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Toyota Talent: Build a System to Train Your People

Remember this—everything that is done by a human being in this world is potentially learnable by any other human being, special talent aside. You may not develop the techniques of the great masters like Monet and Picasso, but you can learn the essential skills of a painter. Inherent talents play a part in the mastery of any skill, but most people, with effort, effective training, and practice can attain the majority of any skill - Toyota Talent: developing your people the Toyota way.
Intent of a training system: Give employees the skills to succeed in the everyday gestures of their jobs and ensure they know how to develop mastery of their craft.
A bad training system is characterised by symptoms of:
  1. Poor performance on the job, defects, customer complaints
  1. Low employee engagement and retention
  1. The cycle of constantly firefighting critical issues
The characteristics of a good training system:
  1. Centred around value production: focuses on the actual skills required in producing the thing that delivers value by identifying the valuable piece produced and identifying the associated gestures.
  1. Standardised to create stable conditions: people can’t improve if external conditions lead to the same gesture producing varied results.
  1. Uses deliberate practice: desire to learn (rather than external incentives), quality standards, intentional practice, and feedback from a “sensei”.
  1. Buy-in from all managers: all employees have a development plan.
  1. Teaches granular gestures, one at a time, starting with the highest impact.
Key steps of developing a training system within an organisation:
  1. Prepare the organisation: identifying the needs for a training system within the company and getting stakeholder buy-in.
  1. Classify the Work: understand the type of work the job role is.
  1. Identify and Classify Key Gestures of the Work: what, specific tasks do you want to train people on? Of those tasks, which are core and which are routine. Here we prioritise the most important knowledge to transfer.
  1. Standardise Core Gestures: stabilise the working conditions of the core tasks to reduce variation in task outputs.
  1. Transfer knowledge: through initial training, dojos, yokotens, standards, genchi genbutsu (go and see) and deliberate practice.
  1. Verify Learning and Success: Learning systems are not self-sustaining and require continuous maintenance and improvement.

 🎯 Classifying Work

We can classify jobs by two attributes of the (granular) tasks done by employees:
  1. Task variety: how many different types of tasks does the job require?
  1. Task analysability: to what degree can the job be broken down into a set of clearly specifiable tasks that can be easily taught?
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This creates four categories:
  1. Routine Work, e.g. production line assembly worker - repeats the same task, we can granularly define (second-to-second) what should be done. Developing people to be exceptional in routine work consists of breaking down and standardising each gesture so that the work can be done without thinking - entering a flow state, which frees up their focus for detecting quality issues and noticing how their work can be improved.
  1. Technician Work, e.g. CAT scan operator - the tool can be used in a variety of situations and requires routine maintenance, but each operation using the machine can be well-defined by a set of instructions. Developing people to be exceptional in technician work consists of training of fundamental skills and dojos of basic troubleshooting using real recent examples or defects - shortening the learning curve with simulations.
  1. Craft Work, e.g. Toyota robot maintenance crew - there are a definable number of tasks, but every situation is slightly different and requires the team to invent creative solutions. There are some fundamental skills that can be taught in a structured way, but the most challenging parts are faced through gaining experience. Developing people to be exceptional in craft work consists of mostly on-the-job training, with more standardisation than initially apparent.
  1. Non-Routine Work, e.g. Lean Manager or the head of a software team developing new user interfaces - often moving from task to task between unique and complex situations which require spontaneous thinking. Once again, some fundamental formal skills are required but mostly learned in day-to-day interactions. Developing people to be exceptional in non-routine work consists of identifying and teaching a set of fundamental skills, and learning the why behind the key points.
These four categories lend themselves to two management structures:
Mechanistic: a lot of structure given to the individual by the boss with clearly specified roles, responsibilities, work procedures, and detailed daily time schedules. There are also clear measures of efficiency and effectiveness, which can be closely monitored day by day.
Organic: a more flexible organisation with fewer rules and formal policies that give considerable autonomy to the worker and also require teamwork and excellent communication to integrate across specialities. Rules and standards are guidelines to be used selectively by the craft worker.
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❗Identifying Critical Knowledge

(JI = Job Instruction, OJT = On the Job Training)
(JI = Job Instruction, OJT = On the Job Training)
There may be overlap in different types of tasks done in a single job role. Five types of skills are identified, here we use the example of the gestures required to drive:
  • Fundamentals skills:
    • E.g. accelerating, steering, braking, turning, parking, three-point turn
    • Learned offline (i.e. in a car park, not the road) with JI training
  • Core job-specific knowledge:
    • E.g. overtaking, turning at an intersection, merging lanes, operating in traffic
    • Learned online (i.e. on the road) with JI training
  • Ancillary gestures:
    • E.g. checking oil, filling gas, lights, seatbelts, starting the car
    • Learned offline (i.e. in a car park, not the road) with JI training
  • Policies and judgement:
    • E.g. the laws, rules of the road, traffic signs, traffic lights, right-of-way
    • Learned in theory in a classroom setting
  • Accumulated know-how:
    • E.g. various driving conditions, etiquette, road conditions
    • Learned online (i.e. on the road) with JI concepts
The training system should focus on the basic, most commonly practised gestures first as standardising this will result in the biggest wins. Go depth-first before breadth-first.

