(This interview was originally posted and is part of a podcast series available through Talented Learning)
Chris Shanks, LMS Administrator for our client International Dairy Queen, sat down with John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst of Talented Learning, to discuss the unique challenges of an organization with a large network of global franchisees. The ultimate goal being to increase training adoption of both franchise managers and crew members.
Some key topics from the podcast include:
- Top 3 Franchise Training Challenges for Dairy Queen [SKIP TO HERE]
- Types of Training Content (Compliance, product, etc.) [SKIP TO HERE]
- Crew Member Onboarding and Training [SKIP TO HERE]
- Franchisee Training Preferences [SKIP TO HERE]
- Attracting New Franchisees Through Training Practices [SKIP TO HERE]
- Gamification Strategies [SKIP TO HERE]
- Key LMS Features Used by DQ [SKIP TO HERE]
- Data Protection Regulation Awareness [SKIP TO HERE]
- Training Localization Strategy [SKIP TO HERE]
- Connecting ROI to Training [SKIP TO HERE]
- Franchise vs. Employee vs. Off-the-Shelf Content [SKIP TO HERE]
- PARTING ADVICE! [SKIP TO HERE]
Here’s the audio recording and a transcription of the interview, which has been slightly edited for ease of reading.
John Leh (JL): Welcome to the show podcast series with your host and independent tech analyst, John Leh. On this show, I interview the world’s leading experts in extended enterprise learning solutions from both the vendor and the practitioner perspective. Our guest today is Chris Shanks, LMS administrator at Dairy Queen, franchise or organization with over 6,000 franchisee locations worldwide in 18 countries representing well over a hundred thousand franchise employees. Chris, welcome and thanks for joining us today.
Chris Shanks (CS): Thanks for having me.
JL: All right. We can’t wait to get through some good learning and experiences today on – maybe nightmares are strong words – but administrative challenges to–
CS: Yeah challenges is a good word–
JL: –to juggle all the complexity of managing a franchisee location and how you go about both logistically, practically, and from a business standpoint, providing training. I got a soft spot in my heart for Dairy Queen from growing up in rural Pennsylvania. That’s where we gathered on Friday and Saturday nights after the games. We’d drive around the parking lot, cruising we called it, and that’s where all the cool kids were. So we told ourselves. We were probably more trouble.
CS: Our brand is 78 years old. We love hearing stories. The brand is part of everybody’s childhood memories, mine as well, that’s part of what attracted me to this job.
JL: Oh, that’s neat. That’s neat. Well, Chris, tell us about yourself and your role at Dairy Queen. That’s a perfect place to start.
CS: My role really has been education almost my entire life. I started as a eighth grade science teacher and did that for four years. Then I lived in Kansas City and worked for the North Kansas City School district on a program where we created an online learning system for people studying for their GED classes. So I did that for the next couple of years before I moved into the corporate world. Really focused on technology and training in that company in Kansas City for 12 years and just recently moved to Minneapolis to be a part of the Dairy Queen team.
I was brought here really to work. We were in the middle of transitioning from one vendor to another vendor and so I was brought on to be the implementation manager/project manager for that roll out. We’ve rolled out and have been live for about a year and a half now. So now my job really is all about engagement of the LMS, getting them to adapt and evolve the learning management system to really engage our crew and engage our managers in the process. So that’s what we’ve been working on for the last year.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text el_id=”top-challenges”]
Top 3 Franchise Training Challenges for Dairy Queen
JL: Wow. Great experience. I know from experience, the roll out of an international learning system is no child’s play, that’s a lot of moving balls in the air with 6,000 independent franchise locations in all these different countries. You know, what are the top two or three challenges that you encounter every day in trying to manage the complexity of that?
CS: So, Dairy Queen may be unique – I have several – but Dairy Queen may be unique in the fact that the stores are not all the same; they don’t always all have the same menu. So if you’ve visited a Dairy Queen, you know there are some stores that only have treats only and they’re only open for certain months of the year, usually in the summer months. You have our Grill and Chill, which have full menu items. You might have a mall location that’s really Orange Julius and treat with some hot dogs. So there’s a lot of variety to our menu. Our learning management system has to accommodate all of those different menu types and all that training. We’ve got to train all the crew and all the staff in other countries as well. The Canada menu is a little different than the United States menu. We have stores in Mexico and the Caribbean. We have stores in China, which we haven’t rolled out yet, but that’s definitely on our roadmap. So there’s definitely some complexity to our system that makes our learning management system complex as well.
