Yum! Brands used a learning technology platform to roll out a worldwide program that would build the capability of the company's 1.4 million team members.
Since Yum! Brands was formed in 1997, our formula for success has been to put people capability first, followed by satisfied customers and profitability. With a system as vast, diverse, and decentralized as ours, people capability is our biggest and most important focus.
Yum! Brands comprises 37,000 KFC, Pizza Hut, and Taco Bell restaurants in 117 countries. Our business is about 80 percent franchised, and we have 1.4 million team members. The company opens more than four restaurants each day around the world, and we're on the "ground floor" of our growth potential internationally in areas such as China, India, Russia, and African nations.
In the early days, we inherited various legacy development elements that had been in place at the brands for years, so there was no consistency. After the 1997 spin-off from PepsiCo, we sought out best practices from inside and outside the organization. We captured, codified, and began sharing the best thinking and know-how to build capability in a global organization.
In the learning function, creating a workable solution across the globe meant more than just creating great content. We knew that to get the results we really wanted, we needed to embark on a journey to fundamentally change our intentionality and our methods. We also knew that learning technologies would be a fundamental method we needed to use.
Beginning the process
As with any large change endeavor, we first needed to build our own knowledge base, both by finding what was working best inside Yum! and outside with other leading corporations. We sought outside examples from companies that had implemented successful transformations through learning technologies and showcased what was possible within our business context to senior leadership.
With their support, we took the next big step and simultaneously worked on three objectives: defining the technology landscape across our vast system; focusing on a look and feel of a platform to ensure we remained efficient; and devising content standards to make sure we could deploy content that would be leading-edge but also would work in our restaurant environment.
Key to success at this point was making sure each company division was represented and had a seat at the table. To that end, a "squad" of stakeholders from the different IT and learning functions across the organization got involved to provide input and direction over several months to create a learning technologies infrastructure that could then be populated with relevant content.
Because technology capabilities are different for each brand, division, country, and franchise, we needed to take a consumer-based approach when building our system. For instance, connection speeds can vary significantly from restaurant to restaurant and country to country. In addition, browser versions and the age of computer hardware can vary from restaurant to restaurant.
Because the learning platform wasn't tied to a specific set of existing systems, we also gave it an internal brand, the Yum! Learning Zone. Our divisions adopted the Learning Zone idea and put their names in front of it (for example, KFC Learning Zone) and branded the look and feel of their part of the system to match their brand.
"We conducted testing across the more common combinations and established baselines for connectivity," says Cindy Bagwell, systems training director at Taco Bell. "Then we collaborated with our franchisees to establish a systems qualification standard to ensure we only launched the system to those restaurants that had the capabilities needed for success. We also developed maximum standards for content to ensure it was compatible with the available bandwidth."
Each division then developed a readiness rollout plan, in which they introduced the new programs on the technology platform and demonstrated how those fit into existing training processes.
"We knew that introducing e-learning and virtual classroom tools could complement the hands-on capability building a team member needs in our restaurants," says Mary Woolf, Yum! director of learning technologies. "We talked about how those learning methods could work and, overwhelmingly, our restaurant general managers were very receptive."
Using the computer as a learning delivery vehicle presented new challenges at the restaurant level because there were only a few computers at each location. Restaurant general managers needed to learn new methods to manage and monitor execution.
"We developed new processes and reporting to help restaurant managers and above-restaurant leaders gain insight into the training of their team members," says Allessandria Polizzi, director of training for Pizza Hut U.S. "We also helped them creatively solve how to manage scheduling challenges when the number of new hires was greater than the number of computers available in the store. Those were well received and are being leveraged today."
With so many new hires each day around the globe, it is critical to start training from the minute employees start. To build people capability, it also is important to track progress over time. Prior to the implementation of the Learning Zone, the existing methods we used did not provide an easy way for employees to gain access to training. The launch of the Learning Zone signaled a breakthrough in the way employees can access their own training and development. Each new hire receives individual user information that enables that employee to sign up for courses and track his progress.
The Learning Zone has a secondary benefit in that it serves as a solution for other global systems that might come online. From there, we can monitor and track the training that each person has completed. What started as a challenge has become a big advantage with a big payoff because every division now can see execution for each individual at the restaurant level.
We empower employees to take charge of their development, and the tools help make that easy and far more accessible than ever. Managers ultimately are responsible for ensuring employees complete required training, and now they can easily see which courses an employee has completed, what still needs to be done, and what other training might be able to build capability even further. We currently average more than 500,000 course completions per month, and we believe we'll get close to 1.5 million completions when the system is completely rolled out during the next few years.
We are fortunate to have such a strong commitment to building people capability throughout Yum! So far, we've had some particularly gratifying successes in how the system is used.
For example, Pizza Hut U.S. was the first division to complete large-scale adoption of the platform, which is now being executed in more than 95 percent of restaurants. We've seen improved customer service scores compared with those same stores prior to their use of the system, and compared with those stores not implementing at full capacity.
At Taco Bell, a virtual guide named Tracy engages employees in a conversational manner and acts as a virtual coach. "We developed Tracy as a character because we wanted our learners to have a guide who could help along the way in understanding context, providing feedback, and even modeling some of the behaviors we wanted to see from learners," Bagwell says. "She also added a dimension of engagement for the learners that made the experience much better than if she hadn't been there."
CEO David C. Novak leads a classroom version of his book, Taking People With You, with 40 to 60 senior leaders several times per year around the world, and he uses the learning technology platform to conduct a 45-day follow-up with participants. Using our virtual classroom tools, Novak facilitates the conversation and invites team members to share best practices, know-how, and challenges with their colleagues.
Anne Byerlein, our global chief people officer, conducts a quarterly webcast for several hundred HR professionals around the world. The webcast runs live twice during a day to cut across time zones, and is recorded for those who can't attend either live version. Using high-definition webcams, text chat, and voice over IP, Byerlein invites HR professionals to discuss HR issues specific to their region.
"It is a great way to not only hear from my colleagues, but also see them and their results from anywhere in the world," says Susheel Bala, one of Yum! Restaurants International's chief people officers based in Dubai.
Bye-bye three-ring binders
In the past, every restaurant around the world had up to seven binders filled with standard operating procedures for how to execute operational standards. As you can imagine, maintaining version control on binders across geographically distributed divisions was challenging at best.
We've since seen many divisions move all that information onto the learning technologies platform and have made it accessible online and personalized at the restaurant level. Now we can manage our standards content from one place within a division and know it is up-to-date in every restaurant.
"It's been a big win for business units, and we can see a strategic impact in the business," says Cody Cluff, director of training for Yum! Restaurants International.
As Yum! grows, so will the Learning Zone as we continue to roll out our systems across the world. Although we are several years in, we still see opportunities to continue transforming the way we learn.
"At KFC in the United States, we are beginning to see real progress in our implementation, as it aligns with our overall technology upgrades in our restaurants across the country," says Vanessa Naso, training manager for KFC U.S.
We're a true learning organization, so we'll continually assess and evolve our strategies and the platform itself to stay in tune with the changes in our business and technology. Software is always changing, and we'll continue to explore how we can make our system easier to use and more stable and scalable.
For example, this year we are developing proof of concept for talent management capabilities, as well as exploring mobile access. In 2013 we'll likely move toward integrating our current social platform with our learning system.
As we continue to grow and change, I am reminded that rolling out a learning technologies platform isn't really a rollout; it's a journey—where we adjust, alter, and improve processes and functionality as we continue down the path.