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Akhilesh Gulati

Quality Insider

No Practice, No Skill.

Know-how as a perishable asset

Published: Sunday, August 3, 2008 - 22:00

Remember way back when you knew Newton’s Third Law, how to do long division, how to solve quadratic equations, and the difference between mean, mode, and median? As quality professionals, we’ve probably all had to learn these basic concepts at some point in our careers. Do we remember them?

While teaching a group how to read blueprints, I realized that I could mentally calculate the least common denominator, yet I couldn’t explain it to them easily. I sought help from a teenager, and as he started explaining it to me, it all came back to me and I remembered. Why had I forgotten something so simple?

Thinking back over all of the complex calculus equations I used to solve, it also dawned on me that I hadn’t worked with these techniques since I learned them. Those skills had just vanished. We have all heard the phrase “No pain, no gain.” To that I add, “No practice, no skill.”

Skills are a perishable asset. What can organizations do to keep up their employees’ skill sets? During most training sessions, it’s not uncommon to hear, “I vaguely recall having learned some of these tools way back when, but I don’t really remember how to use them now.” What a waste of time!

Interestingly, whenever organizations consider a training initiative, they often talk about the return on investment (ROI), yet they don’t necessarily take the time to answer the following types of questions to make a sound financial decision:

  • What kind of rate of return to consider and how to measure it (e.g., ROI, etc)
  • What costs to consider (e.g., direct, out of pocket; or indirect, meeting time or lowered productivity while employees are being trained)
  • Time frame
  • Effectiveness of training and how to measure it

For initiatives requiring training, organizations should first identify their expected outcomes, understand their constraints, and understand that skills are a perishable asset. With that understood and defined, they can take a proactive approach, set realistic expectations about results, and plan on ongoing training, because training isn’t a one-time deal.

Investment in production equipment pays off only when the equipment is used to produce products that the customer purchases. Similarly, investment in training pays off only when the skills are used to improve products/services and/or their associated processes. To prevent the skills from becoming a perishable asset, organizations need to encourage trainees to use their newly acquired skills on a daily basis and regularly on projects. They should also provide a forum for showcasing the results as well as providing regular investment in ongoing training to keep the skills from getting rusty.

So next time you learn new skills, don’t let them perish; build on them.


About The Author

Akhilesh Gulati’s picture

Akhilesh Gulati

Akhilesh Gulati has 25 years of experience in operational excellence, process redesign, lean, Six Sigma, strategic planning, and TRIZ (structured innovation) training and consulting in a variety of industries. Gulati is the Principal consultant at PIVOT Management Consultants and the CEO of the analytics firm Pivot Adapt Inc. in S. California. Akhilesh holds an MS from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and MBA from UCLA, is a Six Sigma Master Black Belt and a Balanced Scorecard Professional.