When surveying the thousands of hours and billions of dollars invested in training delivery, it’s clear that there has been a shift to virtual and immersive online experiences for distributed companies. Two themes emerge that all teams should consider when creating new training programs: immersive employee engagement and practicing what you preach.

Here’s a look at four top companies and what makes their training successful.

Toyota: Continuous Improvement With Kaizen

In an article for McKinsey, former Toyota Autoparts Canada CEO Deryl Sturdevant said that Toyota excels because of its focus on self-reflection and empowerment using Kaizen.

In Japanese, Kaizen means change for the better and is used as a philosophy in work and business to provide continuous improvement through self-empowered change. With its roots in post-WWII joint efforts between Japan and the U.S. to rebuild industry, Kaizen is a daily process that empowers employees to find and create tools and solutions to improve the workplace. When done correctly, Kaizen can humanize the workplace, remove painful or burdensome work, and teach every worker how to experiment, as well as spot and eliminate waste in business processes.

Kaizen is not just a strategy; it needs to be implemented with earnestness. In the article, Sturdevant shared that one of the biggest obstacles to success is complacency. If a manager says that his or her entire team averages a 5 out of 5 on all of their assessments, there are likely deeper issues of self-reflection to address from the highest levels through training and implementation. While Sturdevant was at Toyota, the best score he saw from a team was a 3.2 out of 5, “and that was only for a year, before the unit fell back.”

At Toyota, as soon as a group starts making progress toward a goal, the goal is changed. “Only through honest self-reflection can senior executives learn to focus on the things that need improvement, learn how to close the gaps, and get to where they need to be as leaders.” In this way, training is continuous, learning is continuous and improvement follows from both.

Zappos.com: The Company of Wow

Zappos prides itself on humanizing the customer experience with an emphasis on phone time. It has so much faith in its customer service training that it offers new employees one-month salary to not continue working at Zappos after their initial five-week training is completed. Less than 1% of new hires take this offer, and this approach has worked so well that parent company Amazon now provides the same offer.

Zappos’s focus on training has led to an additional business line. Known as Zappos Insights, it gives top companies an immersive three-day customer service experience and direct interactions with CEO Tony Hsieh.

Zappos trusts its employees to do what’s best for the customer and allows them to go above and beyond when they see fit, including something that would make some C-suite executives sweat: Zappos permits all of its employees to answer questions from the press.

Disney: Where Every Employee First Goes to University

At Disney, employees are treated equally and empowered to give customers (known as “guests”) the best experience they can. A worldwide organization worth $260 billion, Disney has diversified its offerings while remaining true to its roots of creating magical experiences for everyone.

Disney sends each of its new theme park hires to Disney University for orientation and classes. Whether you’re a manager or a custodian, a Mickey Mouse or a popcorn vendor, you start at Disney University to learn the history and traditions that continue to make Disney a top experience for families from around the world. Democratizing training in this way can ensure that employees are treated equally and encourages them to speak up for what serves the business and the individuals who work there.

Accenture: Future-proof Your Training by Shifting from Workforce Planning to Work Planning

Global consulting firm Accenture has been helping transform companies for decades. Ellen Shook, head of Accenture human relations, told Business Insider that its most recent investments of $1 billion per year in retraining its employees have focused on the inevitability of automation from emerging virtual technologies.

“The thing that organizations really have to start doing, quickly, is move from workforce planning to work planning and really understand what work is going to be done by machines and what work is going to be done by humans, and make sure that you are investing in your people, to understand how to work with the technology,” Shook said. “And I think that’s how you’re going to future-proof your workforce.”

Wrapping up

Whether your company is just starting out with training delivery or going back to the drawing board, it’s clear from these companies that it must immerse employees into engaging content (beyond pen and paper or MOOCs) and be deeply embedded in the fabric of an organization, to the point where the entire company practices what it preaches.

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