ETS Department Case Study: Training in the Huddle

Two trainers use learning “chunks” to train 500-plus staffers on customer service skills.

By Patricia B. Thurgood, and Fran Klene, BS, MS, Learning and Change Facilitators, Indiana University Health

Health care is a 24/7 operation, presenting challenges to providing customer service training to the Environmental and Transportation Services (ETS) department, with staff on more than one campus, in a major metropolitan hospital system. In June 2011, we were contacted by ETS department leadership, who told us, “There is currently a lot of variation in the quality of customer service delivered to our patients and guests. In the past, our department staff has not been held accountable for delivering outstanding quality to create an ALWAYS environment. We want to ensure all have the language and tools needed to be successful and deliver outstanding service to all encountered.” The ETS team also wanted to improve their NRC Picker, patient satisfaction survey scores, and the Quarterly Internal Employee Survey scores.

The two of us agreed to help and to train all of the managers on leadership skills and all 542 staff members, plus 27 leaders on customer service skills.

The EMBED Training Model

Both of us are Kirkpatrick Business Partner Certified, and together we seek to create training that enables us to develop partnerships with department leaders and staff. Through developing trust and building relationships, we believe we can improve employee performance and meet departmental leadership-identified learning objectives.

Through research, application, and evaluation, the EMBED Training model evolved as a tool with which we perform accurate and meaningful situational analyses, giving structure to performance improvement workshops, training events, and leadership coaching.

Using this approach, we are able to:

Embed in a department to shadow staff in their daily activities. We observe their responsibilities, learn about the work, and get to know individuals.

Meet with management to identify goals. We explain the EMBED Training process, emphasizing the importance of a strong partnership between leadership and training staff to achieve the desired outcomes. We agree on “what” and “how” success will be measured.

Build an initial relationship and develop a bond of trust with the staff and leadership by meeting with them all prior to delivery of any training.

Engage and educate on the concepts and skills specific to their situation. During the process of shadowing staff and getting to know them, we assess and identify gaps between desired and observed behaviors. Observations often reveal behaviors that limit a team’s capacity to go from “good to great.”

Design, develop, and evaluate training specific to each situation. This includes tools and support for the leadership team, which are needed to coach, encourage, and reinforce desired behaviors. It also includes ongoing evaluation through attending staff rounds with leadership to ensure positive implementation.

Training on the Go

With a large decentralized and mobile staff, it was immediately evident that a two-hour class was an impractical and costly approach to training. We decided that to more effectively train ETS staff, we would need to accomplish it in smaller blocks of time. Having embedded ourselves into the department, shadowing leadership and staff as part of our assessment, we observed that all staff started their shift by attending a 15-minute huddle with their supervisors. The huddle gave management a chance to update the staff on that day’s business and inspire them to do a great job. This short window of time gave us the opportunity to break our two-hour class into small snippets of eight- to 15-minute “chunks.”

Daily huddle training segments included content focused on positive attitude, desired behaviors, controlling attitude, communication skills, understanding brand, identifying customers, and what it means to really listen to clients. Training segments included elements such as a brief activity, self-assessments, video clips, practice scenarios, and verbal and non-verbal communication strategies. Each daily huddle session also included time for a debriefing and a takeaway (what will you focus on today?).

Out of the identified need for leadership development, we planned retreats for managers to include teambuilding and management skills, as well as strategies for praising and encouraging their staff.

We also developed a personalized assessment sheet that helped us shadow staff and discuss their performance as it related to desired behaviors and attitude. Through this information approach we were able to provide relevant training segments for each daily huddle over the course of two- week periods on both day and evening shifts.


In 14 days, 342 staff members were trained. Levels of customer service skills improved. Because the EMBED training model is focused on being customizable, we were able to be fluid with training strategies, adjusting as needs and conditions dictated.

We have learned that it is important to be real, be respectful, and build relationships with our learners. The daily huddles proved to be a perfect place to interact with learners on a daily basis, providing relevant training while engaging in their work routine.

Prior to training the ETS staff, we knew it took more than a class to transform employee behaviors, build trust, and see long-term change in performance. The department informed us that we saved it $15,000 by bringing the training to the huddles.Though less measurable, the department head told us we’ve instilled a sense of pride and importance in the leaders and staff that cannot be understated. She reported: “Our staff feels valued and important—they feel special to know they are among the first to receive Patty and Fran’s special services and coaching and they are really happy about the opportunity. I also have seen clear examples of middle-management engagement and customer service behaviors. We are functioning more like a ‘team’ than ever, and people who’ve rarely spoken before are now collaborating on projects.”

One of the staff members told us that since our training, everyone is treating each other more respectfully. They also feel more respect from management staff. Staff reports a greater sense of working in a pleasant environment and being recipients of praise for going above and beyond their job duties. The staff now owns their areas and feels more empowered to help and be a part of the hospital’s success story.

We receive e-mails daily about some “act of kindness” that has been done by one of the staff. This would never have happened with just a two-hour class. There were fewer complaints and more accomplishments. We also heard from participants that their learning inside huddles carried out into their actions beyond work. One of the Unit leaders said: “I think the huddle training was the best, due to the little pieces of information at a time. I feel and see that they were able to better retain all of it.”

Another leader stated: “I have seen more compliments with our group. I used to get a few comment cards weekly from the same people and the same areas. Last week, I got 38 cards from eight different employees and six different areas. Our patient satisfaction scores have been steadier and are improving.”

We trained three times as many staff in the huddle training than in the two-hour class. After completing our rounding and assessments we found that our “chunking” approach not only produced the same performance results but that the success stories have surpassed those from the two-hour class.

While we had successfully embedded in other departments prior to working with ETS, the challenge of its department size and schedules stretched us to explore cost-effective strategies for training. Training never disrupted daily activities and didn’t take employees off the floor or away from work. Replacements weren’t needed to cover absences related to training. The huddle training approach enabled us to spend time building relationships in each groups’ huddle. The staff enjoyed spending more time with us, and it gave them more time to think about what we were saying. The relationships we have built are lasting and so are their new skills. One staff member said to us: “We now treat each other kinder and our management treats us with more respect, which we haven’t had for a while.”

Everybody wins!

Patricia B. Thurgood and Fran Klene, BS, MS, are learning and change facilitators at Indiana University Health. They both are 2011 ASTD Best Award Recipients for Performance and Professional Development.

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.