Hauling junk is big business. With 118 franchises, a number that grows weekly, roughly 1,000 corporate and franchise employees and a presence in 40 metropolitan areas in the United States, Vancouver-based removal company 1-800-GOT-JUNK has to deliver learning to its employees in a way that will fulfill their needs and support the growth pace of the company. “We’re trying to support the exponential revenue and profitability growth that’s going on North America-wide in our organization,” said Jerry Gratton, director of training for 1-800-GOT-JUNK. “Everything training-related has to be very practical and very much supporting the top and the bottom line.”
To accomplish education goals with limited resources and ensure that learning continues in the absence of formal classroom and e-learning programs, Gratton employs a system of peer-to-peer education where more experienced employees act as trainers, spreading knowledge and helping to hone process skills via “viral learning.” Viral learning is an integral part of the organization’s Skills Standards Program, which includes basic tasks, such as how to run a meeting successfully, and more sophisticated skills like conflict management and situational leadership. “We’ve created this Skills Standards Program that’s essentially content and evaluations created to pass knowledge from someone who knows that skill and feels like they’ve mastered it to someone who doesn’t,” Gratton said. “I teach you and then I certify you, and that allows you to teach someone else, and that person teaches someone else, so it’s very much like a virus.” Employees observe their peers and engage in role-playing activities before monitoring live task execution. Afterward, there is an evaluation process to certify employees or point out areas that need additional work.
Truck team members, employees who drive the trucks, meet customers, sell the service and then load and haul the junk away, are a large audience for learning. “We created a training program that could be implemented in each individual franchise, and it included what we call office-based training—little mini-lessons that a franchise owner or the operations manager of a franchise can use to teach the big concepts,” Gratton said. “We recognize that a huge portion of the learning has to occur right here on the job, so we put together another large component of that training program as on-the-job support training.”
On-site support includes a series of content and checklists that a senior driver or someone designated as a trainer in a franchise can use to ensure they cover all of the need-to-knows in quick guides, pocket-sized flip charts and reference tools. The quick guides offer content such as the 13 steps of selling, safety training and standards, what to do in case of an accident and administration procedures. 1-800-GOT-JUNK also provides a template for franchise partners to complete so that truck team members have critical business information at their fingertips.
“I created materials that could be used one-on-one,” Gratton said. “You don’t need a digital projector and whiteboard. You can sit down and print off a couple of Word documents that outline what you’re going to accomplish, what the goals are for this session, objectives, some tactics to use, some discussion items and then some evaluation points after. We try to keep it very much grassroots.”
Learning may be grassroots, but the way the business is run is very sophisticated. Gratton provides learning for a centralized call center in Vancouver that acts as the main scheduling arm of the business, dispatching orders to franchise partners scattered throughout the United States and Canada. Call-center trainees go through a formal eight-day program that covers orientation, role-playing and script exercises where trainees listen in on actual calls. Franchise partners enjoy a five-day intensive program dealing with necessary startup functions like budget, human resources, marketing and basic truck operations. There is also a help-desk hotline for franchise partners, which provides one-on-one custom training “on the fly” to aid partners using Junk Net, a proprietary Web application for accounting, scheduling, customer relationship management (CRM) and other backbone business functions. Hiring managers put together new-hire checklists for other staff members specific to their job roles.
“There’s essentially three functional areas that need to be addressed for learning to happen at 1-800-GOT-JUNK,” Gratton said. These include the support desk, a critical part of learning because of its timely, need-based structure; instructional design, which involves instructional manuals and writing online training program content; and, finally, training delivery methods. In order to ensure that learning remains aligned with the company’s strategic goals, weekly, quarterly and annual reviews take place to assess the organization’s top goals.
Next, 1800-GOT JUNK will explore the benefits of virtual collaboration tools, such as Web conferencing, to further support learning and development efforts at the Junction, or 1-800-GOT-JUNK headquarters. Currently, franchise partners receive bi-annual visits from field advisors. But, Gratton said, “We need learning to be ongoing. We need to reach franchise partners on a regular basis, and I don’t think a conference call is quite enough. We need to bring a visual component into our meetings and training sessions with our franchise partners throughout the year.”
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.