L&D Best Practices: Strategies for Success (Nov/Dec 2016)

Training magazine taps 2016 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 LaSalle Network’s onboarding process and United Shore’s Escape Room.


By Tom Gimbel, Founder and CEO, LaSalle Network

LaSalle Network has an extensive employee onboarding process, which includes one week of off-site training, a mentorship program, and ongoing training.

LaSalle is growing and expanding quickly, and with so many new hires across the different offices, it can be difficult getting everyone on the same page and up to speed on not only the company practices and processes, but the company culture. LaSalle responded to this challenge by hiring a full-time director of Training, introducing a mentorship program, and scheduling ongoing training for employees. It also designated a three-week span for new hires to sit with the Research team and learn all aspects of recruiting.

Program Details

The onboarding process includes a new hire meeting with HR to run through best practices, company culture, and the overall organization. During a week-long offsite training program, a group of about eight new hires meet with members of leadership including the founder and CEO, as well as LaSalle’s director of Training, who all rotate giving presentations on the different units, covering all functions at LaSalle.


Some 97 percent of LaSalle’s employees are engaged in their roles, compared to the national average of 34 percent, according to Gallup. Ninety percent of the management team has been promoted from within, and LaSalle sees less than a 4 percent voluntary turnover rate, compared to staffing industry averages of 359 percent.

Onboarding Tips

Get the management and leadership teams involved. Bring in a full-time trainer, if possible, to work with staff regularly. When employees see that kind of investment coming from the top, they become more engaged in their work and develop a stronger loyalty to the company. Create a program that aligns with the company. For example, I created the 3e Management System. This management strategy trains employees through three functions: Empathy, Education, and Empowerment.


By Matt Boschi, AVP, Training Team Lead, United Shore

You may have heard of an Escape Room. No, it’s nothing serious; it’s not safety-related. It’s a fun team-building activity that has grown increasingly popular throughout the U.S. over the last few years—mostly by gaming companies interested in providing the general public a new and entertaining way to spend money in their free time. But now mortgage giant United Shore is flipping the script a bit, utilizing an Escape Room as a New Age experiential training tool to enhance mortgage knowledge and teambuilding among its 1,800 team members.

Program Details

The training exercise puts groups of six to 10 team members together in a single room, where they watch a five-minute instructional video and then have 45 minutes to successfully solve puzzles and gather clues needed to escape the room before time runs out. After the 45-minute window is up, whether a team has succeeded or failed in its attempt to escape the room, the group sits down with the facilitator to debrief on the experience. As United Shore is a mortgage company that was founded in 1986, the room is furnished and decorated to resemble a boring, bland office from the 1980s—a stark contrast to the vibrant colors and easily discernible energy that help define the company’s culture today.

Housing the internal Escape Room in the confines of its 275,000-square-foot headquarters in Troy, MI, United Shore is combining its commitment to training excellence and fun in the workplace to provide its team members a unique and valuable training environment. The idea was inspired by a United Shore team member who participated in a Metro Detroit Escape Room with friends over a weekend and shared her experience when she got back to the office on Monday. A handful of our senior leaders went to try it out for themselves and came back with the idea of applying the Escape Room concept to our training initiatives.

So we went to work. Contractors secretly designed and built the Escape Room out of a converted training room in just over six weeks, and it was unveiled to team members as part of our 30-year anniversary this year. When determining the layout of the room and how the exercise would work, it was important to design it so team members would walk away with one key learning outcome. Once that was figured out, we put together a template that included the different puzzles, clues, and supplies that would make up the room.

The United Shore Escape Room debuted in July 2016, and in few short months, it has not only proven to be an effective training program, it has paid dividends to the company from a broader leadership identification and evaluation standpoint. The exercise highlights the four foundations of teambuilding in action:

  • Shared goals
  • Defined roles
  • Problem solving
  • Team-focused relationship

It also dives down to the individual level, shining a spotlight on team members’ leadership qualities—clearly displaying individuals’ knack for stepping up as a vocal leader and delegator, or conversely, falling back as more of a follower. A great thing about experiential training exercises such as the Escape Room is that it puts all participants on a level playing field. No one has any insight into the clues or puzzles before entering the room. No one has the answers in their back pocket. No matter which individuals make up a team, their titles, tenure at the company, and leadership status within the company are irrelevant—team leaders can shy to the back of the pack and newer team members with less than a month in the company can step to the forefront and become vocal and strategic leaders.

You get a first-hand look at how different people respond to adversity, the resolve they show, and how they function in a team-oriented atmosphere when the pressure begins to mount. In this scenario, you see the best leaders shine when the clues and puzzles become increasingly challenging, and you see the leaders who need work crumble. The teams and leaders who focus on the team’s success and finding solutions always succeed in getting out of the room. The ones who are focused more on what is going wrong or finding blame never succeed.

Through the first three months that we ran the Escape Room as a training exercise, 60 percent of the participating groups successfully solved the puzzles and uncovered the combination needed to get out of the room. That meets our goal from a success rate standpoint—we’ve aimed for teams to escape the room at a 60 to 70 percent clip. We want it to be a positive experience, but we also want to make it challenging enough that not everyone passes every time. For those groups that didn’t escape the room, they all came close, maybe solving the correct phrase but not getting the right combination, or not solving one of the five puzzles.


Since the Mortgage Knowledge and Teambuilding Escape Rooms debuted in July, the participants have:

  • Increased team member engagement. The average team member rating for the experience has been 4.75 out of 5. Team member Net Promoter Scores (eNPS) have increased 4 percent since the launch of the room (from 62 percent to 66 percent).
  • Mortgage Basics exam scores have increased by 8 percent (from 87 to 95 percent).
  • Improved collaboration, communication, and task completion per post-training performance evaluations/audits are indicative of strong behavioral change throughout the company.
  • The project task completion percentage in Uzone (internal intranet/task system) has increased by 9 percent (from 83 percent to 92 percent).
  • Monthly Team Player Attribute Ratings have increased from 4.2 out of 5 to 4.8 out of 5.
  • Loan defect (error) rates (a by-product of problem solving/ decision-making) decreased from 2 percent to 1.6 percent.

Ultimately, the Escape Room has proven to be a fun and entertaining alternative to our typical training methods. Team members are able to polish their industry knowledge while demonstrating their leadership skills, all within an environment that promotes teambuilding and bonding among participants. The training activities and methods we execute at United Shore go beyond positioning each person to excel in his or her specific roles; they are about fostering a family-oriented atmosphere where people effectively work together and give maximum effort for the greater good of the team. In a nutshell, the lessons and skills that can be gleaned from the Escape Room are a microcosm of the lessons and skills we want our team members to maximize every day they come into the office.