Roundtable: Tackling the Increasing Generational Gap in the US Workforce

On March 7-8, 2017 Corinium’s Chief Learning Officer Forum, USA, launched in New York City. Exploring how the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) role has regained strategic importance in recent years across a range of industries and organizations, the conference content was crafted to discuss the most pressing issues around; closing the generational gap, emotional intelligence, digital disruption of workforce enablement, validation of the CLO office, recruitment and retention of talent, amongst many other exciting topics.

After months of research with over 50 CLOs and de facto Learning & Development (L&D) executives and a successful conference, we found out that the fundamental principles of L&D have not changed substantially since their implementation nearly 20 years ago. However these exceptional leaders are constantly looking at ways to innovate and keep ahead of the curve developing more creative, thorough and inclusive initiatives to fulfil those traditional ideas.

Recently, we asked Harry Kantrovich, CLO, City of Alexandria (HK); Rob Sanders, Senior Director of Learning and Development, Marco’s Franchising, LLC (RS) and; Robert Burnside, Chief Learning Officer (Retd), Ketchum (RB) about their incredible job implementing new ideas and strategies for closing the generational gap within their organizations. Their insights are inspiring:


Corinium: How does your L&D strategy tackle the issue of closing the generational gap within your workforce?


HK: One of my first goals when being selected by the City was to drag them from the 18th Century to the 21st Century. The strategy to this was to survey and run focus groups throughout the City to determine what our employees were wanting and needing within the learning organization of training, education and professional development. Through this, we have begun tailoring our programs to meet the multi-generational needs of our employees.

RS: Truthfully, we’re still working on this challenge. As a brand, we’ve been around for about 40 years now, and been franchised for about the last 13 of those, so we have representation across all generations, from the Baby Boomers to Generation Z. My biggest challenge has been standing up and implementing Marco’s University, and in particular, Marco’s University Online (MUO). An example where we faced a bit of a generational challenge related to user adoption of MUO. Across the almost 12,000 users in MUO, the digital natives among those users have had no issues with figuring out how to jump in and get started. Something we found out quickly though is that so many Millennials and Gen Z users don’t even own a tablet, a laptop, or a desktop… they do everything, from A to Z, on their smartphones, so we’re in the process now of actually re-optimizing our training content to be “Mobile First” in its look and delivery. We are also about to roll out an integrated learning strategy that applies a hybrid of delivery options, such as infographics, manuals, and job aids for the readers among us; also, videos for those who learn best in that manner, and additionally microlearning campaigns, assessments, surveys, etc., to appeal to the shorter attention spans and just-in-time learning.

RB: In our online social collaborative learning programs, which use cohorts of about 30 people who learn together, we deliberately mix across all levels and all geographies.  That way, all generations are in a relevant conversation about how to bring value to clients and to Ketchum.


Corinium: What are the key elements of your L&D strategy?


HK: The key elements come from the ability to meet the training, education and professional development needs of our multi-generational employees through traditional classroom and e-learning focused training, education and certification programs.

RS: Well, naturally, our L&D strategy is designed to align with our business objectives, that’s our ultimate obligation. However, beyond the tactical and operational basics such as reducing time to proficiency, instilling and maintaining product and service consistency standards, and implementing our organizational culture across 800-plus stores, we’re now turning our focus heavily towards the human capital side of the equation. To that end, there are three strategy pillars that will support our efforts going forward:


  • Hire Them Right
  • Train Them Right
  • Treat Them Right

RB: We bring training that is just-in-time, what-our-people-need and only what they need.  Our content is relevant to the situation, it is always in context.  We use internal teachers as much as possible, to help integrate our company but also to be sure the teaching is done in context.


Corinium: What role does new technology play in your overall strategy?


HK: Technology plays a critical role in the overall strategy.  Technology is required for the e-learning, for the online college and certification programs, as well as classroom training looking at the scope of interactive and situational awareness courses.

