Training Secrets: Top-Level Buy-in and Finding the Fit

By Cindy Caruso
Director of Training,
PLS Group Inc.

When I began at PLS, one of the fastest-growing organizations in the financial services industry, we had no formal training for our store managers except a few eLearning modules on compliance and customer service. PLS has grown rapidly in the last five years, and we needed a program to help all managers operate consistently, so that customers everywhere received the same excellent experience.

PLS wants our Store Managers to be passionate, have pride, and stay hungry for new training and tools. We want them to be “self-starters” and be able to grow and develop their teams. With the right training elements in place, we knew we could create strong managers who would be able to inspire their teams, as well as be able to communicate and operationalize our aggressive growth plan.

Training Linked to Competency Model
It was important that any training we initiated supported our competencies, so we undertook a needs assessment to identify the greatest areas of opportunity.

The results highlighted three areas:

  • managing people, including interpersonal relations, hiring, employee development, team building, and retention;
  • managing business, covering business drivers, customer service, loss prevention, and sales and marketing; and
  • managing themselves, on leadership behaviors, image, problem solving, and creative thinking.

In addition to seeking a content fit, we wanted to find a blended solution – something that would engage our managers as well as educate them. We found a front-line manager program that matched our needs assessment on all levels. The Compass Program from Root Learning comprised four major elements: Know My Role, Know My Business, Connect My Team (to the business) and Deliver Results (through my team). Core modules were customized to reflect the specifics of our business. The program methodology itself was hands-on and fun, which supported our requirement to avoid a “school” atmosphere.

Pilot Program Creates Internal Pull
As a first step, we ran a pilot test in September 2010, with a mixed group: Store Managers, District Managers, and Directors of Operations. It was extremely well received! We knew we had the right solution when the most frequent comment during the test was “How soon can I have this program in my store?”

Rollout began with District Managers at our annual conference in April 2011. This was unique because people in training don’t always get to introduce training from the top down. Senior leadership felt this was such an important program that an extra day was added to the conference in order to have our entire mid-management staff attend the Compass course. This level of leadership support combined with custom content and internal facilitation created unprecedented ownership and buy-in and paved the way for a very successful roll-out. In July 2011 we started to take the program company-wide using a regional approach. By the end of October, 300 managers will have completed the training.

Measurable Change
The program is having a measurable impact on PLS, with course effectiveness receiving an average score of 4.64 out of 5. We’ve developed a survey, listing behaviors that employees should be able to observe in managers after the course. We track these at one month, three months, and six months after attending the course. We are also developing a more traditional scorecard using metrics of turnover and various revenue items.

Comments from managers are among our clearest measures:

  • “This course shows me that PLS puts people first.”
  • “I can apply this knowledge to any area of my life!”
  • “This reminds us what we often forget to do – take care of our staff, not just our numbers.”

As a tenured training professional, there is nothing like the excitement of starting a new program that you know will hit the mark and be successful. Being able to articulate the business case while keeping stakeholders involved and paying attention to the details all along the way are the keys to success.

Cindy Caruso is Director of Training at PLS Group Inc., which was listed among Inc. magazine’s “5000 Fastest-Growing Private Companies in America” and one of Chicago’s “101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For” by the National Association of Business Resources. For information on Compass, visit