When Ben Franklin famously said that “an investment in knowledge always pays the best interest,” he wasn’t speak-ing out of turn. A recent study by the Association for Talent Development revealed that companies with formal training programs have more than 200% higher income per employee than companies without them. And according to a survey by Axonify, 93% of employees claim that well-planned employee training programs positively affect their level of engagement.
Employee Training and Development Responsibilities
Jill Cherveny, Leviton (Melville, New York): I’ve been with Leviton for nine years and am responsible for ensuring that Leviton’s global sales force is trained on products, sales strategies and tools for success. I work with our executive and sales management, business units and channels to align training design and execution with sales goals. We also oversee the global Leviton ez-Learn™ online course management system, internal Leviton Resource Center for sales, monthly new product launch training and the onboarding of all sales hires in the United States.
William Desrosiers, Legrand (West Hartford, Connecticut): I’ve been with Legrand for 35 years and am currently responsible for training our sales force on products as well as sales skills, including best practices for presentations, tips for negotiating, use of specific digital tools and more. I also develop training on Legrand’s products and services for our distributors and channel partners.
Trish Foster, Acuity Brands (Atlanta, Georgia): I joined Acuity Brands in 1999 and currently lead the strategic direction for growing awareness and mindshare of Acuity Brands solutions within the marketplace through marketing, education and industry relations.
The first questions to ask are “why should the organization focus on training/employee development?” and “what is the organization seeking to accomplish?” The answer to these questions will help the organization and the leaders of this effort to create strategy around learning and development and a plan that supports the end goals.
Kickstarting an Employee Training and Development Program
Foster: The first questions to ask are “why should the organization focus on training/employee development?” and “what is the organization seeking to accomplish?” The answer to these questions will help the organization and the leaders of this effort to create strategy around learning and development and a plan that supports the end goals. Keep in mind that the “why” can vary between organizations and teams within an organization. The goal of the training program might be professional development, skills acquisition relative to a specific role or application, industry knowledge or simply internal tools and process training. Regardless of the focus, the “why” should be addressed in every learning experience that’s delivered.
Cherveny: Start with what your expectations are for your learners after they’ve been trained and then build a program that supports those goals. Understand your constituents and their needs and make the training or program easy to access.
Desrosiers: Asking yourself “why?” as well as “what are we willing to put into it?” are good places to start. For us, training and learning are woven into Legrand’s culture. We recognize how opportunities for continuous learning and support for professional development impact retention and engagement, and we’re always using the feedback we receive to expand and refine our program. It’s important at the outset to know that you’re willing and able to create (and continue to develop) a program that will truly benefit employees, not just check the boxes.
Desrosiers: Support from the top is always crucial when establishing any aspect of culture within a company, training included. At Legrand, continuous learning and improvement is recognized as one of our core values at the highest level, and this not only encourages, but actively enables, everyone to prioritize employee training and development within their divisions, departments and functions. Globally, we have annual training goals for our employees and a robust digital platform for internal learning, which means training is always readily available. Elements like these—made possible by commitment and investment at the leadership level—let associates know that their individual learning and growth is valued by the organization and that they’ll be afforded the time and opportunity for professional development.
Foster: A successful associate learning experience requires a culture of continuous learning, and culture starts at the leadership level. A culture of continuous learning and development is one where associates are encouraged and supported to improve and achieve their goals. When this culture exists, associates are more likely to be engaged in their work, have trust in their leaders and understand how their individual efforts contribute to their personal development and the organization’s goals. This may seem straightforward on paper, but an investment in learning is truly that—an investment! Leaders must be willing to invest their time and energy to understand the needs of their teams, identify opportunities to address them through learning and begin with development plans. It’s easy for associates to view a “development plan” as a “to-do list” item, but in an organization where the leadership team encourages and supports associate development, the “to-do list” perception shifts and associates begin to take pride and ownership in their development and learning path. Leaders must also be willing to invest financially in learning in order to provide associates with the right tools and experiences.
