Inside Alliance – Q&A with Topher Olsen, National Director of Training

What are some of the challenges of training a team of more than 3,000 employees? How do you handle these challenges?

When we take a cross section of the 3,000 people we are responsible for in terms of growth and development, you will see a variety of backgrounds, learning styles, experiences and levels of competency that makes a “one size fits all” approach to training nearly impossible.  Our challenge is to develop curriculum that is applicable, informative and relevant to where our associates are on their career path and preparing them for their next role in the organization.  Also challenging is the rapid pace in which information and processes change. Often times, we find that once a training course has been designed, built and implemented, it is most likely time to update or revise it.  We have to make sure the training we provide is positively affecting the bottom line and that our associates have the time, tools, and technology to complete training, whether it be one-on-one, self-paced or in a small group setting.  Ultimately, we don’t want our associates to think of training as something they have to do, but rather something they are motivated to complete in order to better their performance.

How would you compare e-training to classroom training? Which is more effective?

In the world of e-learning, you have two different vehicles to deliver information: self-paced electronic modules accessed through a learning management system and virtually-led classrooms where a live instructor trains participants remotely.  Both methods are important, yet serve different purposes. Self-paced classes are excellent for disseminating information; however, if you need associates to apply knowledge or analyze processes, an instructor-led class has a greater impact because the learning can be more closely monitored. Even though both models help reach a large number of associates in a very efficient manner, we can’t overlook the importance of traditional classroom training.  As humans, we crave companionship, interaction and recognition from other humans. There is no better way to fulfill those basic needs than through live classroom instruction.

 Where do you see training in the future?

I think we will continue to see a push toward e-learning, but perhaps through different media such as mobile devices.  If we can tap into phones as a potential learning tool, we might be able to deliver even more content than we have in the past.  In addition, I see the potential for more gamification to keep associates engaged in the learning process.  The biggest challenge we face with our digital natives is that they are a “point and click” generation and if something does not hold their attention, they are quickly moving on to the next thing.  As instructors, we have to meet our audience where they are, so we have to embrace technology and develop ways to incorporate it when appropriate to educational settings.

 What does Alliance do well when it comes to training programs?

To begin with, we invest in our associates.  We make a commitment to provide avenues for their professional and personal growth.  We have a dedicated team of Regional Performance Directors that monitor our associates’ progress through instructor-led classes, individual coaching and team training at the site level.  In addition, we have an entire performance department that is dedicated to engaging our associates through a stylish career apparel program, an in-house videography department and an employee recognition program designed to celebrate the successes of our associates as they reach milestones or exceed goals.  This level of commitment allows us to quickly relay information to our associates through online learning or through the management system that houses materials.  Lastly, we have some of the greatest subject matter experts in the business who inspire and challenge us to keep our associates on the cutting edge of the industry.

 What are your goals as the National Director of Training?

One of our biggest goals in the near future is to streamline our on-boarding process for our associates. New hire curriculum is often front-loaded, which doesn’t always provide for the best on-boarding experience.  By spreading the material out and incorporating coaching opportunities, we hope to better prepare our associates for the challenges and experiences they will encounter in the field.  We will also be looking to revise and devise curriculum that is relevant and current for our associates in this ever-changing industry.  As we continue to grow and develop, I would like to partner in creating a performance department revered by our competitors for providing innovative, challenging and engaging educational opportunities for our associates!