2017 Training Top 125 Best Practices and Outstanding Training Initiatives

Training editors and Top 10 Hall of Famers recognize innovative and successful learning and development programs and practices submitted in the 2017 Training Top 125 application.



One of the flagship programs at BB&T Corporation’s Leadership Institute is the Leadership Excellence Program (LEP). The LEP is a two-year, in-depth leadership development experience for high-performing associates who have been identified as candidates for further leadership responsibility.

During the program, each participant works with a Leadership Institute consultant throughout the year to develop specific, targeted leadership capabilities. Coaching sessions are customized to the needs of each participant; however, some aspects of the coaching process are standard for all participants. Each quarter, all participants attend a one-day workshop at the Leadership Institute focused on a specific aspect of leadership. During the first year, each participant selects, with input from his or her manager, an Organization Improvement Project (OIP) to work on throughout the year. The purpose of the project is to apply newly learned leadership skills and tools to a targeted project that will have a significant beneficial impact on the participant’s area of business. Participants are asked to develop a way to measure the outcome/impact of their project so they can show results of applying their leadership skills to an organization issue. During the fourth-quarter Leadership Workshop, participants report their project and its results to a panel of senior leaders.

After completing the program, high-potential leaders are able to:

1. Identify personal leadership challenges and target improvements to those areas.

2. Develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their followers, their “autopilot” leadership patterns, and their impact on others.

3. Use Conscious Leadership Strategies to create a motivating environment, gain commitment rather than compliance, and turn conflict to collaboration.

4. Recognize the brain-based reasons people resist change and use targeted Leadership Strategies to gain their support.

5. Recognize the impact of awareness, and especially unawareness, on being an effective leader.

Results: BB&T conducted an impact study in which participants were compared to their peers who had not yet attended the program. It was determined that the participants experienced a 2.7-times faster promotion rate than their peers, and a 31 percent higher retention rate, which translates into $13.2 million in replacement cost savings to the bank. In addition, a six-month survey of participants, peers, and direct reports revealed that 69 percent of participants experienced significant improvement in the relationship skills that affect organizational performance, including the ability to: develop trust and loyalty, inspire improved performance, achieve greater diplomacy, and effectively deal with differences in viewpoints and styles.


General Motors’ (GM) 800 district managers (DMs) support its 4,200 Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac dealerships. DMs are the face of GM to dealers and are the primary contact to address business needs including, but not limited to, inventory strategies, sales strategies, and customer problem resolution. In 2013, GM faced an urgent staffing challenge: fore-casted attrition due to retirements (38 percent between 2016 and 2019) and a new corporate requirement to assign a DM to every dealer (adding nearly 100 new positions, replacing telemarketing reps who handled rural dealerships).

The existing three-month lecture-style training conducted by subject matter experts (SMEs) included only one week of in-dealership experience. Center of Learning (CoL), a department within the GM Sales, Service & Marketing division, reexamined DM job responsibilities and designed a 10-segment, six-month learning journey in which learning is the newly hired DM’s only job. The learner-centric program involves blended training for 15-person cohorts.

Segment 1 (one week), in Detroit, sets expectations and allows learners to experience GM culture. Segment 2 places learners in a dealership for four weeks to experience dealer operations. Segment 3 partners the new DM with a veteran for a week of job shadowing. Segment 4 returns to Detroit for networking and training. Segment 5 places learners in a GM call center for one week to introduce them to customer issues and resolutions. Segment 6 involves nine weeks of self-directed, targeted, mentor-assisted learning in a regional office, augmented by touch-base Webinars and assignments. Segment 7 returns to Detroit for discussion, networking, and training. Segment 8 places new DMs at GM’s Customer Care and After sales Center to learn how GM supports dealers and customers after the sale. Segment 9 sees learners return to Detroit to share lessons, participate in capstone and skill assessment activities, and prepare for transition to their first field assignment. Segment 10, the transition to the new job, connects DMs with a mentor in their Zone to help them learn their territory.

Throughout the learning journey, each DM has a mentor (an experienced DM) and a coach (from the home or regional office). At any time, Center of Learning manages one to four waves of new hire trainings.


  • Passing rates on the skills assessment rose from 75 percent to 100 percent.
  • Speed to proficiency increased by eight months.
  • Based on cost savings alone, the ROI on the DM New Hire Learning Journey is 60 percent.


Master card determined it needed to adapt how it approaches product innovation. So in 2013, the company launched the Art and Science of Business Modeling. Based on success and demand, in 2015, the company created and launched follow-up course Value Proposition Design. These two multi-week virtual courses comprise the Business modeling curriculum at Mastercard.