RS: Technology is absolutely critical, but when it’s married with our culture, it’s a genuinely powerful combination. We’ve partnered with a truly awesome company based in Akron, Ohio called Expand Interactive. The collaborative approach they’ve taken in working with us over the past 18 months has, we feel, armed us with some really unique capabilities that we think are going to help Marco’s Pizza leapfrog our competitors and make it a pizza powerhouse in every sense of the concept.

For example, we collaboratively conceptualized and worked together to create and implement a store health concept that is beginning to permeate every level of hierarchy in the enterprise. Some examples of key elements of this concept that Expand has crafted for us to help us build upon the pillars of Hire them right, Train them right, and Treat them right are things such as:


  • A new “Roadmap” concept that puts role-based training, announcements, and microTuneUp (what we call our microlearning capability), right on the learner’s screen as a to-do list; this delivers training content, knowledge validations, and then skills checks. The three-step certification process is tracked across roles in the store, and as an overall store training certification percentage, which is then rolled up the hierarchy to show these as the Area Rep level, the Franchise Business Leader level, Director level, and so on.
  • Operating Systems Evaluations (OSEs): this is a 500+ touchpoint tool used to identify opportunities in our store by assessing them from a systems point-of-view. We track the top 20 issues that trend over all OSEs submitted across the enterprise. Average OSE scores are displayed up the hierarchy to give our leaders an idea of where each store, each area, and each director’s portfolio stands in terms of the proper execution of our operating systems.
  • Action Plans: each person conducting an OSE can, right from the end of this assessment, craft an Action Plan that not only links issues to operating system tools, and learning, but let’s the evaluator assign direct accountability for resolving issues to specific persons in the store and to indicate a deadline.
  • The tracking of Team Member turnover across stores, and then as with the OSE and Action Plans, this measurement is rolled up and displayed at each level of our hierarchy, since we’re all accountable for training and treating our people right so that Marco’s Pizza becomes a place that they want to stay at and for longer tenure.


RB: Our main learning is delivered online using Nomadic Learning’s platform. This platform allows our critical, most urgent learning to occur globally on any device, at the learner’s convenience.  As well as the content being relevant, and the social collaboration engaging, our people say it is “easy to use”, which is one of the most important requirements for corporate learning in today’s overwhelming information environment.


Corinium: What are you most proud of after implementing this L&D strategy?


HK: I am proud of so much that we have accomplished in the less than a year I have been here.  It has taken a team effort.

  • Implementing e-learning that an employee can access through work computers, home computers, smart phones and tablets.
  • Having meaningful Citywide Training and utilizing both vendors and internal instructors/facilitators.
  • Bringing more colleges, universities and professional organizations to the fold and introducing them to employees via lunch and learns, higher education fairs and individual meetings.  Our Tuition Assistance and Professional Developments usage has doubled since the previous Fiscal Year.
  • Reinstating Managers and Supervisor Academy, Leadership and Management Institute, Training and Train-the Trainer certification programs that have been shelved for 3 or more years.
  • Developing a Mentor program for the City.

RS: I’m most proud of how well Marco’s University Online has been received, and how hungry our franchisees and Team Members were for a corporate learning platform and content that not just supports their needs, but that is trying to anticipate them. I am also very proud of the concept of store health we’ve started implementing. It wraps all aspects of store operations into it, such as individual and crew training certifications, store sales, Team Member turnover and tenure, OSE completion, Action Plan generation and completion, microTuneUp participation and completion, Operational Checklists such as temperature and sanitization logs (among others), and internal survey findings regarding leadership climate.

RB: We won an award for the 2015 online program The Race to Make It Real last year from Brandon Hall for Best Social Collaborative Learning Program; then in our followup program this year The Race in Real Time, we just won a Gold Award from the Learning & Performance Institute in London for Online Social and Collaborative Learning.  Very Proud to be providing the best online learning!  Here’s the tweet:


Corinium Intelligence understands the significance of these concerns and the importance of public initiatives for debating these key aspects regarding the current issue and had proudly delivered the Chief Learning Officer Forum USA, in New York, March 7-8 2017. Please get in touch to learn more about our next CLO Forum West Coast event which promises to be the best place where more L&D experts will gather to discuss these and more current topics!


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