Dollar General Does It Again!
Fueled by its mission of Serving Others—both customers and employees—Dollar General Corporation, LLC, rang up another #1 ranking on the Training Top 125, earning the retailer induction into the Training Top 10 Hall of Fame in 2021 after finishing in the Top 10 for four consecutive years.
“In keeping with our mission of Serving Others, which has guided our company since our founding 80 years ago, we are proud to offer our employees a pathway to education and career growth through the utilization of best-in-class, award-winning training and development programs,” says Dollar General Senior Vice President and Chief People Officer Kathy Reardon. “Our employees are our competitive advantage, and we are committed to providing opportunities to enhance and develop their talents, engage our teams, and celebrate continued career advancement with the organization.”
The retailer’s greatest training challenges are often rooted in scale and scope, notes Vice President of Talent Management Lori Bremer. As of December 2019, Dollar General employed approximately 143,000 individuals and had created approximately 35,000 new career opportunities in the last five years. “The growth of the organization through its store and distribution footprints, coupled with the addition of new training and development, helps fuel our company’s growth, providing innovative, scalable, world-class learning to a highly diverse workforce,” Bremer says.
Annually, Dollar General delivers approximately 1.7 million training hours to its employees. Dollar General’s Training department, which is made up of approximately 30 individuals, guides and educates employees from across the organization ranging from entry level to the C-suite, Bremer says, contributing to positive returns to the business, including:
- 29 years of comparable same-store sales growth for fiscal year 2018
- Approximately 12,000 current store managers promoted from within
- Historic high company employee engagement with scores at 1,700 basis points above the team’s FY2018 goal scores
Certified Store Training Managers
Throughout the last year, Dollar General has continued to focus on growing the number of incumbents participating in its Certified Store Training Manager (CSTM) program and increasing the incentive they receive for new Store Manager (SM) tenure. “The CSTM plays a critical role in the success of a new Store Manager’s onboarding process,” Bremer explains. “A CSTM delivers content and provides ongoing learner support for the new Store Manager, developing next-level leader skills while enhancing program impact to fellow store managers annually.”
The certification process for a CSTM requires the individual to complete 10 train-the-trainer modules. Continued program evaluation and partnership with CSTMs led to the addition of two new modules to the program, Bremer says. The first new module centers around balancing the priorities of managing a store and training a new employee at the same time, while continuing to achieve results. The second new module is about supporting new Store Managers. “Making sure our new Store Managers have not only the tools and resources, but also the confidence to lead, is key,” Bremer stresses.
The CSTM certification process also includes a knowledge check, which is used to measure both a Store Manager’s knowledge of operational excellence and his or her ability to master the elements of being a good mentor. “CSTMs have direct communication to Divisional Training Managers, who help guide and support this elite group of Store Managers and help them master the role, helping them earn scores of nearly 90 percent,” Bremer says.
District Manager Training
Dollar General also offers a robust, consistent learning experience for its new District Managers. “The District Manager Training (DMT) program is a great example of weaving the best elements of an instructor-led classroom curriculum and our new, innovative DMT online classroom into one cohesive program,” Bremer says.
The program includes blended learning opportunities paired with support from multiple business partners. Key features of the program include:
- Facilitated courses completed at the Store Support Center (SSC) in Goodlettsville, TN
- Field and in-store training opportunities/activities
- Action planning during the Quick Start class
- Leadership training during the Skill Build class
- Computer-based learning (CBL) through the learning management system (LMS) on the retailer’s intranet
- Ongoing check-ins with the Regional Director, Human Resources and Loss Prevention partners, and the Program Manager of the District Manager Training Program
More than 25 subject matter experts facilitate the classroom learning portion of the program in partnership with senior Training Managers. “Interactive discussions provide connections to key business partners for ongoing dialogue and problem solving,” Bremer says. “In-person store visits provide our District Managers with tactile learning opportunities using up-to-the minute business metrics in a live environment. In addition, they participate in an innovative simulation about a month-in-the-life of a DM (referred to as the DM learning map). The simulation takes the leaders through real-life scenarios requiring and teaching the DMs to adapt, overcome, and win.”
In addition, DMT incorporates leadership as a central theme throughout ongoing DM development. Eight hours of foundational leadership training is brought to life through discussions with Dollar General Senior Vice Presidents of Store Operations and participants, sharing successes and opportunities experienced in the first four to six months in role. As a result of these discussions, Bremer says, DMs are better prepared for their new role, contributing to higher DM retention rates.
Approximately one week prior to attending DMT, learners are encouraged to download the DMT app, which provides information on what they can expect during their two-week onboarding process at the company’s Store Support Center (SSC). Components of the app include:
- An introduction to the Training and Development Team, including facilitator bios and a welcome video that shows learners what to expect and where to go when they arrive on campus
- A section for learners to virtually introduce themselves by uploading a picture of themselves and becoming familiar with their peers prior to arriving to class
- An agenda that covers the entire two-week timeframe
- A list of names, titles, and contact information of all subject matter experts with whom they will interact during their training experience
- Bios of all executive speakers they will meet during their training experience
- Quick links for social media access
- Suggestions of where to eat and places to visit while in the Nashville area
Bremer says the app has been successful in driving engagement and excitement, and averages 188.4 clicks per learner.
The retailer believes the DMT program has had significant impact on its success. For the third quarter of FY2019, Dollar General posted 4.6 percent comparable store sales, while net sales grew 8.9 percent to $7 billion, as compared to the third quarter of FY2018.
One goal for FY2020 is to have one platform for all District Manager training programs that can be accessed on a mobile device. “DMs would have the ability to find resources for each program and even complete learning activities directly from their mobile device at their own convenience,” Bremer says.
