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Fun and Feel-good ROI

Companies who have reaped the benefits of good training.

November 30, 2000
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Related Topics: Behavioral Training
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The returns that you achieve from an engaging training effort will depend onwhat your objectives are. Here are the stories of three different companies thathave reaped the benefits:

  • Awareness building: After an aggressive period of expansion, Payless Shoe Source, Inc., based in Topeka, Kansas, is now the largest footwear retailer in the world. That is the good news. The bad news is that its competition now includes the indomitable retailing trio of Kmart, Wal-Mart, and Target. Before, we were competing against smaller, disorganized businesses that didn’t have the margins we did, explains Peter Nielsen, director of management development. Now we’re up against retailers who, if they focused on shoes, could put us out of business.

        To compete in this new environment, the company began to change its culturein order to become more aggressive, creative, and willing to take risks. Lastyear, at the company’s annual sales meeting, Nielsen and his team conducted ahalf-day scavenger hunt as a way of communicating to district managers that thecompany was serious about moving away from its conservative roots and becomingmore creative.

        The hunt required teams of employees to go out into the community and bringback various treasures, with points being assigned to the more difficult finds.The items included such things as a hook-and-ladder fire truck (which one teamdid retrieve), hospital scrubs, and a Federal Express truck. Teams also had tophotograph themselves next to certain items while carrying rubber chickens. Allthis had to be accomplished within two hours. Sounds absurd, right?

        According to Nielsen, the hunt was a success because employees had atremendous amount of fun. But more important, it also proved to managers, in avery visceral way, that Payless was serious about changing the way it didbusiness. It was the perfect way to start a weeklong sales meeting that was allabout change, Nielsen says.

  • Employee retention: Like most other health-care organizations, LaPorte Regional Health Systems, based in LaPorte, Indiana, is struggling to find and retain employees, especially nurses. A year ago, in an effort to trim turnover, improve recruitment, and boost employee and customer satisfaction, the company turned to a training video from ChartHouse Learning called FISH! Sticks. Filmed at Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the video shows the passionate fishmongers of Pike Place Fish throwing fish to each other, making one-handed catches, and inviting customers to join in. It is designed to teach employees at other companies how they too can create more enjoyable workplaces.

        Taking its message to heart -- that when work is fun, employees and customersbenefit -- LaPorte’s HR professionals embarked on a comprehensive culturalchange effort that included a new mission, vision, and list of behavioralstandards. To help employees adopt these new standards, training was providedand the performance-measurement system was revised.

        According to Kay Clark-Cox, director of customer relations, the FISH! Sticksvideo didn’t create the cultural change, but it did help employees understandthat management was serious about encouraging employees to have fun at work.

        The results? In an industry where employee turnover averages between 22 and25 percent, LaPorte’s turnover rate has dropped to 16 percent in a year’stime. Customer satisfaction ratings in the emergency room, which, as you mightexpect, is the place where it’s hardest to please patients, have gone from anoverall dissatisfaction rate of 28 percent down to 11 percent. Best of all, thenursing turnover rate is just 2 percent. We have 5 openings for nurses rightnow, Clark-Cox says, whereas surrounding hospitals have 25 to 30 open nursingpositions.

  • Customer satisfaction: Quebecor World North America, based in Greenwich, Connecticut, is the world’s largest commercial printing company. In this fast-paced production environment, deadlines are crucial and job turnaround has gone from months and weeks down to days and hours. To meet these deadlines, and improve customer service, which is the only differentiator in the printing industry, employee collaboration is imperative.

        In order to achieve the level of teamwork needed to boost customersatisfaction, Quebecor hired consultants from the Lake Forest Graduate School ofManagement in Chicago to conduct a team-building activity for its employees.Called Team Banquet, the training exercise challenges employees to design,prepare, and serve a banquet meal within two hours without any instruction. Theactivity, which is part of a nine-day employee development effort, helpsemployees realize that by working together, they can generate creative solutionsto meet tight, seemingly impossible, deadlines.

        Wanda Breeden, president of Innovative Organizational Concepts, inBrooksville, Florida, is the consultant who created Quebecor’s employeedevelopment program. She says that Team Banquet is an important part of thecompany’s overall training effort, because it vividly mirrors the real worldof work. There is nothing theoretical about Team Banquet, she says. The exercisegives employees tangible evidence of their ability to work together.Furthermore, the activity includes an extensive debriefing in which employeesdiscuss how the lessons learned apply to the workplace.

        How successful has it been? Breeden says that on its own, Team Banquet is agreat team-building exercise, and as part of a much larger effort, it helps toreinforce the importance of collaboration in providing good customer service.Some of the results to date are a 10 percent increase in customer satisfactionat one plant; a 30 percent decrease in the cost of errors at another; and a 25percent decrease in turnaround time at yet another plant. Furthermore, we havelots of anecdotal data about quicker response time and fewer complaints fromcustomers.

Workforce, December 2000,Volume 79, Number 12, p. 38 SubscribeNow!

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