Imagine telling employees they can be trained—they can learn—when, where, and how they want. A little frightening to offer employees that much control and autonomy. And will they really make the effort to get trained if left to their own devices?
Best Buy thinks they will. The $43 billion retailer of appliances and consumer electronics is focused on evolving from a training-centric organization to a learning-centric one. As a result, it recently announced a new employee training model focused on creating a Results-Oriented Learning Environment (ROLE). According to John Congemi, senior manager, retail learning and development for Best Buy, all training initiatives at the company will be centered on the three pillars of ROLE: freedom, co-creation, and a robust library of learning content.
"We're committed to providing flexible, accessible, and customized learning opportunities," he says. "Going forward, our retail associates can learn where, when, and how they choose. They'll be held accountable through our validated certification program. We are empowered to leverage the ideas and expertise of our associates; our vendors; and, best of all, our customers."
Prior to ROLE, Best Buy used a blended learning approach, but was somewhat bound by a one-size-fits-all model. Its large-scale effort before launching ROLE centered on building out internal certification programs. Now, certification—coupled with the various components of ROLE—allows learners to focus on the topics they need to learn more about, and helps them to demonstrate mastery in others.
Training magazine recently caught up with Congemi to discuss the motivation and inspiration behind ROLE, the three pillars involved, and how Best Buy is measuring the return on the investment.
Training: What is the inspiration behind Best Buy's new training project focused on creating a Results-Oriented Learning Environment (ROLE)?
John Congemi: Our inspiration came from our employees—the 100,000 plus associates working in our stores across the country. We spent much of last year soliciting feedback about the quantity and quality of our learning programs, and heard our employees loud and clear. They were looking for freedom, a robust library of learning materials, and the ability to co-create with each other and with their customers and vendors. As a result, we enhanced many of our learning programs and began working on our new one-stop-shop training portal, the Learning Lounge, to address these needs immediately.
Training: What research went into the creation and development of the project?
JC: We've worked with long-time training partners such as the Consumer Electronics Association and Creative Channel Services to leverage their vendor and industry expertise for years. Our research for this project was just about listening to our employees and building learning processes and technology that would meet their needs.
Training: How many employees are involved with ROLE right now?
JC: All of our retail employees are enjoying a results-oriented learning environment right now. There are various components being piloted throughout the country, but all of our stores have the ability to customize their own training, for example, by choosing the topics most relevant for their store or department's needs.
Training: Can you expand on the three pillars of ROLE, including the importance of each and the role they play in the project?
JC: The three pillars of our results-oriented learning environment (ROLE) are freedom, co-creation, and a library of content. Freedom is about demonstrating trust in our employees. We're opening up learning opportunities inside and outside of the store, and empowering employees to decide how, where, and when they'll learn best. Co-creation is all about harnessing the expertise and creativity of our employees, our vendors, and our customers. We're no longer developing training in a vacuum, but rather side by side with experts and end users. The robust library of content makes all of this possible. We're ensuring our employees can not only access training materials on any topic they choose, but can pick from a wide variety of learning vehicles to do so (e-learning, audio training, videos, paper-based, etc.).
Training: Why is flexibility so important in the third pillar?
JC: By giving our employees the flexibility to learn where, when, and how they choose, we're empowering them to get the most out of the learning materials provided to them. We acknowledge that the store environment is not always the best place to learn. It's often busy and distracting, and we don't ever want to take our associates' attention away from our customers. We also acknowledge that our employees may prefer to learn via different vehicles and want to ensure they can choose the technology or style of training materials that will work best for them. One unique part of the freedom component is the creativity we encourage for learning. We've had groups set up field trips with professional photographers at a local park or zoo to learn more about digital photography. We've had teams get together at a home theater associate's house to gather around a home theater system and set it up in various ways to compare and contrast performance. They're learning, teambuilding, and having a blast.
Training: Also under the freedom pillar, you say, "Associates will be held accountable through a validated certification program." Why is it important to hold associates accountable and how does that play into the learning/training process?
JC: We're showing our employees how much we trust them by giving them the freedom to learn how, where, and when they learn best. The expectation is that each employee will validate that trust with knowledge, competence, and confidence in his or her given role. Our certification programs ensure that our associates can help customers successfully find the right products and services to meet their needs. They also help employees identify areas in which they'd like to continue to build their knowledge and skills.
Training: Under co-creation, how are you able to leverage the ideas and expertise of associates, vendors, and customers?
JC: We have several new initiatives under way to fuel our co-creation process. We have a full-blown internal wiki site for employees to interact with content. We also encourage them to upload their own videos sharing their best practices. We have online forums set up for employees to interact directly with vendors. We also bring customers in to gather insight about how they'd like to use a product or learn about its features and benefits before we build training materials.
Training: Describe the processes to enable ROLE, including the Learning Lounge.
JC: The Learning Lounge makes it all possible. It's a vendor-supported learning community that's accessible both inside and outside of the store. This means our associates now can learn and be paid for learning wherever and whenever works best for them. The site enables them to not only access our e-learnings, but to interact directly with vendors and upload their own video or audio content to share their best practices with everyone else. The processes working behind the scenes involve structured conversations with supervisors to talk about the type of learning activities they'll be completing while away from the store and a certification and proof of proficiency program that ensures employees can demonstrate product knowledge and sales proficiency.
Training: What unexpected challenges have you encountered, and how have you met them?
JC: The two greatest challenges we've faced are addressing the numerous and various labor laws in each state, and in changing the culture within each store. We've met the labor law complexities associated with learning outside the store by working hand in hand with our HR and legal partners, ensuring that we're clear about the program's guidelines and parameters. Changing the culture has been an exciting challenge. In just less than a year, we've made great strides in moving from a training culture to a learning culture. We've worked hard to move away from a focus on compliance and completion of courses and toward a focus on results. It's taken a lot of communication and some trial and error, but it's been worth it.
Training: How are you measuring the success of ROLE (including return on investment)?
JC: Customer Satisfaction Index scores have risen consistently; employee satisfaction scores have increased; and through our validated certification programs, we'll be able to measure the increased level of knowledge throughout the company. We saw fiscal benefits from day one. For example, instead of printing and shipping training materials to each store for monthly meetings and learning events, we shifted to providing an online menu from which each store and department could choose and print. For each event, there may be three or four mandatory topics based on a product launch or new technology, but employees can pick and choose from the other topics to ensure they receive training based on their needs.
Training: What feedback have you received about ROLE?
JC: Feedback has been positive. Our associates are happy because we've listened to them, shown that we trust them, and empowered them to help us build programs that meet their needs and set them up for success in their roles. Our vendors are excited because at the end of the day, our employees are knowledgeable about the products and services they offer. Finally, our customers are ecstatic because our knowledgeable, confident, and competent sales associates are equipped to meet their needs end to end. Customers come to us for a trusted perspective around technology and consumer electronics, and we won't let them down. We're committed to ensuring our customers know all that we know.