Soapbox: Paychex Train-the-Trainer Partnership Program

The partnership enhances the training skills of a select few business unit subject matter experts, giving them the tools and confidence to educate peers and fellow employees.

By Lisa Green, Training Manager, HRS and H&B Operations, at the Paychex Training and Development Center

Kelly Schnupp never thought participating in a three-month program to enhance her training skills would have such a powerful and immediate impact on the company’s bottom line, but her experience with the Paychex Train-the-Trainer Partnership has left her pleasantly surprised.

A specialist in the Paychex Employee Screening Services group, Schnupp participated in the program in hopes of gaining some additional training skills and incorporating some training functions into her current role. After attending, she worked with her supervisor to conduct a series of training sessions to educate more than 100 sales representatives about the benefits of the employee screening product. As a result, sales representatives have been more actively selling the product, and every month has shown a year-over-year increase in new clients. Since Schnupp began this initiative, monthly sales have consistently been higher than the previous year’s month, with some months having double the number of new clients than the year prior. According to Schnupp, the program “gave me the confidence to network and search for additional opportunities to grow the product I service.”

In my role as a training manager for Paychex, Inc., Kelly Schnupp is just one of the many talented and knowledgeable employees who visit my office to express a passion for training. Many of these employees are more senior in their position and serve as subject matter experts for their business unit. They are engaged with their teams and eager to take on new challenges but somewhat limited by their lack of training expertise.

At the same time, I am constantly faced with prioritizing the work my small team is able to accomplish. As a national provider of payroll and human resource services for America’s businesses, Paychex, Inc., provides a suite of more than 70 products and services, with 12,000-plus employees servicing 564,000 clients nationwide.

With the growth of our employee base and product set, the demands on our training resources have grown exponentially. While we are experts at training our larger population job roles (Payroll specialists, Human Resource managers, Sales representatives), some of the less common job roles associated with smaller products do not receive the formal training they need.

Combining this gap in knowledge with the abundant “natural resource” of our business unit experts, it seemed a logical step to better engage these employees to help us deliver training to a wider audience. The Paychex Train-the-Trainer Partnership enhances the training skills of a select few business unit subject matter experts, giving them the tools and confidence to educate peers and fellow employees. By engaging these individuals, we achieve some key business objectives:

  • Provide more training to all employees
  • Improve service levels and client retention through enhanced training
  • Promote training consistency and compliance with company policies
  • Train and retain experienced employees
  • Create a “bench” of ready talent for future training roles within the organization

As a training organization, we also expand our sphere of influence within the company and become a more integral partner with the business unit, providing support and resources to achieve mutual goals. Ultimately, we are able to provide more training to our employees without increasing our Training Department headcount.

Identifying Talent

How do we determine which employees should be selected for the program? After identifying what we were trying to achieve with the program, we developed an applicant questionnaire and associated scorecard that was weighted to give preference to employees who had:

  • Current client or employee training responsibilities
  • Potential to add value to team, department, and Paychex
  • Future training career path or goals
  • Existing training skills and competencies
  • Manager approval and support for the program
  • At least two or more years’ tenure at Paychex

Preference also was given to applicants who had shown a desire to increase skills by attending other communications-related corporate training programs.

Managers are asked to nominate employees, gain second-level management approval, and have their nominated employee fill out the applicant questionnaire. An application committee reviews and scores all applications, and the employees with the highest scores are discussed further and reviewed to narrow the selection to 12 participants (the class size is kept small to allow for individual attention and application of skills). All applicants are notified about the final decision, and those who do not make it into the program are given feedback about how to increase their chances for acceptance into a future program.

Putting the applicants through a rigorous application and selection process increases our chance of overall success with the program, and it also lends a certain amount of prestige and recognition to the employees who are selected. We have seen the number of applications for the program increase with each session, and 100 percent of managers with participants in the program say they would recommend the program to another manager.

According to one manager in an anonymous survey, “The program sharpened my participant's skills and built her confidence. She will be used as a resource for department trainings. My department will benefit from her enhanced ability to communicate information clearly and effectively.”

Program Structure

The program is a structured three-month experience that requires an approximate 85-hour time commitment. The program includes:
Five Days of Instructor-Led Training

Participants come together for five days of facilitated learning and collaboration to understand the basics of training. Instructor Abijah Nicholson ensures that the training includes plenty of opportunities to practice new skills and receive feedback.

Upon completing the instructor-led session, participants are able to:

  • Define and demonstrate training, facilitating, and presenting
  • Understand how to identify participants’ training needs
  • Create a lesson plan that incorporates the range of learning preferences
  • Create an active, engaging learning environment
  • Develop visual aids and supporting materials
  • Manage difficult participants and tough topics
  • Deliver training using distance learning tools, and
  • Deliver a 10- to 15-minute demonstration of skills

By the end of the week, participants have a noticeable improvement in their presentation skills and are ready for a videotaped 10- to 15-minute final demonstration of skills. Participants are able to review this video with their assigned mentor after the class and assess their skills.

Mentoring and Shadowing with Experienced Paychex Trainers

At the beginning of the program, participants are assigned a trainer mentor, who gives the participant career advice, describes the realities of being a trainer, and provides one-on-one feedback about the participant’s training skills.

Mentees shadow multiple trainers and discuss each shadow session with their mentor. The mentees are able to see different training styles in action and gather some tips and tricks to adapt to their own personal style. “The highlight of the program for me was the mentoring relationship, where I was able to have someone give me honest feedback about my training and encourage me to take more initiative in promoting myself and my skills,” Kelly Schnupp said of her experience.

