clothes in small batches, so if something goes horribly wrong, they haven’t got piles of the offensive jacket gathering dust in a warehouse.

Just-in-time production means they’re nimble, too. A Zara version of a designer’s latest collection hangs on the rails of stores two weeks after it appeared on the catwalk. And even though it’s pricier to pay European salaries in their factories, lower stock means they do not have to resort to discounts as frequently as other retailers.

Toyota and Zara’s ability to respond quickly to what matters most to their customers – whether they’re the managers of manufacturing plants or fans of fashion – makes their businesses profitable. They produce what people want, when they want it. Is your L&D strategy that responsive? I doubt it; most aren’t.

What matters to learners today might not interest them tomorrow

Professionals at the Open University take around 18 months to design modules. And the courses themselves have a life span of eight to ten years. So learning experts have to work out what’s going to be topical in a particular field a decade in advance. That feels more like the realm of Mystic Meg than a learning pro. If I had to design a module on writing for social media that’d run until 2026, I’d fail. But then, so would anyone.

If I look at the world of writing, where I work, it’s changing fast. (Twitter’s a mere 10 years old. No-one cared about exclamation marks last year, but after the government’s tips for seven-year-olds on how to use them everyone asks me about them in workshops.)

Learning – and in my case, that’s helping people to write effectively in the workplace and bring their brand to life in their words – is not static. Things change. And if whatever learning I create doesn’t react to that change, then it’s going to have a pretty short shelf life.

When silence says way too much

When I am out running writing workshops, people often do not know how to get their words right when they’re up against it. They don’t know where to start. They lack the skills. Or they feel as though they need to ask for sign-off or permission from so many stakeholders that by the time they do put fingers tips to their keyboard, they are petrified of getting things wrong. And Google cannot help you craft a response to a customer complaint – believe me.   

It does not have to be that way, of course. Train people in your organisation’s language – making it practical enough that they can use it the moment they get back to their desk and they will remember it even when they’re in a fix.

It is the difference between O2’s response to an outage back in 2012 – the Twitter team replied to every single complaint and the radio silence from VW after the Environmental Protection Agency’s notification that they’d violated the Clean Air Act. 

Two very long days passed between the news breaking of the emissions scandal and Volkswagen’s first press release on the subject. It took them another two days to write their first tweet on the topic. That silence is a powerful message all on its own.

Create resources that learners can use just in time

I think about Toyota and Zara whenever I’m putting a learning programme together. That is why I ask people to bring a first draft of whatever it is they’re working on to the workshop. That way they put what they have seen into practice there and then, and polish it when they’re back in the office.

Or I run regular drop-in coaching sessions, so people have help exactly when they need it. I’m not suggesting the just-in-time approach works for every kind of learning – we cannot teach first aiders the recovery position after someone collapses, but when we can use it, the lessons stay with them.    

If we time our training right, and if learners can use whatever they have experienced straightaway, then they are much more likely to remember whatever message it is we want to get across. And along the way, we will not waste our efforts (and other people’s money) creating courses that no one remembers, no one is capable of applying immediately, and no one even asked for in the first place.


About the author 

Georgina Bromwich is a writer and trainer at brand language consultancy, The Writer.



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