Cherveny: Top-down support is imperative for success. Our Sales Leadership team works very closely with training to execute their vision, strategy and management across the sales organization. This allows Leviton to rapidly adapt in the field.
Challenges Leaders Face
Cherveny: There will always be the overachievers (those who love to learn) and the underachievers (those who know everything). You should focus on those employees who are in between—that’s where the most effort should be focused because that’s where you have the best chance of improving behaviors. Too often we focus on the low performers when embarking on a training program. Think about where most of your learners are and start your efforts there.
Desrosiers: Legrand offers an extensive catalog of products, solutions and digital tools, which is a wonderful advantage for addressing the field’s myriad needs, but it can be daunting when someone is starting out and trying to familiarize themselves with the brand. One of the major challenges then becomes ensuring that individuals—who work out of many different locations—understand where, when and how they have access to training and can also easily identify the content that’s relevant to them in their specific roles. Ultimately, organization, coordination and communication are as necessary as the content itself to delivering the right contextual training for every employee, sales rep, or partner—whenever, wherever and however it’s needed.
Foster: Learning and training programs for associates can be a challenge to design, implement and sustain. The key to a successful program is to empower the associate to “own their learning” as opposed to ownership belonging to a leader or a specific department.
Tactics to Employ
Desrosiers: Establishing company-wide training goals is an effective tactic for motivating employees while communicating the company’s cultural commitment to learning. Designating specific times—like a “training week” each fall or sending calendar invites for webinars—can also help employees fit learning into their busy schedules. Providing training in multiple formats can also help by allowing employees to take advantage of learning opportunities tailored to their needs or preferences.
Foster: While some learning courses, such as ethics and compliance, are mandatory for an organization to deliver, associates will not truly experience change through learning by focusing solely on mandatory training. Organizations that prioritize development planning and offer content that relates to an associate’s job requirements, opportunities for improvement and career aspirations can achieve meaningful success. Learning isn’t about inputs but rather about outcomes, and when an associate feels that they’ve achieved something through learning, they’ll begin to prioritize it in the future. Development planning allows an associate and their leader to determine a learning path that’s most beneficial to the associate today and to develop him/her for future roles tomorrow.
Cherveny: Innovation is at our core and both technology and the marketplace are always changing, so hiring and retaining the right people at all levels of the organization are key. As part of our yearly performance reviews, Leviton requires that part of that equation is professional self-development. It places importance on learning and rewards employees for completing training and improving themselves.
Popular Training Platforms
Foster: Everyone learns and takes in information differently, so a multi-platform approach to learning is important for an organization. While some associates like the convenience of online learning, others prefer a virtual (with live speaker) or in-person format. At Acuity Brands, for example, skills and behavioral competency courses are available online through our Learning Management System (LMS); however, if associates need industry or product knowledge, they have an option to attend in-person courses such as lighting fundamentals. This same thought process applies to external training and seminars.
Cherveny: Flexibility is important for our employees. We have salespeople all over the globe in many different sales roles, and offering learning in different formats—e.g., e-learning courses, videos, manuals, classroom, etc.—allows them to access the information they need in a way that fits into their day. We often blend online learning with face-to-face learning (mostly virtual these days!) depending on the training objectives. Internally, our most popular training is our monthly product launch for our sales team, a live structured webinar during which subject matter experts from across our organization train our salespeople on new products at a regularly scheduled time. The live aspect allows for questions and answers and these sessions are recorded and placed into our online training platform for salespeople to review on their own as needed. Externally, our Leviton Insider newsletter to our partners is an excellent sales readiness and learning tool which combines text-based information with videos and links that allow customers to dive as deeply as they want to. IMARK University courses are also very popular.
