Table of Contents

Applying Lean Principles to Onboarding


This week on the Train Like You Listen podcast, Brian and Heather sit down with Todd Hudson of The Maverick Institute to discuss lean principles and how they apply to the design of corporate onboarding programs. We discuss the value of lean principles to the onboarding process, recommendations on how to get started, and even discuss an example of a successful application of these principles.

Listen using the player below. Please leave us your thoughts in the comment section or on twitter @train_champion.

Transcript of the Conversation with Todd Hudson

Heather Snyder: Hello, and welcome to the Train like You listen podcast, a weekly short podcast about learning and development. I’m your host, Heather Snyder, and today we are talking about onboarding with Todd Hudson and Brian Washburn. 

6-Word Introduction

Heather Snyder: Todd, every week we start with a six-word sentence that describes ourselves. What is your six-word memoir? 

Todd Hudson: My six-word memoir is “don’t fear failure, just fall forward”.

Brian Washburn: Oooh, I liked that one. And, this is Brian Washburn and my six-word memoir for today, going along the lines with today’s theme, is “like lean, I’m to the point”. 

You know, Todd, we’re gonna jump right in here. And, you know, I ran into you a number of years ago at a SHRM Talent Management Conference when you’re talking about bringing lean principles into the world of onboarding. And so I thought that would be really interesting for us to talk about here a little bit. Now “lean”‘s a word that seems to be used a lot of different ways in a lot of different companies. Can you tell us how you use it in the context of HR or training related initiatives? 

How is The Word “Lean” Used in the Context of HR or Training?

Todd Hudson: Sure. Yeah. And first, let me say what lean is not. So lean is absolutely not about, you know, workforce reduction. It’s not about doing more work with fewer people. Lean is, in short, about delivering value without delay. You know, what is the value that your customers want and how can I get it to them as quickly as possible? And you accomplish this by streamlining or even eliminating steps that are redundant, time-consuming, and convoluted. 

So, you know, most business processes just take way too long. People wait and wait and wait for what they want. And for training, this is particularly bad because while people are waiting, they can’t do their jobs effectively or efficiently as they could. And worse, they could be making mistakes and even getting hurt.

In my Improving Training With Lean Workshop, I have people create a detailed process map of the steps they follow to create and deploy a typical course in their company. And when we estimate the time, it usually takes six months or more for them to do that. In lean thinking and methods we try to reduce that time dramatically, say six weeks instead of six months.

Brian Washburn: I love this concept. And so when we think about it– and you mentioned the word “value” several times when you were talking about it and when it comes to training professionals, a lot of times we get really wrapped up in the latest theory or strategy or method and sometimes we don’t always think “what is the value to our organization?”

Do you have some other thoughts or examples of the value that applying lean principles brings to the organization itself. 

Examples of the Value of Applying Lean Principles to an Organization

Todd Hudson: Sure. Yeah. So, if you’re thinking about onboarding in particular, it’s, you know, new hires receive value without delay. They essentially learn what they need to when they need it. So, not when it’s convenient for the HR department or the instructors. Typically, you know, courses are, you know, they gang people up. They wait until they have 20 people or they have some class minimum, then they’ll deliver the course. You know, and again, in that interval, you know, people are trying to do their jobs or they’re trying to deliver value and they can’t because they don’t have all the information that they need. So, I mean, the hiring department probably spent what, four to six months getting this new position filled and then the HR department makes them wait, two, three, maybe even four weeks to start. Question to this is why? It’s more convenient for the HR department to sort of gang them up into one class and things, but the engineering department or the finance department, you know, they’re down a person. And the new hire wants to work and probably needs to get paid. So, you know, why make them wait two, three, four weeks to do that? Let’s start them as soon as possible so that they can start adding value.

And today, I mean, new hires probably are still trying to find a better deal than the one that you just offered them. They might not start at all. You might have to wind up starting the hiring process all over again. 

Heather Snyder: A lot of this is actually quite new to me. What’s the most innovative application of these principles that you’ve seen, or perhaps maybe even implemented when it comes to an organization’s onboarding?

Innovative Application of Lean Principles in Onboarding

Todd Hudson: Sure. I’d love to share that. One of my clients– what they do there is they take their new designs and they turn those designs into blueprints essentially. They basically turn them into drawings that their factory can assemble. So they do that. And what they did was they have 3000 engineers on a big campus, lots of buildings spread over hundreds of acres and new hires.

They got lost, they were late to meetings, they miss meetings altogether. Also they use a lot of digital technologies to manage calendars and data and print drawings. And again, you know, new hires couldn’t access the data or share it correctly. And they had this typical, big onboarding program that everybody hated, including the new hires.

So by practicing lean thinking, they created this amazing scavenger hunt with simple job aids and they went from– they changed from onboarding batches of new hire to onboarding individuals. So new hires start work as soon as possible after they’re offered employment. And the scavenger hunt has around 50 items and to complete in 30, 60, and 90 day milestones.

And there’s a sheet of items for each of those. And so the new hires have to go to specific buildings and rooms and prove they were there with a selfie or they have to go and perform a specific task, like map a drive, or fill out a form and mail it to somebody. Or they have to introduce themselves to specific people and positions and get them to sign the form.

And so they have to complete that. So the carrot at the end of the 90 days is if you complete all your tasks you get a ride with a professional race car driver on their test track. And you get a picture of you in your racing suit next to the car. And no one wants to miss that. 

Brian Washburn: I love this example. And so, Todd, as you’re painting this specific example, one of the things that really strikes me – lean isn’t just about, kind of, replacing a 60 minute, kind of, boring lecture when you can do it in 20 or 30 minutes. What you just described sounds completely different than what they had been doing in the past. So lean isn’t just about cutting things. It sounds like it’s about re-imagining too. 