Additional successful manager training programs include the Store Manager Development Program (SMD) and the Assistant Store Manager Development Program (ASMD). For ASMD, Assistant Store Managers complete a blend of CBL modules, in-store activities, and a pre- and post-test focusing on developing the competencies required for Store Manager readiness, which include: delegation and leading a team, planning and organizing for success, communication, impacting sales, and overall business acumen.
“The ASMD program has helped us achieve an 860-basispoint improvement year-over-year for Store Manager internal placements (trained by the ASMD Program),” Bremer notes.
“Furthermore, Assistant Store Managers (ASMs) who have been through the ASMD program have a 1,200-basis-point higher engagement versus those ASMs who did not participate.”
For SMD, Store Managers complete CBL modules, a 30/60/90-day action plan, a development day with peer Store Managers, and a week of District Manager job shadowing. The training program focuses on developing District Manager competencies, which include business acumen, people development, and leadership. “The SMD program has helped us achieve a 1,870-basis-point improvement year-over-year for District Manager internal placement,” Bremer says.
Through exceptional customer service, convenience, and everyday low prices, Dollar General continually seeks to build loyalty and trust with its customers. “When a customer chooses to shop with us again, we call that a relationship, and it’s built on a value we all know: trust. Every time you meet a customer’s needs, you renew your trust with them,” Bremer says. “Our employees have an exciting opportunity to create an incredible shopping experience for our customers by not only engaging with them, but also by building relationships and trust with their fellow store employees.”
The retailer’s customers are at the center of everything it does. “In order to instill this company philosophy into our training programs, we provide several customer service modules throughout the entire organization,” Bremer says. “Some of those examples include: ‘Know Your Customer,’ ‘DG Customer Service,’ and ‘Promoting a Customer Service Culture.’”
All of these courses are deployed though the company’s LMS and are required for all new store employees, which impacts more than 90 percent of the retailer’s employee population. “These courses allow us to communicate and reiterate the importance of providing excellent service to our customers as the vehicle to a great shopping experience and hopefully to future sales,” Bremer says.
Inventory levels can be another aspect of retail that impacts customers. Dollar General is deploying Inventory IQ, a new learning program that explores the impact of inventory management on sales, stores, customers, and team members.
“This initiative was launched initially to train our field leaders by taking a new perspective on inventory management and then cascading that knowledge to all store employees. This further helps our Store Managers so they can understand how to better coach and support their teams to focus on our corporate strategic goal of driving profitable sales growth,” Bremer says. “The training program was for all store operations leaders, which ultimately impacted 100,000-plus employees companywide.”
Inventory IQ leader-led training sessions were first held at the annual company leadership meeting for field leaders including District Managers and Regional Directors. During the second day of training, participants completed a three-hour virtual simulation through a proprietary app deployed to the learners’ phones. During the simulation, learners were divided into teams of three to four participants and presented with six virtual stores. Each store had its own set of inventory challenges, and the teams had to decide how to approach and address challenges.
Survey responses from learners after the event indicated that this app-based simulation was the most comprehensive and useful training they had experienced, Bremer says, adding that “85.7 percent of learners indicated this training helped them be better prepared to solve inventory issues in their districts.” (This program earned a Training Top 125 Outstanding Training Initiative Award.)
A Walk Through the System
Dollar General currently operates more than 16,000 stores, so when a new system is implemented, sometimes it can be a challenge to train employees on new processes, Bremer notes. Because of this, Dollar General partnered with a vendor to create a training tool to provide walk-throughs of various systems.
“This app lays over our current systems and drastically reduces the time needed to learn them,” Bremer explains. “Furthermore, it provides a consistent training experience throughout the chain and even has a beneficial feature of ondemand reviews. The digital adoption platform (DAP) is able to put the employee learning in context and eliminates the gap between theoretical training and practical use.”
Bremer says using this walk-through app for the company’s systems has reduced training time and enhanced employees’ retention of the program features. “Because it is real-time instruction, there are reduced training costs associated with updating and maintaining the existing systems,” Bremer says. “Another challenge solved by the DAP innovation is that the learning is automatically customized to the employee’s level of knowledge. Employees are allowed to flow through the learning and use the system at the speed at which they are comfortable. This solves a major issue with training technology to employees with varying levels of experience.”
DG Core Curriculum is another way Dollar General is customizing learning to help employees gain and retain knowledge and skills. “Our employees told us they wanted a learning plan that fit into their schedule and requested content that would help them be better leaders with a commitment to our mission of Serving Others,” Bremer says. “In response, we launched DG Core Curriculum in early 2018. It comprises on-demand, experiential, and instructor-led learning. The learning methods are divided into three learning categories: leading self, leading others, and leading leaders so employees can identify which plan to utilize.”
According to Bremer, “we know that employees who participate in leadership development programs, such as DG Core Curriculum, are more likely to be promoted, supporting our corporate strategic goal of investing in our people as a competitive advantage to achieve our internal placement rate—and perhaps providing employees with even greater career heights alongside the company’s growth.”
Total number of employees trained overall annually: Approximately 143,000
Total number of current store managers promoted from within: Approximately 12,000
Percentage of job openings filled by internal candidates: 56 percent
Percentage of new hires referred by employees: 44 percent
Total number of employees trained annually via instructor-led classroom sessions: 26,230
Total number of employees trained annually via online, self-paced study: Approximately 143,000
Number of courses offered as instructor-led classroom sessions: 163
Number of courses offered as instructor-led virtual classroom sessions: 10
Number of courses offered as online-self-paced modules: 11,299