Desrosiers: It’s extremely important to provide learning opportunities in a variety of formats for several reasons. Individuals learn best in different ways; some information is more clearly conveyed in one format versus another and having a large and widespread workforce requires additional flexibility and options. We employ multiple delivery methods in our trainings to cover all these bases, including in-person and hands-on sessions, live webinars with Q&A or collaboration and pre-recorded modules designed to support multiple digital learning styles (quick-burst and longer workshop) that can be accessed from anywhere at any time. Generally, compliance or high-level product trainings are best when self-paced through digital formats, while deeper product knowledge and skills are easier to gain through in-person sessions or live webinars that enable interactivity between the instructor and participants. However, with creativity and consideration for the learner’s perspective, you can make most content fit whatever method is available or needed.
Training Tools/Programs Popular with Distributors
Desrosiers: While we weren’t first to develop the format, our implementation of “lunch and learns”—both in person and virtual—has continued to be a popular form of training with our partners. The sessions are a convenient size/length for fitting into busy days and are well-suited to offering a fair amount of depth as well as the opportunity to ask questions on timely or frequently-requested topics. Our digital “university” is also appreciated for the flexibility it offers.
Cherveny: A popular training program Leviton and its IMARK members execute frequently is a combined live learning and selling program. The live training takes place at either a branch location or at one of Leviton’s “Experience Centers.” Proven success happens when member salespeople and contractors are invited to join and there are typically “buy now” promotions for customers and sales incentives through Leviton Rewards to support customer attendance and focused product sales.
Foster: Acuity Brands and Acuity
Academy offer many training resources that are popular with distributor personnel, including in-person classes such as Lighting Fundamentals and Acuity Product Portfolio. These in-person classes are a great way to be introduced to industry fundamentals and then deep-dive into Acuity Brands’ products. We also offer an online learning plan created with distributors in mind—and available through online learning platform Acuity Academy (www.acuitybrands.com/acuityacademy)—that addresses many topics, including lighting and controls fundamentals, industry-relevant issues and product e-learnings.
Measuring a Training Program’s Impact
Foster: There are many theories on how to track the effectiveness or impact of a training program or learning activity, but they always begin with returning to the “why” behind the effort and assessing whether the desired/specified outcomes are being achieved. Learning isn’t about the number of hours someone spent training, but about their ability to absorb information and apply it to achieve the desired result. A great place to begin that assessment is with learning engagement and survey data—e.g., how many associates attended the training and how did they feel about the experience? The answers may help organizations identify gaps in their delivery. Follow-up surveys can assist in analyzing whether learners are truly applying what they learned. If your organizational culture is ready for it, assessments from peers can be especially helpful with tracking impact.
Cherveny: As a first step, establish specific performance indicators with management based on the behaviors you want to see as outcomes after your training efforts. This will help you as you’re developing the content that supports them.
Desrosiers: Company-wide training programs provide valuable metrics on actual participation and can be a valuable indicator of/contributor to measures of employee retention as well. Direct employee feedback via surveys can help in assessing the types, topics and number of opportunities being provided.
Cherveny: Be responsive and flexible.
Foster: Identify the “why” behind your focus on learning and development and make sure that you have leadership support (which drives down to your managers and associates) and the right tools in place to enable easy learning by your associates. Don’t assume that one size fits all—offer associates options for training resources that fit their schedules and how they learn. And finally, don’t focus on learning engagement alone—completion of a training or learning experience doesn’t necessarily mean that it was impactful.
Desrosiers: Everyone is very busy today and there will always be more to learn than time to learn it. For that reason, it’s advisable to break trainings down into smaller, digestible bites; a learner with more time on their hands can always combine these trainings into a full meal but enabling those on the go to get right to the information they need as quickly as possible is important and keeping a training platform easy to navigate helps with this too. Lastly, running a successful training program can and should be about more than products and skills; training content can be helpful in nurturing other values within a company’s culture. As Legrand prioritizes corporate responsibility and our impact on global and local communities, providing training and resources on topics like sustainability, diversity, equity and inclusion are part of our lasting commitment to driving real change.