The program aims to:

1. Implement a cost-effective and scalable solution quickly, effectively, and across global boundaries.

2. Develop a shared Business Modeling language/culture.

3. Create engagement and encourage cross-functional social collaboration.

To build support, 62 regional Product executives were introduced to Business Modeling theory and applied the tools and techniques to current challenges. The company also established unanimous agreement that Business Modeling was a critical initiative needed throughout the Product organization.

To reach the 1,200-plus globally dispersed Product managers, the learning needed to be virtual. In response, the Learning & Development team introduced a new platform from CorpU and the concept of the Guided Learning journey (GLJ).

The GLJ takes large pieces of in-person content and breaks them up into manageable chunks for individual consumption. Courses are designed as 3.5 to 5.5 weeks depending on the topic, utilizing virtual Webinars, synchronous peerto- peer virtual presentations, custom videos, and two-way online discussion threads.

As of 2015 Business Modeling has been integrated into Mastercard’s Product peer review process and HR objectives for all Product managers. The company has transformed how it approaches, funds, and improves its future business models.

Results: From inception, Mastercard has saved an estimated $2.4 million in delivery and workshop costs and changed how it approaches learning design. Since 2013, 1,060 employees have participated; 902 models have been submitted; 32,845 videos have been viewed; and 7,523 online discussions have been held.

Pre-/post-three-month behavior changes include:

  • 72 percent increase: “I have an effective process to design Value Propositions that resonate with my customer segments.”
  • 71 percent increase: “I have a good process to design Value Propositions with a team at Mastercard.”
  • 31.9 percent increase: “I have a range of ways to test different product and business model ideas before executing and going to market.”
  • 31.8 percent increase: “I have a clear and consistent language to discuss business models with my colleagues.”

Mastercard considers the GLJ learning strategy a best practice across its Product, Sales, Marketing, and M&A functions.


The Cohort Learning Program at Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company is an interactive, dynamic learning experience designed for new call center associates, allowing for growth/ practice of their knowledge/skills in a community setting that allows them to explore content in a safe environment.

This program began in 2015 in the Personal Lines Call Center, where 1,300 associates handle more than 7 million service calls per year. The Center needed a way to attract/retain new associates in a competitive job market and better prepare them for the pace of their job. The Cohort Learning experience design combines soft skill and technical content, so associates are building “muscle memory” as they progress. Traditional lecture is replaced with small/large group discussions/activities that encourage application of knowledge through problem solving.

The program is based on four principles:

1. Group Development: Individuals of varying experience and personality types form groups of four to six. Intentional group formation is key to relationship building, peer mentoring, self-policing, and dealing with group dynamics.

2. Accountability: Accountability for their own learning and to cohort members is fundamental. Each associate is responsible for creating his or her own learning plan and for identifying areas for review/practice.

3. Self-Discovery and Problem Solving: Associates learn at their own pace, making connections to their own experiences. Activities and scenarios simulate live call experiences in which the associates solve problems and accurately communicate a solution.

4. Feedback and Evaluation: “Just-in-time” feedback is provided during small and large group activities. Knowledge/skill assessments provide immediate feedback. Results are tracked to identify knowledge gaps or coaching opportunities.

Results: The Cohort Learning pilot included three groups (45 total associates) across call centers. Pilot results were compared to those for prior traditional classroom training. The pilot groups saw:

  • Average of 72-second decrease in hold time
  • Average of 49-second decrease in average handle time, saving $63,160.02 over a year
  • Training time was reduced by three days, a productivity savings of $22,139.37 during the pilot

The Cohort Learning Program was successfully piloted in the Personal Lines Call Center, and more than 500 new associates were trained last year, resulting in a productivity gain of $250,912.98. The program has expanded to the Commercial Lines Call Center and was being built for two additional business units for deployment at the end of 2016.


Ensuring employees use the professional skills mapped to their job function is important to providing Ricoh USA, Inc., customers with an exceptional customer experience. For Ricoh’s Managed and Technology Services employees—a customer facing group of more than 14,000—meeting this goal requires that they demonstrate technical skills, functional knowledge, and communication skills while providing superior customer service. Services employees participate in several training programs in order to gain professional skills, including communication and listening, customer-centric teams, the Language of Yes, telephone etiquette, technical printing technologies, and Comp TIA certification prep courses. The programs are developed in-house using internal subject matter experts and are delivered in a variety of modes, including instructor-led and virtual instructor-led sessions and e-learning.

Professional skills acquired while participating in these training programs are assessed each year through an engaging competition: the Services Team Annual Recognition Program (STAR), which measures Kirkpatrick Level 2 training effectiveness and recognizes and rewards Services employees who provide an exceptional overall customer experience. Employees are ranked based on several components: an online exam combining company knowledge with job-function-specific questions, their performance appraisal, and job-specific scorecard criteria. The scoring is combined for these three components to determine the top performers, who then move on to compete in a live competition called the Main Event.

