L&D BEST PRACTICES: Strategies for Success (Sept/Oct 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 Best Buy’s tips to win in virtual training and Western Union’s strategy for developing people manager capabilities.

Best Buy's 5 Tips to Win in Virtual Training

By David Beck-O’Sullivan, Director, Training, Learning and Development, and Jill Jensen and Jimmy Bayard, Facilitation Managers, Best Buy Co., Inc.

Does any of this sound familiar?

• “We can’t afford the labor or travel expense of sending everyone to a training.”
• “There are too many people who need to be trained and we just don’t have the resources.”
• “We need to find a way to keep the message consistent to the learner all the way down the org chart.”
• “Please, not another Webinar!”

Imagine having a company of 125,000 employees who need training, and nearly all of them work in retail environments that don’t allow you to pull them out of their stores. Consistency is needed. Excellence is needed. A newsolution is needed.

We faced those challenges at Best Buy, and we’d like to help you navigate some of the challenges we faced in launching our Virtual Training capability.

The virtual classroom helped us reach more employees and provide them better training. Here are five tips that can help you identify how to get better training into the hands of your learners, save money in travel and labor expense, and add an unbelievable new training capability to your list of modalities:

1. Select a platform. Once you determine that the virtual classroom is the right solution for your organization, you need to select a platform for delivery. There are many platforms out there, all with benefits and opportunities. Spend time understanding what is important to you and your learners and then select a platform that will support the experience you are looking to provide.

We chose Adobe Connect. It is economical, had the capabilities we wanted, and is easy to use. Adobe Connect allows for a great deal of customization and interactivity with learners.

2. Adapt your content. You will need to adapt or possibly even rewrite your current training content to work in this online environment. We engage learners every three to four minutes (as recommended by virtual training expert Cindy Huggett, CPLP, author of “The Virtual Training Guidebook: How to Design, Deliver, and Implement Live Online Learning”), and have the participants interacting on nearly every slide. To keep everyone organized, using leader notes is essential. These include:

Facilitator notes: Scripted notes to ensure key points are landed and recommended things to listen for when asking chat questions to the group.

• Producer notes: Specific instructions on when to reveal a poll/quiz, organize breakout sessions, set up and kick off a video or manage any technical issues that come up during the class.

• Soundboard notes: Similar to a morning radio show, sounds that add entertainment value to the content, as well as recognize learners for their responses keep everyone engaged (i.e., “Ding,” “You are correct, sir.”). In our existing virtual classes, we rely on several RLOs (reusable learning objects) to facilitate the class:

• Chat: Cindy Huggett uses the term, “Chatversation,” to describe a conversation that occurs in the chat pod, and we have adopted it.

• Video: Watching a video and recapping in the chat pod.

• Breakout rooms: Providing a scenario or problem for small groups to solve or share best practices.

• Polls: Polling enables you to survey the group and gives you a breakdown of how people respond to questions. This works well as a knowledge check or to find out where the group is trending on a specific topic.

• Activities: Many of our classes have a participant’s guide for self-guided activities. They then are given an opportunity to share in the chat pod.

• Web links: Allow learners to go to a Website and view an article or piece of information. They then come back to the class and have a discussion about what they saw.

• SWF files: Adobe Connect has the ability to utilize SWF files inside the virtual classroom. This means you can add gamification elements to your virtual classroom so you can challenge learners with learning games and competitions,

3. Use professional facilitators. Now you need to find the right people to facilitate and produce the training. Look for facilitators who have experience with a variety of audiences and content, and are committed to facilitating highly engaging classes. Your facilitators’ ability to provide feedback and make recommendations to your design developers is vital to constant improvement. Your facilitators also should be engaging enough to keep learners’ attention without being seen.

New capabilities also require the need for technical expertise and support. Although classes can be built to be run by just the facilitator, the more dynamic and engaging virtual classes typically are supported by a producer.

• The Facilitator is primarily focused on engaging participants in the class and guiding them through the learning process.

