L&D BEST PRACTICES: Strategies for Success (Nov/Dec 2015)

Training magazine taps 2015 Training Top 125 winners and Top 10 Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at ERA Real Estate’s strategy for creating brand champions and Valvoline’s journey to determine how the learner experience affects employee performance.

Brand Champions

By Shannon Poser, Senior Director, Learning, ERA Real Estate

When reflecting on the best practices I’ve gathered over 11 years in the training industry, the aspect that stands out most to me is the people. Without empowering employees, how can a company make the most of the tactical training tools it has created? As Learning and Development professionals, we must create brand ambassadors within our organizations. They become our go-to people, and they are essential. The challenge for a franchised company such as ERA Real Estate is that we must disseminate information to thousands of firms operating independently across the country, while instilling in them the ERA Real Estate values and making them aware of the breadth of resources available to them as an ERA affiliated brokerage. Most recently, we’ve improved our strategy for doing so through our Brand Champion initiative.

Program Details The Brand Champion initiative involves waves of new ambassadors, 25 at a time, coming to our headquarters for a three-day intensive learning session. First, they are broken down into smaller groups of three or four people and trained on a specific product we have rolled out or revamped. They absorb the ins and outs of the tool until they feel comfortable with it. Then we give the session a jolt by turning it into a game: We toss around a ball that has all of our services written on it, and each catcher has to deliver a training to the group on whichever tool his or her right thumb lands on. Who said games were only for kids? They keep a long training session lively and challenge players to think on their feet around peers—who often can be more intimidating than customers.

The goal of each session is for all the Brand Champions to feel confident in reiterating the knowledge they have gained by the time they walk out the door. That is how we measure success. But the relationship needs to continue in order to keep confidence high, so we’ve implemented monthly Brand Champion conference calls and online presentations.

Consistency is key when it comes to communication with the people who are representing your brand—both to keep them informed, and to show them you value their participation.

Results While our Brand Champion program is relatively young, we’ve already begun to see success with Kirkpatrick Level 3 in particular. Our online tools and services, and our Internet platform in general, already have seen a 28 percent increase in traction.

Tips Here are three key learnings I’ve taken from the launch and primary phases of the Brand Champion program that can be applied to virtually any business.

  1. Develop brand ambassador trainings based first and foremost on the students’ needs. Of course, the strategy behind developing a team of brand ambassadors is to teach and empower them to represent what is important to your brand. But if trainings are built primarily around what you want them to know—and not necessarily what they want or need to know—they won’t be nearly as successful. You can learn from them as much as they can learn from you, and that’s an important mindset to have.
  2. Turn them into the teachers. Socrates had the right approach back in the day. By turning students into teachers, you force them to dig into the details and wrap their minds around the “why” and “how” of a tool. All of our Brand Champions are required to conduct a training with their own teams immediately after they return from our headquarters, while the tools are fresh in their minds and they’re most excited about spreading the news. This gets them in the proverbial groove right away, so the momentum is easier to continue.
  3. Figure out what modes of communication work best for both sides. One challenge we’ve faced is that because our tools are ever-evolving, so must our trainings be. And, therefore, trainings also must be constant. To overcome this challenge, we’ve done two things: First, we’ve utilized private Facebook groups that extend learning, allow Brand Champions to talk about shared experiences, and facilitate cross-country communication in a more informal environment. Second, we’ve allotted 10 minutes at the end of monthly Brand Champion update calls to talk about questions and concerns. Allocating this time for feedback helps us better understand how we can improve the next iteration of our initiative.

In any business or industry, strong leadership is what keeps a team moving forward. But the leaders cannot be the only people yelling from the rooftops. By creating your own band of brand ambassadors, you extend the message about why other team members should want to grow with your company and why customers should want to work with your team. And by bringing those brand ambassadors together in an intra-organization community, you create the opportunity to train them, bond with them, and reinvigorate their excitement around the brand. That enthusiasm, when it comes to training, learning, and development, is priceless.

Learner Experience Affects Employee Performance

By Jamie Hinely, Manager, Talent Development, Valvoline Instant Oil Change

Valvoline Instant Oil Change is the nation’s second-largest quick-lube chain with approximately 940 locations in the U.S., providing oil changes and preventative maintenance services to nearly 11 million motorists each year. Valvoline’s 7,500 team members are united around the company’s mission of providing hands-on expertise as a premium consumer-branded lubricant supplier.