The Main Event is a competitive event that changes every year based on company needs. At the Main Event, employees’ functional and company knowledge, customer skills/ interactions, and teamwork skills are assessed through role play and hands-on testing. The top performers win an elite award trip to an exciting destination.

Results: Between Q4 2014 and Q4 fiscal year 2015, Technology Services customer satisfaction ratings improved by 5 percent and Managed Services ratings improved by 4 percent. Further, in Q4 FY2015, Ricoh achieved its highest loyalty scores to date with 67 percent of survey respondents being designated as “favorable” or “loyal.”



To support ADP’s strategic goal of “Win as One” and achieve aggressive business growth targets, ADP Major Account Services (MAS) needed to hire and onboard 380 payroll client support associates over nine months, with hiring to begin in September 2015. The existing payroll service new hire training program was 17 weeks long, impeding the rapid on-boarding of new associates within the required time-frame.

L&D conducted a learning analysis to drive a program redesign. The analysis included interviewing high-performing service associates and leadership, observing hundreds of client calls, and analyzing data from more than 3.1 million client calls to identify the most common reasons for client calls, and typical resolution scenarios. With this data and analytics insight, L&D redesigned the program around the most common call drivers and scenarios to maximize the learning and business impact within a shortened, blended learning program.

The redesigned, 10-week program, “Fast Path to Success,” speeds new associate time to productivity on key metrics such as average client call duration, client issue resolution on the first call, and quality survey scores by blending scenario-based training modules with embedded learning, including on-the-job observation, practice, and mentoring. Throughout the program, formal training modules are blended with 60 hours of job immersion, in which new associates are paired with peer mentors who are experienced in the role. Job immersion starts with live-call observation and debriefs within each of the first four weeks; by the fifth week, new associates are assisting peer mentors on live calls by performing system navigation while mentors interact with clients.

The redesigned program includes weekly gamification activities, utilizing an online gaming platform that engages associates with leader-boards, badges, real-time feedback, and social learning interaction. New performance-based assessments measure learning against top client call drivers and issue resolution techniques to further align the learning to the job.

Results: After a September 2015 pilot, the new 10-week program met the business need by supporting on-boarding of 380 new associates through June 2016, with the following results compared to the previous 17-week program (measured within the first two months post-training):

  • Decreased average client call duration to 24.04 from 25.79 minutes
  • Improved client survey-scores to 8.76 vs. 8.36 out of 10
  • Better client issue resolution on the first call to the Service Center than tenured associates, 85.16 percent vs. 79.36 percent
  • Reduction of 106,400 associate training hours and 8,416 trainer hours
  • Savings of approximately $2.4 million in training costs over nine months

Based on these results, Fast Path to Success was adopted as the go-forward training program for all payroll service associate new hires in ADP MAS.


Recognizing that its employees’ expectations are constantly evolving—specifically, the way Millennial learners expect to access training materials—retailer Best Buy introduced a new app-based training tool called Gravity in October 2015. Gravity allows learners to use any smart device to scan a product’s UPC or QR code, giving immediate access to bite-sized training videos and key information on the scanned product. Learners also have access to all associated training materials available on Best Buy’s learning management system.

With a smart device in hand, learners take a tour through Best Buy stores, scanning anything they find interesting to create their own customized, personal learning journey. What was once an infrequent, directed, and scheduled product training experience now has become an untethered, free-flowing, and self-initiated experience.

The release of Gravity was well received by users, leading to the immediate widespread adoption of the tool throughout the organization. In less than 10 months, employees leveraged Gravity more than 1.25 million times to educate themselves on the products and services Best Buy offers. Whether employees are looking to quickly answer a customer’s question, expand on their current knowledge in a familiar area during a free moment, or start a journey of learning in a completely new area, Gravity is the training solution. In addition, once learners launch Gravity, they tend to explore much more beyond the initially scanned product. As a result, the self-initiated exploration of associated learning content on Gravity led to an average of 3.02 unique pages being viewed before a learner ends his or her session.

Results: Products supported with dedicated bite-sized training videos available through Gravity show an average increase in unit sell-through of 23 percent, with topper-forming SKUs reaching a 41 percent increase in unit sales when compared to unit averages prior to the addition of Gravity training. Because of the proven business impact of this new delivery tool, Best Buy decided to aggressively expand the support of this capability, as well as the availability of bite-sized videos available through Gravity.


In response to a federal regulation on Brake System Safety Standards, BNSF Railway developed a 3-D e-learning training program called Virtual Power Brake Law (VPBL).