The mentoring process also brings about an unexpected side benefit: Mentors and mentees have discovered additional learning needs throughout the company, developed strategies for addressing training issues, and learned how to better leverage resources for training throughout the company. It is a great networking opportunity for both the mentees and their mentors, and helps senior trainers hone their skills and share their knowledge and passion for training.

Our experienced trainer mentors find they gain as much from the program as the mentees:

“Their passion for training was so fresh that I couldn’t help but feel re-energized, and it was a great opportunity to reflect on my own growth over the years. It is wonderfully motivating to help others build their confidence and navigate their new journey,” notes Mandy Williams.

“I went into this thinking, ‘How can I help this new trainer?’ but I ended up renewing my own appreciation for what I am doing daily,” notes Kevin O’Brien.

Group Facilitation Practice

Participants meet as a group throughout the three-month process to practice their facilitation skills in a supportive and encouraging setting. They each are assigned a session and a topic, and take responsibility for researching and facilitating a discussion on their assigned training. In these sessions, participants are encouraged to:

  • Check in on each other and share their experiences and observations
  • Learn about other training techniques and topics that are not discussed in the class and identify other resources (such as Trainingmagazine) where they can gather industry knowledge
  • Share ideas for their final training certification and give each other feedback on their lesson plans

It is these facilitation sessions that really bind the participants together as a group, and it is also what helps them to stay in touch and continue to make important business connections after the program is over.

Final One-Hour Training Session Evaluated for Official Certification

During the program, participants are required to perform a needs analysis on their own business unit and produce a list of training deliverables for their manager. This helps the participant practice needs analysis skills, but more importantly sets the stage for the person as an ongoing training resource integral to the business unit’s success. The manager and the participant decide together what topic will be delivered for the participant’s final training certification.

As trainees create lesson plans, their mentor helps by giving direction and providing feedback on overall structure and activities. Many participants perform a dry run of their training session for the mentor to receive constructive criticism before their final assessment.

The participant schedules the final training and prepares the classroom, inviting at least seven employees from their business unit, their mentor, and the Train-the-Trainer instructor. The instructor assesses all the elements of the training to ensure the training employs sound training techniques.

Instructor Abijah Nicholson has seen marked improvement in this final presentation: “This program allows employees to take an active role in their development and their careers. Participants come in on the first day of the instructor-led training not knowing exactly what to expect but eager and ready to learn. In the process, they begin ‘thinking like a trainer.’ They know how to conduct a needs analysis; determine the correct approach; then deliver effective, concise, and engaging training sessions. They leave the program prepared, confident, and excited to train.”


Participants who complete their final assessment and receive certification are invited to a special celebratory luncheon with their manager and their mentor. Each participant is recognized as a Certified Training Partner, and the director of Training and Development speaks to them about continuing their partnership with our training organization. It’s a great opportunity for the participants to be recognized for all of their hard work and celebrate their accomplishments.

The Continuing Dividends

Upon completion of the program, participants become a valuable training resource for their business unit. They bring the knowledge of a SME and the additional training skills they have gained from the program. They are equipped to provide needs analysis for their business unit, develop materials that are cohesive and adhere to copyright law, deliver just-in-time training to their team, and are better able to partner with the Training Department to accomplish key training initiatives. In addition, these employees are more motivated to stay with their current job position, and they provide a “bench” of future trainers when openings arise. These employees are motivated to teach others within their business unit and are highly sought after for promotions and other career opportunities, especially when a full-time trainer is needed. In fact, six of our program graduates have gone on to become full-time trainers in the company.

We also see the far-reaching impact of these training partners, who have conducted hundreds of hours of training for their business units since attending the program. In addition, training partners have offered additional training sessions available to employees outside of their business units and allowed us to expand our catalog of training offerings available through our learning management system (LMS).

We continue to explore new ways to engage these new training resources, and the partners themselves continuously develop new ideas to partner and leverage what they’ve learned. Like many of our participants, the program continues to evolve and has unlimited potential.

Participant Feedback

“I loved this program. It helped me build my confidence level in front of a crowd. Also, it helped me build great relationships with other training partners. This opportunity has made me into a ‘go-to’ person in my department for training related things. —Halyma Boniche

“It was a great program that taught me a lot about training and got me excited to come to work. I hope to continue to work on my skills and become an even more effective trainer. I am sure the skill set that was demonstrated through this program will allow me to move forward to achieve my goals. The support from the Training Center is one of a kind.” —Renee Constantino

“It has given me more confidence in my ability as a trainer and as a speaker.” —Jenna Ferranti

“I have benefited by having some new ideas for things to make training exciting, and better knowledge of when training may be appropriate, or when a presentation, facilitation, self-study, reference doc, etc., may be more appropriate. My team has benefited because now instead of just standing up and talkingatpeople, we can have more effective learning sessions.” —Kathryn Atkinson

Manager Feedback (from anonymous manager survey)

“My employee’s level of confidence has noticeably soared since participating in the course, and she has become more proactive in leading our team!”

“This program allowed my Team Lead to become more confident in her skills as a trainer and gave her some great tools/feedback on how to improve her skills.”

“I followed my employee's progress through this program and not only did it expand his knowledge of training, but it has revitalized his motivation toward making an impact in our department.”

“We now have a trained resource at our disposal to help train new programs, projects, and staff.”

Lisa Green is the training manager, HRS and H&B Operations, at the Paychex Training and Development Center.

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.