The Value of Re-Imagining In Lean Onboarding

Todd Hudson: Totally. If you can cut you cut. But if, if there’s a better solution, if there’s a better way to deliver value, you would do that. So, you know, instead of me, as a tour guide, guiding them around campus and, you know, and showing them things, you know, I say, “well, you should do that”. And I give them just enough information. I give them a map and I give him some list of things that they could do on their own. So I do try and reimagine the process and say, “well I’m trying to– I’m trying to get to this end point and what is the absolute best way to deliver that value?” 

Heather Snyder: So if someone is listening and they think that this is a great idea, but they’re not experts and not even sure where to start with what advice would you have for that person to get started bringing lean principles into their organization’s onboarding program? 

Todd Hudson: I would say the advice is to stop creating big, hard-to-manage events. Think small and fast. What can employees and new hires do to get themselves up-to-speed and competent at their moment of need, and only provide the minimum amount of direction and help they need to start being productive safely. But these big events where you have to manage rooms and catering and, you know, figuring out executives have to be there– and it’s just so much, so much energy gets put into the overhead of those events that, you know, that time could be better spent thinking about how can I create– you know, how can I reimagine a process which is a lot more engaging and a lot faster? So stay away from big events. 

Get to Know Todd Hudson

Heather Snyder: We like to wrap things up each week with a lightning round of questions. 

Todd, are you ready? 

Todd Hudson: I am ready. 

Heather Snyder: What is one book that people listening today should be reading? 

Todd Hudson: Well, I’m actually writing a book about this topic now, and that should be out in the fall of 2020.

So stay tuned. Until then I recommend the book Lean Thinking by James Womack and Daniel Jones is a great primer on the topic. 

Heather Snyder: Fantastic. I look forward to your book. What’s your go-to pre-training food? 

Todd Hudson: Denver omelet and rye toast. I burn a lot of calories when I teach, so I like a big breakfast. 

Brian Washburn: It’s fascinating. I’m always on the smaller side. I’m like, “just give me fruit”. What’s one piece of training tech you can’t live without?

Todd Hudson: I cannot live without a remote slide advancer. I never stand still when I teach. I love to walk around and teach from the back. 

Brian Washburn: You are our third person to say that. I love it. I’m with you on that one too.

Any final words or shameless plugs? 

Todd Hudson: Yeah, my shameless promotion is this, is you can hire me to run my Improving Training With Lean Workshop at your company. Go to my website for more information,

Brian Washburn: Again, you know, I’ve seen Todd speak at conferences. I’ve just engaged with him throughout the past several years that I’ve known him. And so if you are thinking of bringing lean principles into your organization, I think that a conversation with Todd is a great place to start. 

Heather Snyder: Great. That’s our podcast for this week. Subscribe to this podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or any major podcast hosting service. We want to hear from you. What topics would you like to hear more about?

Leave us a comment on the blog or tweet us @train_champion.

Want to read a bit about how one organization gamified their entire onboarding process? Click here for the case study.

Want to read about how an organization measured the impact of their onboarding program? Click here for a summary of the overhaul and how it was measured.

This week’s podcast is sponsored by Soapbox.  Sign up today for a free demo at

Articles Similar to Applying Lean Principles to Onboarding

Learning & Development
Brian Washburn

How “Mature” is Your Training Program?

How strategic is your training program? How outcome-oriented, governed or sustainable is it? In today’s podcast, Danielle Duran talks about how to objectively measure your training program in those four key areas.

Learning & Development
Brian Washburn

A Conversation on Inclusive Training Design with Jolene Jang

When I participated in a DEI-focused session led by Jolene Jang at a recent conference, I just kept shaking my head. She would point out specific ways to make learning more inclusive, and I immediately thought: there’s another thing I’m not doing!

Learning & Development
Brian Washburn

Where Sales Enablement Meets L&D

Natalie Mazzie, an experienced sales enablement professional, feels there is a lot that general L&D folks can learn from the sales enablement field. Here’s our conversation.

Maria Leggett on learning & development resumes
Learning & Development
Brian Washburn

A Learning & Development Resume that Gets Noticed

When you’re applying for an L&D job, how do you best position yourself to get a call from a recruiter or hiring manager? Experienced HR professional, Maria Leggett, offers her insights in today’s podcast.

Subscribe to Get Updates from Endurance Learning

Brian Washburn, Author

Brian Washburn
CEO & Chief Ideas Guy

Enter your information below and we’ll send you the latest updates from our blog. Thanks for following!

Find Your L&D Career Path

Explore the range of careers to understand what role might be a good fit for your L&D career.

Enter your email below and we’ll send you the PDF of the What’s Possible in L&D Worksheet.

What's possible in L&D

Let's Talk Training!

Brian Washburn

Brian Washburn
CEO & Chief Ideas Guy

Enter your information below and we’ll get back to you soon.

Download the Feedback Lesson Plan

Enter your email below and we’ll send you the lesson plan as a PDF.

feedback lesson plan
MS Word Job Aid Template

Download the Microsoft Word Job Aid Template

Enter your email below and we’ll send you the Word version of this template.

Download the Free Lesson Plan Template!

Enter your email below and we’ll send you a Word document that you can start using today!

free lesson plan template
training materials checklist

Download the Training Materials Checklist

Enter your email below and we’ll send you the PDF of the Training Materials Checklist.

Subscribe to Endurance Learning for updates

Get regular updates from the Endurance Learning team.