• The Producer is primarily focused on the participant experience and supporting the facilitator. This means that they are tech support for participants, behind the scenes preparing polls and layouts, clearing out chats, resetting status, reaching out to participants who aren’t engaging, sending out links and files, and even being the co-facilitator.

4. Remember that production value matters. There are many options and levels of investment that will affect the quality of your production. A cheap microphone still will sound cheap no matter how much you try to adjust it. Get a good microphone.

After a lot of trial and error, we found that a shotgun condenser microphone run through an eight-channel USB mixer works well. This allows the flexibility to use multiple microphones in one computer and have multiple facilitators speaking in a group discussion. And it costs less than $1,000.

We also recommend you invest in putting up sound reinforcement in a quiet room to prevent echo and also to appease people in working areas. Our employees noticed the quality difference when we made these changes.

5. Measure your success. Prior to your first class, first determine which behaviors you are trying to affect and how you will determine if those behaviors materialized.

Over the last three years, we have seen the number of learners increase due to the popularity of the capability. In 2015, we will reach more than 10,000 employees with virtual training.

We measure eight different areas of excellence after every class and have seen consistent improvement year-over-year. In FY’15, our average NPS (net promoter score) was 4.46 out of 5, and in FY’16, we have improved to 4.56 out of 5.

In FY’15, we were able to save the company $630,000 in travel expenses and an additional $120,000 in labor expenses.

“As the Training team at Best Buy has clearly demonstrated, virtual training can be an effective way to implement learning in an organization,” notes Huggett. “They have focused on three critical components of successful virtual training: selecting skilled online facilitators, using tech-savvy producers, and creating a highly engaging learning experience for participants. Best Buy is doing it right.”

Part of measurement is benchmarking your success, so if you have best practices to share with us, we’d love to hear them. For more information on our journey or to share your best practices with us, e-mail virtualtraining@bestbuy.com.

Developing People Manager Capabilities at Western Union

By Josh Craver, Vice President, Talent Management, and Azi Rezaian, Talent Consultant Americas, Western Union

In December 2013, Western Union (WU) designed a strategic approach to enhance people manager effectiveness with the goal of heightening employee engagement and organizational performance. We began by creating a people manager goal to drive more awareness and accountability. This goal was cascaded from the top down (approximately 2,000 people managers) and measured manager effectiveness around setting high expectations, letting people know where they stand, helping people get better, and celebrating success. It also was created to be part of the annual performance review process, rated on a 5-point scale and weighted at 10 percent out of 100 percent goal allotment.

Program Details

To enable manager success around this new people goal, we developed a series of learning resources for ongoing development:

1. People Manager Fundamentals Resource Guide (March 2014): A Management Resource Guide was assigned to WU people managers outlining various resources related to essential management responsibilities. While this was a quick win for delivering just-in-time learning, the challenge was knowing how people were utilizing this resource. Our WU University system could track completion status by who accessed the resource, yet this did not indicate how effective the learning was and how it was being applied on the job. To address this problem, the team decided to design and develop more instructor-led training (ILT) sessions around people manager topics to measure efficiency, effectiveness, and engagement levels from learning programs (see examples in Nos. 2 and 4 below).

2. Take 10 Learning for People Managers (June 2014- present): Understanding that time is our most precious commodity, a series of people manager topics were designed as 10-minute or less modules for just-in-time blended learning. Available as self-paced, face-to-face, and virtual ILT sessions, the Take 10 learning model proved to be an effective way for delivering weekly ILT sessions that everyone had time to invest in. All content was built in-house with train-the-trainer sessions for ILT sessions to HR leaders and people managers.

Live sessions were delivered in different forums, such as staff meetings or lunch & learns. Topics lasted for 10 minutes with some time invested afterward for group discussion. Participants who were unable to attend live sessions could access a 10- minute or less self-paced module through our WU University.

Participation from our initial launch (June 2014-March 2015) included 75 percent (1,500) of people managers. The average Kirkpatrick Level 2 score was 4.2 out of 5, and average Level 3 score was 4 out of 5. Some 40 percent of people managers participated in face-to-face global sessions offered.

