ATS Euromaster, the nationwide tyre retailer with a network of 380 service centres across the UK, has proved that learning and development (L&D) is more than just training - it is a strategy that can benefit the whole business. With retail sales in decline and huge market pressure from competitors, its HR team launched a training programme that really made the most of its workers.
Facing struggling retail sales that had worsened since the onset of the recession, and market pressure from both independent companies with lower cost bases and larger competitiors, ATS Euromaster identified that the key was to focus on retaining customers through high-quality service. This meant a complete overhaul of their L&D procedures.
This programme won ATS Euromaster the excellence in learning and development trophy, sponsored by BPP Business School, at the last month's Personnel Today Awards 2010.
What made its training procedures stand out from the rest? ATS Euromaster realised that to get the most out of its employees, it had to work with their natural communication skills. Training content was designed from the perspective of the learner, and staff were given the freedom to develop their own style of interaction so that they would feel comfortable putting it into practice and would be more genuine in doing so.
Staff took part in roleplay exercises that helped them think about the customer perspective. For example, some workers said that finishing off what they were doing when a customer came in meant they could give them their full attention but they hadn't considered how it looks to a customer if they come in and see staff with their heads down.
Area managers were shown how to deliver the training and then rolled it out to their workforce.
Irene Stark, group HR director, says: "It was much better accepted by our staff than if we'd brought in someone external or even our own training department.
"The area managers had so much credibility as they understood the roles of the people we were training."
Some of the area managers worked with the L&D team to help design the training, then the programme was promptly rolled out.
"We all recognised that if we didn't do it quickly, we'd miss a business opportunity," Stark adds.
Staff undertook three one-day modules over a three-week period. Two pilot schemes were carried out in the South-East and then the training was implemented in the remaining 99 centres. Earlier this year, 417 trainees completed the training during a 10-week period.
The judges at the Personnel Today Awards called the programme "brave and innovative". The scheme has been a huge success, sales instantly started to rise in the centres where the training was piloted, and the other branches were eager to get involved.
"It was all about building up enthusiasm," says Stark. "Everybody was running to catch up with the training, as we could quickly begin to measure business results."
The company says that the additional sales have more than returned the original investment for the design, delivery and labour cost involved in implementing the programme.
As an added bonus, area managers have been given the opportunity to connect with staff in a whole new way and have developed clear performance standards that will enable honest, open feedback and coaching in the workplace.
Stark said that she was "delighted" to receive the award. "The learning and development team as a whole have made a huge difference in moving the organisation forward. To get public recognition for some of the things they have done has been incredible.
"Lots of people have taken part and it's not just an HR award for us, it's a business award. Everyone is really pleased."