Is Your Training Mix Right?

Getting the training mix right continues to be a challenge, from deciding who to train, how to train them, and evaluating the results.

Do you want fries with that?” That’s what Kevin Ricklefs, senior vice president of CHG Healthcare Services, thinks when training is ordered up like it is fast food. But he and other experts reveal that getting the right training mix calls for starting right and that means aligning training with the company’s goals and considering the behavior necessary to achieve those goals.

For example, he recalls when a team leader asked for team building training to deal with trust and effectiveness problems. Instead of simply serving up the requested training, Ricklefs analyzed how the team functioned—and was dysfunctional—and then offered leadership training instead. Turns out, the team wasn’t delivering because the leader wasn’t presenting clear direction about the expected outcomes. After leadership training, the team started showing increased communication, engagement, and, most importantly, effectiveness toward meeting the firm’s goals.

“It’s tough when people treat trainers like order takers,” grumbles Ricklefs, who, with Wayne Davis, director of Training, oversees the training of 1,600 employees at the health-care staffing firm and that of the roughly 5,000 medical care workers placed each year.

Getting the training mix right is a white-hot challenge today, with training choices ranging from who to train, from executive development to sales personnel to IT workers, and questions of delivery ranging from face to face to an ever-expanding menu of online tools. At Farmers Insurance, for example, Chief Learning Officer Annette Thompson reports her firm has gone from 90 percent face-to-face training in 2002 to 54 percent online today with 45 percent face to face, 20 percent performance support, and 27 percent coaching and reinforcement.

But no matter what the training mix, it all starts with the company’s business needs.


At Jiffy Lube International, the business goal is helping 2,000- plus stores throughout the nation operate safely and profitably, and the training challenge is training 20,000 to 40,000 people a year, many of them entry level.

“It would be next to impossible to do that with face-to-face training,” says Ken Barber, manager of Learning and Development at the Shell Oil Company-owned firm. Instead, Jiffy Lube uses a blended learning solution of e-learning, available any time an employee logs on, backed by testing, written training guides, and management supervision to provides consistent, accessible training for the mainly entry-level workers.

At Coldwell Banker Real Estate, the goal is helping agents, managers, and company owners leverage the latest technology and teaching them to provide superior customer service. The challenge, however, is how to reach a sales force that is always on the go and that wants and needs mobile, on demand, self-paced, interactive training, available any time or place salespeople have time to squeeze in training.

As a result, Coldwell Banker turned to social media with an innovative twist. In addition to podcasts and videos created by Coldwell Banker University, offered in quick snippets such as one- to six-minute bursts of learning available on smart phones and tablets, the real estate firm has a separate social media portal called BlueView, where agents can upload content they create and access agent-created best practices. “It fosters a culture of learning,” explains David Birnbaum, vice president of Learning at Coldwell Banker Real Estate. Using this portal, agents also can connect and collaborate with other agents.

“It is performance support. They get what they need in the moment of need,” adds David Rubenstein, senior director, Learning, Coldwell Banker Real Estate.


There usually isn’t a need for a 180-degree training mix adjustment when organizations start out making sure training is aligned with company goals. Instead, Barber says, adjusting the training mix calls for finding innovative, less costly ways to accomplish the training goals. For example, his firm recently piloted an interactive online game for manager training.

His mainly young, male workforce loves the venue, which features visually rich graphics that look just like a real Jiffy Lube store and provide the challenges a manager would see in any given day. The online game provides a safe environment where a mistake won’t endanger anyone or the store’s profits, and workers are willing to play the game over and over again, honing their skills. Another way Barber adjusted the training was offering just written training materials in Spanish until a full-scale translation and update of all the materials can be put in place.

Adjusting the training at Verizon improved the process, says Lou Tedrick, staff vice president, Workforce Development at Verizon. Turning to Adobe Connect’s platform to deliver virtual instructor-led training (vILT) allowed Verizon to change a traditional, two-day, face-to-face coaching training into five, two-hour, interactive vILT sessions that enabled participants to learn a skill each week; go back to their workplace and practice it immediately; and check back the next week for debriefing, feedback, suggestions, or just virtual high fives before moving on to the next skill.

The trainer and participants are linked with Webcams and software that allows interaction with the trainer and other participants, much like being there in person. The trainer can even “pop” in on breakout rooms and other discussions, and participants can interact with each other.

“This is not a Webinar,” declares Tedrick. In fact, participants report it is so interactive, they find they can’t drift off topic or out of the discussion. In addition to saving money, contact time, and travel, the new venue provides a better, more risk-taking learning environment, says Tedrick, and employees are learning just as effectively, if not more.

Verizon did face some additional demands such as providing Webcams for all participants, specialized training for the instructor, and a producer to monitor and create the seamless virtual learning environment.


Reviewing the training mix often involves a three-tier approach: gathering immediate feedback or measurements, periodic reviews of the training and its results, and an in depth review every few years, sometimes with an outside third party to make sure the analysis is statistically sound.

At American Infrastructure, Director of Career Development and Training Jamie Leitch knows she’s lucky to have a workforce filled with engineers who love to check and measure. A construction firm that specializes in bridges, roads, and other infrastructure, the company uses daily dashboards, templates, and other systems for constant assessments and recalibration to make reviews easy and constant to ensure the training fulfills the company’s rigorous safety demands and keeps it on track toward short- and long-term goals.

Despite all this reviewing, Leitch says it is also important to drill down into the information. For example, American Infrastructure found that following the first round of the emerging leadership development program, designed to help participants see their strengths and plan their future, roughly 12 percent of the participants left the firm. Instead of concluding the development program wasn’t working, Leitch observed participants were discovering they were in the wrong field, not necessarily in the wrong company. American Infrastructure then decided to switch up the program to allow for earlier identification of career goals and provide enhanced support for employees who wanted to make what Leitch called “a right turn” in their career. For example, one worker realized she’d rather help market American Infrastructure than work in the field, giving the company a dedicated worker in the right slot, instead of a disgruntled or former employee.

As Leitch points out, “The evaluation process is in place to ensure we’re meeting our goals and then to recalibrate if we’re not. It’s a waste of time if we’re training for training’s sake.”