We concluded our final session of our first-ever “General Manager Training” this week. We plan to start our next cohort May 23. Per my usual, I thought I’d reflect on what worked and share some opinions about what we might change in the future.
Purpose: Condense two years of management training into three weeks in order to expedite the efficacy of running “The LEV Way” operating system.
Requirements: Do the least amount of harm to operations while managers were away. Deliver exceptional value to individuals regardless of industry or experience level.
Prerequisites: Must have worked or intend to work in a make-to-order business model. Must travel to Lafayette, IN three times. Bring laptop for in-person labs and homework.
Patterns: Each week started with a catered lunch on a Tuesday and ended at noon on Wednesday. This pattern repeated for three consecutive weeks. Participants were expected to drive in/out each week and stay over each Tuesday evening. We don’t yet own any businesses that require a flight so we didn’t design it for that. Being downtown Lafayette together worked well. Walking between things was terrific.
Each week, one of the course leaders facilitated a conversation that ramped us into the theme for the week. Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning were each broken into three one-hour classes. Official class time started at 1pm, but the ramp up during lunch worked well. We always adjourned Tuesdays between 4 and 4:15pm each week. Managers kept a handle on their businesses while on-site. Although we did see some fatigue by end of week 3. It was agreed that this format worked best. Too many nights in a row or more spread between would degrade retention or overwhelm other areas of their lives.
For each day, the first class would unpack a specific topic within the theme. The topic of class 1 would build upon previous sessions. The first topic was always applied to operations. Ops is first area of management in a make-to-order business. Get it right, then move upstream. Discussions ensued around operations. Questions moved toward sales and administrative management functions. The second class applied the next topic to sales. The third class applied to administrative services. Students were expected to fill in the grid around each focal point. We wound up using a diagram to explain this structure that was helpful. For example, just because The Theory of Constraints was taught in relation to operations does not limit the concept from being applied to sales. This approach allowed us to teach a subject. Test on a subject. Demonstrate understanding of a subject. And, invite application to that concept to another areas of the business, in a particular manner.
Within each 1 hour class a common pattern was also used. A 5-10 minute lecture was given on the source material, broad definition, specific definitions within our operation, and an example case study or two were given –each from our experience. A brief group Q&A was conducted and everyone was invited to contribute. Then, the instructors facilitated a 30 minute lab exercise to quiz on the subject. Each lab took it’s own shape but generally tried to follow a similar pattern, which is described in the next paragraph. After each lab, feedback was given between group members. Then, instructors provided feedback and summary statements. Additional questions might arise as the class concluded or went into break. The next class would build upon the previous topic.
Labs were an important and valuable part of each class. Each lab took up the bulk of the time. When lecture went long, the understanding suffered. Sometimes we jumped into a lab. Paused and taught. Then, went back into a new lab. This worked in some cases, but not always. The basic format gave us enough structure to get back on track if we strayed. But it also allowed us to go deeper and more customized based on the specific areas of interest of the group at that moment.
For each lab, we outlined a plan to move from pairs to individuals to group in each of class 1, 2 &3 of each day. We found pairs and group activities to be most valuable. Only once in the 24 classes did we do an individual lab time. What was the exercise? “Journal privately, asynchronously, the elements of your life that create stress.” We did not ask them to share. This worked and hopefully set them up to use this process. The vast majority of the time was spent in-sync. Pairs worked wonderfully. We wound up doing lots of role playing. Instructors would assign who would play each role. The pair would sometimes prep for a couple of minutes. Sometimes, they would simply go live right away. Humor was useful. The group made up a fake company during lunch of the first week and it was used throughout the 3 weeks for role playing (a custom t-shirt printing company.) During role playing, the rest of the group would listen and then provide helpful feedback. Another pair would go and the original pair would join the audience. This worked beautifully. The process initiated the practice in a safe space before being asked to implement the practice on a teammate in a live work situation. Students realized how much harder some of these practices are in practice than in concept. And, they refined their actions here.
Each Tuesday evening we hosted a dinner. The first week we did a structured, after-dinner activity –an escape room. We had structured activities planned for the second and third weeks (axe-throwing and climbing gym) but the group wound up opting for more informal social time after each dinner –without Mikel or myself (the instructors.) This wasn’t bad and probably will become a pattern in future classes.
Hotel rooms were provided. Informal breakfasts were often organized by the GMs prior to the instructors arrival. On Wednesday of each week, at 8am, we dove into the same classroom pattern. We planned to be done by 11am but almost always wrapped around 12 noon. Students were dismissed.
Homework was sent via Google Forms. Essay responses demonstrated an understanding, or lack of understanding (confessions were celebrated.) Students that responded quickly did better. Those who responded last minute (due by start of following week) showed poorer retention.
By the third week we lost one manager (who stated, “I’m not who you need.”) And we had one manager call it in sick/exhausted for dinner on week 3. Another manager pushed through an illness. Evening sports and misc pressures of life encroached just a touch. Overall, I was thrilled with the commitment, retention and impact they demonstrated.
We hosted a guest on week 3 lunch session. He stayed for portion of the afternoon and contributed terrific examples and applications. Hosting a guest worked well. It could work in week 2 as well. Too many guests and we would not be able to teach specifics of our system.
We used books as props, a large whiteboard for teaching and group activities. Students used journals and their laptops. We used a large monitor for live, group spreadsheet activities sparingly. A few times we displayed live software examples. Students were expected to use their laptops only when instructed. We kept the pace so fast and engaging that devices were rare. Zero slide decks were used.
We used dice, paperbowls, toothpicks and other props for some lab work. At one point I wrote a randomization function in excel live just to create some fake data for an exercise. Fast-paced creativity and humor were tremendously effective by all.
Overall, I was super impressed with our first cohort. The second cohort starts May 23. We will begin a third cohort if we have three or more people signed up. We cap each cohort at 12 people. GMs are sending a couple of future GM candidates into cohort 2. We have a couple of GMs to join in cohort 2. We intend to add new locations, organically or acquisitive throughout second half of 2023. New GMs will be hired and expected to join a cohort within their first 90 days. This is a proprietary and internally focused program.