As we designed the initial launch for weekly Take 10 modules, we came across challenges for consistently tracking weekly global activity and attendance. Not everyone could offer weekly ILT sessions, so sometimes content was bundled into an hour on a bi-weekly or monthly basis, which took away the Take 10 effect. In reviewing the program for April 2015 and beyond, we found it best to design and deliver two ILT Take 10 modules a month, while promoting self-paced Take 10 content on WU University. This proved to be an easier way to deliver and track live sessions, while attracting new participants to the program.

3. People Manager Effectiveness Survey (August 2014 and April 2015): To help drive accountability and provide managers with feedback on the people manager goal elements, the team created a bi-annual and anonymous People Manager Effectiveness Survey. The survey provides the opportunity for employees to assess direct manager effectiveness in managing performance and encourages more feedback between the manager and direct report.

Our talent operations team first analyzes the survey results. Regional talent consultants then meet with HR business partner client groups to discuss results and learning solutions for areas where there are core strengths and/or high gaps (.10 difference). HR business partners then meet with the senior leadership team to discuss survey results and action planning. Survey results during both years were only summarized and shared at an aggregate level to senior leaders.

4. People Manager Fundamentals Certification Program (September 2014 and May 2015); Executive Sponsor, WU Chief Accounting Officer: Expanding on the Resource Guide that launched in March 2014 and identified learning needs, we developed a 120-day self-paced online people manager certification program. The aim here was to provide all people managers with a focused curriculum around the cascaded people manager goal to drive higher performance. We also wanted a curriculum that ultimately would serve as a prerequisite for first-time managers and consideration for high-potential leadership development programs. The key in designing this curriculum successfully was to ensure alignment with the people manager goal and packaging the content in the Take 10 format. The first program launch consisted of three core tiers:

  • Attract and Retain Key People
  • Manage and Develop Yourself and Your People
  • Strengthen WU Culture













The blended learning content consisted of online learning modules, videos, and supplemental articles relating to the core topic in each tier. Throughout the 120 days, the program facilitators hosted live 30-day checkpoint WebEx calls with participants that included executive guest speakers, role-plays, tier content review, live polling, and question-and-answer sessions. Bi-weekly management and leadership tips also were sent to participants to keep them engaged throughout the 120 days. The investment to complete all three tiers equated to 16 hours of content or roughly one hour per week. After completing all three tiers, participants had to complete a situational judgement scenario simulation to assess decision-making and problem-solving skills across key management capabilities. Assessment results were shared with participants and served as an ongoing development tool to focus on strengths and areas for improvement throughout the year. Finally, a virtual graduation ceremony was hosted with executive guest speakers and an external guest speaker to congratulate participants on their achievements. Key results from the first program launch are depicted in the graphic below (graphics also can be downloaded at the end of this article):

















While overall scores for our pilot program were positive, for the second program launch, we used the feedback to create further enhancements. We kept some of the WU-specific content from each tier and key learning modules, then added a series of 20 mobile app exercises compatible with iPhone/iPad and android devices. Each mobile app exercise is one hour long and provides a brief video lesson with clear learning objectives; a quiz to test participant knowledge; and opportunities for individual practice, role-plays, and peer feedback with program participants, all from their smartphones. Our second launch serves as another pilot for the new learning platform.

Lessons Learned

There can be a high return on investment when developing your people managers. They are the conduit between employee levels of commitment and their day-to-day work, teams, and overall organization, which ultimately drives productivity and retention when engagement levels are high. However, they have a finite amount of time and many competing priorities. The challenge is to create a strategic approach to people manager development, which also takes into account their other priorities.

By starting with a people manager strategy that clearly outlined expectations, allowing employees to provide feedback on manager performance, sharing the high-level feedback scores with everyone, and also providing managers with well-designed development opportunities, we strengthened our people’s capabilities and our learning culture in a sustainable fashion. From a measurement perspective, we also achieved our initial program goals of increasing employee and manager engagement.


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