The virtual reality learning program serves as the proficiency-based training program for brake inspection. The course places employees as avatars in a realistic, three-dimensional, virtual simulation, where they perform comprehensive brake inspections on a “consist” of rail cars. This program enhances decision-making by testing employees’ ability to not only identify but also correct malfunctions—many of which prove difficult to demonstrate even in live training environments. With this training solution (including nine individual 3-D virtual scenarios), BNSF incorporates all defects and functionality, reducing the safety risk that comes from inspections in live training environments. In addition, BNSF can efficiently cover all inspection requirements.

BNSF developed four different modules for instructors to choose from for each class. Participants must complete, with 100 percent accuracy, one full module per class. When students complete the performance verification at 100 percent (individually and as a team), they can “move” the train out of the virtual inspection cycle—thus, creating a “team challenge.”

The 30-minute program features high-end graphics, user-friendly functions, and realistic functionality, including car components, hand brakes, angle cocks, and air hoses—all key components to proper inspection. Students also have the ability to work through the program under nighttime conditions. In addition, hand controls and critical “hot spots” allow the program to flow in a user-friendly way.

At the end of the program, participants must pass a knowledge-based assessment for final completion. Throughout the class, instructors provide coaching and feedback so the learning is dynamic and targeted directly to the concept taught.

All training is conducted in BNSF field locations by certified instructors. There is an eight-student maximum per session. In 2015, BNSF trained more than 6,200 employees with this program.


  • 100 percent of learners passed the knowledge and performance assessments.
  • This program and other safety-focused training have contributed to record safety performance in 2015; injuries have been reduced by 17 percent since 2012.
  • BNSF has been approached by other railroads interested in purchasing this training. As a result, the railway plans to seek a patent for this work.


Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) has struggled with core issues in resource management, work preparation, permitting, scheduling, and close-out of work. To resolve these issues and respond to field employee feedback, PG&E created a new construction planning process focused on end-to-end planning and scheduling, and executing construction work. The program has three key areas of focus:

  1. Skilled and qualified workforce (right job, right resource, and right time)
  2. Building teams that can triage situations, regardless of the work needing to be done
  3. Providing greater communication and line of sight to customers and gas leaders

In designing the program, PG&E first had to change the way it thought about training—a traditional instructor-led or Web-based training would not meet the business need. The work processes were changing quickly, and with each new geographic area, additional employees needed to be trained. An out-of-date 300-plus-page binder became a knowledge portal, with an end-to-end Visual Process Map (VPM), so users understand the entire process—where they fit, and who they are affecting if they do not perform their job competently. Additionally, everything users need to perform their job function is housed in this portal, including performance support tools such as interactive training guides, how-to videos, guidance documents, job aids, job expectations, and process flows.

This new way of looking at education at PG&E did two things: First, it created greater flexibility for the new demographics of learners at PG&E. Second, it created just-in-time learning (materials learners need, when they need them), where all of the training materials are well situated for either new employee or refresher training.

Results: Past-due work assignments—due to the work being assigned to incorrect resources or scheduling to only a few resources—have decreased by 98 percent. In addition, the reduction in job package errors has saved 8,000 hours in time taken to investigate and resolve. This equates to more than $1.2 million in financial savings.


Over the last year, Paychex, Inc., has been in the process of rolling out a unified communications system, a new state-of-the- art phone and queue system that will provide leadership data to more effectively inspect front-line employees’ efficiency and ability to provide better service levels. Training and Development (T&D) actively partnered with IT and Operations Support on this effort. To date, T&D has provided training on Unified Communications for 58 percent of all field personnel and transitioned 86 percent of Paychex’s U.S.-based locations.

With this IT project, changes and enhancements are released on a bi-weekly basis, and each change affects the training program. At the onset, there were many questions on how the functionality of the technology would work. In response, T&D created lengthy technology-focused sessions. As the technology was formulated and business processes were defined, T&D changed the approach to meet the needs of the business partners. Some of those approaches included:

  • Role-based training sessions that provide learners with a focus on the technology that specifically affects them.
  • Extensive role-play-based review sessions conducted at the end of each training event to ensure employees understand how the new technology affects them on a day-to-day basis.
  • Creation of 50 short videos (one to five minutes) to get learning to employees when they need it without having to search through longer modules.
  • Training boosts for multiple high-impact topics.
  • One week per month to work toward improving training deliverables and creating new boosts based on updates to the technology.

T&D leads weekly meetings with its IT and Support partners to reflect on the previous week’s releases, determine how the training is affected, communicate the current state regarding the technology, and verify they are getting the results needed from the training. During these meetings, the team tweaks the processes and communication and identifies new learning opportunities.

Results: Client wait times have dropped by 31 percent; calls to reception have decreased by 73 percent; and front-line service givers’ productivity has increased by almost 10 percent.


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