 📔 Standardised Work

We estimate that Toyota spends five times as much time detailing work methods and developing talent in employees as any other company we have seen. […] at most other companies there is only a superficial understanding of the work, and a great deal of uncertainty exists pertaining to the critical elements of the work. Much is left to individuals to figure out, and people make gallant efforts to produce good results. Unfortunately, if everyone is figuring out something different, the resulting variation will be significant - Toyota Talent: developing your people the Toyota way.
❌ I may think…
you can’t standardise my job - it’s too varied, and people are not robots so you shouldn’t stifle their creativity…
✅ but actually…
when we look at any job, it can be broken down into granular gestures, for which there is a “most effective” way of doing things. As we get good at an activity, we internalise the constituent gestures, which tend to blend together, making us forget that it can be broken down. Standardisation reduces the variability of outcomes of a task - only once you start doing something consistently can you start to improve. After mastering a gesture under stable conditions, we can start to pay attention to the outcomes and begin to improve how we do it. This is where craftsmanship and creativity happen, which keeps us engaged at work.
Here we see how standardisation and training are in a repeating loop of continuous improvement. There should be a focus on identifying critical tasks and performing those gestures flawlessly with low variation.
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It is extremely difficult to teach a job that has not been analysed and standardised, which is why we should standardise the most important core tasks.
A Note on “Standardised Work” vs “Work Standard”:
“Standardised Work”
“Work Standard”
Defining the process/ set of steps that constitute how to do a gesture - how to do something well.
A measure of quality for a piece produced. Allows you to easily identify the characteristics of an OK/KO piece.

 🎹 Transfer Knowledge to Others

❌ I may think…
as a manager, the training of my direct reports is not necessarily a core part of my role…
✅ but actually…
the role of the manager is “to ensure their ‘direct reports’ have everything they need to deliver value effortlessly”. When a manager problem-solves why their direct report couldn’t deliver value effortlessly, the root cause will be one of the 4Ms (Machine, Materials, Method, Man) - when it is Man, the manager needs to address the training needs of their report. Delivering the training isn’t necessarily in the manager’s role, but at the very least, identifying a development plan with their reports and sourcing that training is a core part of the manager’s role.
Training plans should be identified for each employee using a skills matrix from available skills broken down from the standardised work. This skills matrix measures:
  1. I know I don’t know: the student knows what the curriculum contains, what they are going to learn, what pieces they are going to produce.
  1. I can do with help: the student has produced a quality piece to OK standard with some help and feedback from a Sensei.
  1. I can do autonomously: the student can regularly produce a quality piece to OK standard without help.
  1. I can teach: the student can explain all the key points of the standard, and why they matter, and can identify a defect without referring to the standard.
Those skills should be learned through deliberate practice which entails:
  1. Desire to learn: this comes from the individual - external incentives to take training are often insufficient to get the buy-in needed. Start by showing the importance of the gesture, how it fits into the bigger picture, and the benefits of developing the given skill.
  1. Quality standards: this is how the student knows what an OK/KO piece looks like. They should be able to identify from the standard if the thing they produced is of good quality. E.g. in learning to play a piano piece, the standard might be a recording of someone playing, where you can identify if you hit all the right notes.
  1. Intentional practice: this is where a student goes away and does the thing they want to get good at. The important thing is doing this intentionally, returning to the standard and checking for OK/KO and adjusting what they do to try and reach the desired outcome. Shortening the iteration time to practice as many cycles as possible speeds up learning. E.g. in learning to play a piano piece, this would actually be playing the piece you want to learn repeatedly, whilst intermittently listening back to your recording. To learn faster, speed up the iteration cycle by splitting the piece into shorter parts and mastering them one by one.
  1. Feedback from a Sensei: Sensei (先生), literally “born before”, means someone who has been there before you. Here we are looking for expert feedback from someone who has already mastered the skill. E.g. in learning to play a piano piece, this would be seeking out a piano teacher to listen to you play and show you how to get to the next level.
Toyota Talent suggests that a lot of preparation should be made before training even begins and sessions should be short and focused on just one core skill at a time (not necessarily teaching in order, like steps in a recipe book).

 📚 Resources