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In 2009, new sales associates at Curbell Plastics were bound for one of several new hire experiences. With 14 locations across the U.S. at the time and no standard on-boarding process, the national plastic supplier relied on their individual branch managers to run training. The problem? For most managers, training ended up last on their list of priorities.

"It was very decentralized," says Jinny Kcehowski, training manager at Curbell Plastics, "There was no consistent plan to get people up to speed." While a lack of organized training is a red flag for any company, it was a particular problem for Curbell Plastics. As a company that distributes products rather than makes them, it's crucial to differentiate themselves from competition with similar offerings, Kcehowski explains. And without consistent on-boarding and training, new sales associates and managers had little to work with.

Kcehowski understands the importance of sales training first-hand—because she was once a salesperson at Curbell Plastics herself. She transitioned to the company's first and only training manager role seven years ago—largely out of her own volition, but with the support of her company's HR and senior management team who recognized her eagerness to fill a real business need. "I like helping people get up to speed," Kcehowski explains.

While the company had implemented their first Learning Management System—called Curbell Learning Experience or "CLE"—in 2007, user participation was all but non-existent. Today, the CLE serves 450 employees across three divisions: Corporate, Medical and Plastics—with Plastics consistently reporting a nearly 100 percent participation rate.

We sat down with Kcehowski to talk about how she built the program for Plastics from the ground up, the key tenets of an effective training program and her best advice for other training managers with limited resources.

Start Small, But Start Somewhere

Kcehowski's first official training materials were somewhat of an accident. When she transitioned from sales to training, her first job was to replace herself. She made a thick transition binder for her replacement describing the job, its responsibilities and a walk-through of their sales system. Then, the binder was leaked.

"Someone got a hold of it, and said 'Hey, can we get this?' and it went from there," Kcehowski says. She began formalizing the on-boarding program by creating a paper binder for every new employee—which quickly became cumbersome. A year later, she switched to using an Excel workbook, and in 2015 made the transition to utilizing online curriculums via Cornerstone's talent management software.

"You have to lay a foundation," Kcehowski says. "I was able to take the binder, then the workbook and transition it into an online curriculum where new employees are now comfortable navigating the system, proactively using the platform and marking things as complete."

Prove Why It Matters

Kcehowski has had to think carefully about how to get employees invested in training. While some people are self-motivated, she recognizes that employees won't simply use training because you provide it.

"The 'If we build it, they will come" approach just sadly isn't true," Kcehowski says. "[Building] is only the first step in achieving results."

The next step? Demonstrating value to employees and managers. Kcehowski made it clear that the online platform was built for employees: it's faster, simpler and streamlines the entire process. Managers no longer have to manually update a workbook or search for lost files, employees no longer have to rely on managers to update their progress (or keep track of their files) and HR can check-in on progress at any time.

"Our training is much more self-motivated and transparent," she says. "We can quickly see where people are in the process online, which creates opportunities for more people to be involved in employee development, instead of just one manager."

Keep Improving

Kcehowski has witnessed a substantial cultural shift towards training over the years. Four years ago, she says, employees cringed at the mere mention of CLE. The courses were canned from a third party supplier, the platform was difficult to navigate and there were really no incentives for employees to even log in. Today, the picture in Curbell Plastics looks much different and the Corporate and Medical divisions, who collaborate closely, are following suit.

In 2015, the Plastics division was just shy of 100 percent of their employees logging into the LMS every quarter—and not just for required trainings. "It's not uncommon to hear an employee say that they are lost in a process, and then hear another employee say, 'Check the CLE!'" Kcehowski says.

Employee support is music to her ears, but Kcehowski is far from done with improving the training program. She wants to explore user-generated content and tying training to performance.

"We still have so much to do," she says. "I always say training—as long as your company is supportive of it—is forever. The technology keeps changing, the industry keeps changing and you have to keep up. It never stops."

Photo: Twenty20