Tracking Learning Impact

For Circuit City, e-learning returned its investment within months.

September 18, 2003
Name: Circuit City
Location: Richmond, Virginia
Type of organization: Consumer electronics retailer
Number of employees: More than 40,000

For years Circuit City used classroom training to get salesreps up to speed on new products and technology. But by the late 1990s, theclassroom model wasn’t fulfilling the company’s increasing training needs,says Bill Cimino, director of public relations. "Associates would be out ofthe store for a week to train, and by the time they got back and started to feelgood about what they’d learned, the technology would change again," he says.They needed a faster, more flexible solution, so the training department beganexploring e-learning.

In late 2000, with the help of DigitalThink, they rolled outa company-wide custom e-learning program, and within a year, Circuit Cityemployees had completed more than 1 million courses. Cimino attributes the earlyhuge success of the program to two significant factors: tracking andcertification.

To ensure that the training is effective, the trainingdepartment tracks every user’s performance in the courses and on the floor."We know, by associate, who takes what training, how much time they spend in acourse, how they scored on the tests, and how they are performing on the job."DigitalThink and Circuit City’s training department use the data to evaluatecourse effectiveness and constantly improve the offerings. "E-learning has tobe organic," Cimino says. "It has to grow with the company and change asemployees’ needs change."

To reinforce the training on the job, many of the new productcourses feature "try it" exercises, in which associates are instructed to gointo the store to identify certain features on a product or to demonstrate theproduct for a manager who then signs off on the lesson. "The ‘try it’exercises are an example of our corporate culture," Cimino says. "This isnot just a place to work, it’s a place to learn."

To further tie training to performance, Circuit City rolledout an e-learning certification program in 2002. Product lines are now tied tospecific certificate tracks, and in order to sell those products, associatesmust first complete the learning for that track and pass the certification exam,Cimino says. The more training they take, the more products they can sell. Forexample, if associates are trained on Sony’s new digital camera, they can workin that area of the store, but if they have the full technology certification,they can work anywhere and sell anything, he says. "It’s a win-winsituation." Because associates work on commission, the more products they cansell, the more money they can make.

The combination of tracking and certification is enough toinduce most Circuit City associates to seek out training opportunities, he says,which is why the learning program is such a success. While Cimino won’t quotespecific numbers, he says e-learning returned its investment within months ofimplementation and continues to add value every day.

Workforce, March 2003, pp. 60-62 -- Subscribe Now!