Meeting Industry Challenges

Training and development in the quick-lube industry comes with a number of specific challenges, from a dispersed workforce with an average of only eight employees per location, to relatively high turnover and a work environment poorly suited for some forms of training. As in many retail settings, employees don’t have a designated computer, workspace, or e-mail address. Roughly 30 percent of Vavloline’s service centers are company owned; the balance is owned by franchisees.

Beginning in 2006, Valvoline set out to meet these challenges, investing heavily in custom e-learning, creating a home-grown succession or bench-planning system, and working with its learning management system (LMS) vendor to create a system that provides immediate feedback when employees fall behind their scheduled training regimen. The investment paid off with dramatically reduced turnover, consistent same-store sales growth, and a system of development in which nearly every management position is filled from within the organization.

Capitalizing on Data

Still, the company had not yet fully capitalized on a key strength—data. While a lack of relevant data makes it difficult to track the impact of training and development in many organizations, Valvoline had sales data, customer service data, service times, and more, all at the employee level. In theory, it was possible to understand the impact of training on any of these metrics, down to the individual team member, as well as specific training element. What part of the learner experience has the greatest impact? Does a great instructor make all the difference, or is it the materials? How does the classroom environment affect results? What does e-learning do well, and what does it do poorly—not theoretically, but with actual employees in the specific quick-lube environment?

As the company set out to answer these questions, it became apparent that collecting the necessary data in an appropriate format would be a formidable challenge. Employees did not have company-issued e-mail addresses, so e-mailing surveys after classroom training was not a possibility, nor were pre- and post-testing by e-mail.

Instead, Valvoline opted for mobile technology and collected post-event surveys and pre- and post-test data via tablets and smartphones. Working with an outside vendor, the system was configured to send summary data to trainers, instructional designers, operational leaders, and executive leadership, each according to their own needs. More importantly, the data was imported daily into Valvoline’s data warehouse, allowing correlations between training metrics and employee performance.

Because customer service and retention data required long time periods to collect the required sample size, the study started with sales data alone. Initial correlations confirmed some things that Training professionals know intuitively, but included some surprises, as well. As expected, team members who gave a top box score of five—indicating they had learned something new—produced an average ticket 4 percent higher than all other learners. The impact on complex or difficult-to-explain services was even more dramatic.

But the individual factors that affected performance were even more telling. Training materials had the biggest impact. Employees who rated the materials with a top box score of five produced 4.1 percent higher tickets than others. The learning environment and the energy and enthusiasm of the instructor had a similar effect. Surprisingly, the perceived knowledge of the instructor had a much smaller impact. Preliminary data for other measures, including customer service and retention, suggest the same dynamic—learner experience has a significant and measureable impact on employee performance.

Taking Action

Based on this initial data, the Learning team took several actions. First, the team dispatched its most experienced professional trainers to work with 40 field trainers for whom training is a secondary responsibility. Focusing on training delivery, classroom management, energy, and enthusiasm, the team certified each trainer against a set of strict criteria. Trainers were benchmarked against the top 25 percent of retail trainers.

On the facilities and materials front, each team member was assigned specific markets and worked with them to improve training facilities, in many cases adding multimedia equipment, lighting, and furniture. In addition to improving training materials as part of a regular update cycle, steps were taken to ensure that all materials were produced in full color and in proper bindings for every learner, every time. As a result, 100 percent of classes delivered by Valvoline’s field trainers now rank in the top 25 percent of retail courses nationwide, as measured by Valvoline’s measurement and analytics partner.

Valvoline also took steps to track the impact of training where employee performance data is not available. In these cases, employees are asked what percentage of their job responsibilities will be affected by the training, how much they expect to improve in those areas, and how much of that improvement they attribute to the training. The result is an estimated percentage improvement attributed to training. That figure is adjusted downward based on the actual performance impact in those areas where data is available.

Always Improving

So far, Valvoline’s efforts have focused on the employees’ reaction to training. Next steps include expanding the program to include pre- and post-test data, which will allow the company to determine exactly which knowledge elements affect performance and which are extraneous. Early results indicate that positive correlations exist, and that test design is of great importance if the resulting data is expected to be truly predictive. In addition, reporting tools will track the trend of correlations over time, with the goal of building stronger correlations between each element and its impact on key metrics.