Lawrence M. Miller

Learning and Development (L&D) can help a company become more agile. Organizations with strong cultures of leadership and learning outperform their peers, according to Bersin by Deloitte research. 84% of organizations with a strong culture of leadership and learning score high on meeting or exceeding financial targets, 68% do well on anticipating and responding to change effectively, and 67% excel when it comes to innovation.

If done well, L&D can accelerate the entire organization, shares Didier Elzinga, CEO of Culture Amp. If you have a good manager, it may take them up to 10 years to become an exceptional manager, Elzinga explains. But a company with a strong culture of learning can accelerate this process so a manager becomes an amazing leader in a much shorter period of time.

But how can L&D effectively accelerate learning, improve performance, and change the behavior of managers and teams?

L&D is in the business of changing behavior, performance, and culture

The first question that every corporate L&D organization must ask is: what business are you in? Are you in the business of education, or the business of changing behavior, performance and culture? Both have merit, but each requires an entirely different system of learning.

For 40 years, I have helped organizations like Honda, Merck, Shell, Corning, and many others develop leadership skills and practice lean management. The goal is always to improve culture and performance, not merely to educate. This means creating new patterns of habitual behavior that cannot be accomplished through traditional education and workshops alone.

Blended learning enhances the performance of leaders and teams

Based on my experience, I developed my course, Leadership Skills: Leading Teams to High Performance on Udemy for Business which uses a blended learning model to effectively change behavior and enhance the performance of leaders and teams.

This blended learning approach is a combination of consistent online instruction, prescribed practice, and coaching. I employ an action-learning model, recognizing that the best learning occurs from applying the lessons to the student’s real work situation and from receiving feedback from a coach. The course is structured to facilitate the relationship between the team leader, his or her team, and a coach who may assist in applying the lessons. My course includes 14 exercises for the student to put the lessons to work with their team or practice with their coach. I have used this blended learning method with companies like Shell Oil, Corning, Merck and it has proven to help develop effective leaders and teams.

Kata teams: action-based learning

My course is based on the concept of “kata” popularized by Mike Rother in his book Toyota Kata. A “kata” is a discipline of practice commonly used in martial arts. Developing a performance kata is almost the opposite of simply relying on knowledge. It demands behavioral practice and feedback. Kata coaching is essentially what a guitar teacher or tennis coach does. They prescribe simple steps or behavior, that when practiced, result in a new skill. The coach observes the employee on the spot and gives feedback and encouragement.

In my course, I teach team leadership skills and lean management concepts such as the daily team huddle, the review of the team scorecard and visual display, the recognition of a long-term challenge and short-term targets, and the process of experimentation or problem solving following the well-proven Plan-Do-Check-Act routine. However, my course goes a step further by building in “katas” or routine practices that help employees learn and adopt these new ways of doing things—ultimately changing their behavior and enhancing performance.

Converting knowledge to behavior change

Great teams engage in very specific disciplines. Every football team has a team meeting the day after every game. That meeting is not simply to celebrate or bemoan their loss. It is to look at the data – not just the overall team data, but the data for each position. The skill of the coach is to connect the data to very specific behavior and then lead players in disciplined practice of that behavior. In a manufacturing setting in a lean plant, every employee is a team member and every team meets before the beginning of a shift. This is often called a “huddle” and only lasts ten or fifteen minutes. In that time, the team leader can review the data that is visually displayed and lead the team in a quick root cause analysis asking “why?” If needed, a quick experiment can be agreed on and the results assessed the next day. This is the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.

Every manager must become an effective team leader – a coach engaged in continuous improvement. This is the purpose of my course – to develop both teams and team leaders. Managers can take my course themselves or together with their team. As they go through the course, each team tracks their completion of the sections of the course (knowledge) and then engages in action-based learning, the “doing” or kata practice that converts knowledge to behavior. It is this behavior change that improves performance!

Two weeks ago, I was in a client’s manufacturing plant and in the conference room, this chart was on the wall. This is a spreadsheet I include in the course. It tracks the completion of course sections on the horizontal axis and the completion of practice on the vertical. They become a “high-performance team” when they have completed all the actions, including actual performance improvement.

Team Kata Progress Chart

Increased productivity by 37% at VON Canada

I first developed my course while consulting with VON Canada. VON Canada is Canada’s largest community-based health care system with 5000 employees providing home nursing and support services.

My consulting work included a major redesign of their workflow to eliminate wasted time and activity. It then required organizing all service providers into self-directed teams that would do self-scheduling, daily problem solving, and engage in continuous improvement. The 250 managers needed to change their roles from traditional supervision to leading and coaching their teams. However, these 250 managers were spread out all over Canada. Bringing them together for a series of workshops was cost prohibitive. This motivated me to develop my online blended learning course.

The online material covered both the concepts of lean management and key leadership skills. These skills included team facilitation, conflict resolution, problem-solving, process improvement, eliminating waste and the skills of motivation and communication. Included with each of these skills are well-defined assignments or katas for managers to put the skills to work with their teams.

At VON Canada, we developed a cadre of team kata coaches who worked with the line managers (now “team leaders”) to develop the habits required of the self-directed teams.

Kata Team Coaches at Von Canada

The key performance metric was nurse productivity. This was measured by how many visits to a home were made each week by a full-time equivalent nurse. At the beginning of the project, nurses were averaging about 34 visits per week. At the completion of the team implementation and training, the average rose to approximately 48. Over a two-year period, the productivity of nurses increased by 37%. Overtime work went from 10% of total employee hours to under 1%, and unscheduled time, a clear form of waste, decreased from 10-20% of total hours during a work day to below 2%.

Rethinking how you deliver training

These improvements resulted in significant financial gains for VON Canada. But it required a complete change in thinking and methodology for delivering training and performance improvement. This more holistic approach to learning—the blend of new knowledge delivered online, reinforced by action-based learning, and coaching feedback—is a proven model to successfully change behavior.