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Off the beaten track: Unconventional training approaches

While Essilor International has trained its internal HR team through consulting for an external project, Starbucks Singapore is making six-month sabbaticals the norm. Aditi Sharma Kalra tells the stories of how these organisations take a refreshing approach towards L&D.

I would be a whole lot richer if I had a cent for every time someone in an office says: “You can’t get new results using the same old approaches.” And yet, it’s hard for many of us to shift the needle to a new way of working because of organisational silos, politics, or simply, inertia.

With this in mind, we bring you this feature on unconventional training approaches, profiling two organisations – Essilor International and Starbucks Singapore – who are looking at L&D through a refreshingly different lens.

The expert in everything vision-related, Essilor International has facilitated the training of its internal HR team by encouraging it to embark as consultants for an external project. At coffee chain Starbucks Singapore, sabbaticals (aptly called Coffee Breaks), talent exchange programmes and the Regional Starbucks Championship have become the norm rather than the exception. Sit back and enjoy their stories in this feature.

Helping ourselves by helping others: Essilor International

In March 2018, Essilor’s global human resources team had the opportunity to work on a cross-functional project. Over the course of six months, Darlene Uy and Sherrie Koh, from Learning & Development, and Amrita Raj, from the Talent Acquisition team (pictured below), spent time outside of their usual job responsibilities to work on a consulting project with a non-profit organisation in Singapore – with a specific focus on HR.

The NGO requested to have a road map to develop its talent and leadership pipeline, define internal policies and increase employee engagement. What initially started as a team building project and working with a beneficiary to uncover the HR challenges (in areas such as staffing, training, engagement and cross-functional communication), turned out to be an amazing learning opportunity.

As Koh describes: “Throughout the project, we were not working as individuals, but as a team of consultants. We were stretched and had to learn, adapt and deliver.” Raj adds: “As consultants, we experienced first-hand the importance of listening to understand, asking the correct questions to comprehend and the act of brainstorming before coming up with a solution.”

Due to the project time frame, the team considered many factors before coming up with an execution strategy. It was an act of learning on how to balance its work and executing the project within a realistic period, while ensuring its recommendations would be meaningful and impactful to the NGO. This was especially so as the culture and dynamics of an NGO are very different from an MNC.

Translating this to L&D, learning doesn’t take place through the training curriculum alone. It starts from the “first impression” meeting between the store manager and the new partner even before the first day. Both new and older partners join in quarterly open forums where they learn continuously about the company from the management team and peers from other districts.

This is substantiated through coaching during the partners’ quarterly performance and development conversations with their managers. In fact, Starbucks is part of The Learning CONSORTIUM, a coalition of 230 global organisations, which believes in blending informal and formal training, and offline and online training.

As such, the unconventional training curriculum at Starbucks Singapore is driven by certain flagship programmes.

The first, Coffee Master programme, is a signature master certification that hones partners’ expertise in all things coffee – the history, geography, physiology and sociopolitical challenges of the humble coffee bean. The journey figuratively takes them through the world to communities such as Guatemala, Kenya, and Costa Rica.

Partners who complete the programme are awarded a black apron which they proudly wear as long as they get recertified every year.

“Despite this being the art and science of our business, we do not enforce the programme, but encourage partners to take on this journey only when they feel they are ready. Ironically, more and more partners, including non-retail partners, aspire and complete this programme year on year,” says Lee on the participation rate.

Another indicator of how seriously Starbucks takes its L&D charter is its aptly named Coffee Breaks, that is, six-month sabbaticals for partners with long tenures to explore the world and take up new courses to hone their skills.

Starbucks embraces its talent exchange programme, open to all partners for transfers to other markets, for deep-diving into the local environment.
Apart from these off -the-job pathways, Starbucks’ China and Asia Pacific (CAP) Regional Barista Competition is in its third year, and it attracts more than 3,000 partners to compete for the chance to represent their market in the championship in Vietnam. Over three days, partners from across the 16 CAP markets come together for the culmination of their hard work and coffee passion.

The championship also introduced new ways to engage with finalists, including the Manual Espresso competition and the Manual Brewing – both internationally recognised by the World Barista Championship and World Brewers Cup competition.

Finally, Starbucks embraces its talent exchange programme, open to all partners for transfers to other Starbucks markets, deep-diving into the local environment, and learning from other partners in the region. “Our curriculum is adapted to the individual as everyone learns at their own pace and has individualistic skill sets,” Lee explains.

To stay on top of the impact of such programmes, Starbucks employs a number of means – for example, the annual appraisal has been replaced with quarterly performance conversations, and the “Stars Bonus Programme”, where success is shared with partners.

Also held quarterly is the open forum, where partners and management get together for conversations on the company’s direction. This is topped off with a 12-monthly partner experience survey to ensure high satisfaction and strong relations between partners and their team, managers and the company.

An evolution is clearly on the cards in the L&D space. We hope you can take a cue from this feature and add unexpected surprises to your training and development curriculum as well in the near future.

Photo / 123RF

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