Types of Training Content
JL: And so, when you’re rolling that content out, is there a certain type of content that you start with that’s the most important? I guess you rolled that LMS out, when you looked at all the content you could roll out, was it about compliance? Was it starting a business? What type of content was the most important to get out there?
CS: There’s really, I would say, two. We definitely have a compliance aspect of it because we have manager certification requirements that our managers must meet legally in order for a store to be maintained. So that’s a piece of it- that manager certification process. And then being able to go on and study and take the exams and the skills assessments online so that their completion trickled down into our legal department. That’s definitely something that we needed to set up right away.
The other is crew training. With any restaurant industry or QSR industry, there’s always turnover. You have new crew members starting daily, especially for us. Our hiring season will start here soon because we’re getting ready for the summer, which is our peak time. So it’s important to be able to get somebody in there and having really quick access for a 15- or 16-year-old crew member to get started. They need easy access to our learning content, food safety and our orientation lessons, but then be able to start to work in their work area. We need to provide something very easy for them where they don’t have to take a lot of time to get to know the system. It needs to be pretty self-explanatory so they can just get started and be on the floor pretty quickly.
Crew Member Onboarding and Training
JL: Well, you know, I’ve heard from other franchises that there’s always a delay from hiring to getting somebody into a system and getting them started right away. Do you have that same challenge with people starting every day or is it just instant day one they already have access to the training that they need?
CS: Well, the franchisees really are responsible for setting up people in our system. We have our homemade user management system that kind of gives them access to our intranet and other sites that we manage. And then we have an automatic system. As soon as workers are added to that System Chore Intranet, they are automatically pushed into our LMS, so it’s within 15 to 20 minutes that they have a registration they can use to log into our LMS. So it’s pretty quick for them to do that.
Joint Employer & Franchisee Training Preferences
JL: Excellent. Excellent. And what does it mean by joint employer? What does that term mean with franchises and does that impact you in your daily life?
CS: It absolutely impacts us and that’s definitely one of the challenges that we have. Joint employer rules maintain that the franchisee has to be responsible for HR functions, and there needs to be a very clear line between the franchisee and the franchisor. So we, in essence, cannot dictate HR functions. We can provide recommendations, we can provide best practices, but the franchisee needs to be responsible.
The crew members and their staff need to understand and recognize that they are employed by the franchisee, not by International Dairy Queen. It’s an important line that needs to be drawn, which presents a challenge to us because we can provide training, but we can’t dictate that the franchisees must use this training. It’s not a mandatory program. We have to make it enticing enough for them to want to use it, but we can’t dictate it.
That’s definitely something that we have to work through. Any time we make updates to the system, anytime we’re trying to figure out the process and the best program that we can present to our franchisees, we have to keep joint employer in mind to make sure that line is very clear.
JL: And when you say you draw that line, I understand legally, but to communicate that…what’s that text like? You just constantly try to reinforce that in any of your materials? Is that how you accomplish that or…
CL: Yeah, we try and reinforce that, especially in our recruiting. We’re actually just getting ready to roll out a system-wide recruiting site and even on that, it’s very clear for the crew members when they first applied for the job to say you are applying for this specific franchisee, not for International Dairy Queen. Training, anything that we provide to our franchisees, is available for them, but we cannot mandate it. The only thing that we can mandate is that we have a certain number of managers that need to be certified per location. How they get certified or how they study for their certification is completely up to the franchisee. We provide that information for them to study, but that is certainly a franchisee right to choose to use our program or to use their own program.
JL: That’s a really interesting challenge because with your own employees, of course you can just tell them to do something or they’re fired and so it really makes it a very effective tool, but from the outside looking into to your business, it seems like it’s hard to maintain standards of quality if you can’t force people through training, which provides an interesting challenge for you.
CS: My own theory about it too is I feel like franchisees take their own training program very personally, it’s very personal to them. So how we put forth training in our LMS may not be exactly how they do training in the store. Since we can’t dictate it, we have to try to work around our franchisees and how they train. We found that we really have kind of two camps of franchisees and how they do training, and our system has to try to accommodate both.
We have some franchisees who really like our LMS and really want it to be very prescriptive. We call it ‘follow the bouncing ball training.’ They want to know exactly what they need to do in exactly the order they need to do it. They just have to follow the bouncing ball and do clicks. They don’t want to have to browse around. They don’t want to have to guess at training. They just want our LMS to walk them through step by step. So that’s definitely one camp of franchisees that we have.
The other one we have is almost exactly opposite. They really don’t want us to tell them what order to take training, they don’t want us to dictate, they don’t want a prescription. They want to be able to browse around and they want to be able to have that flexibility to have their staff trained in the order they want them to.
So one of the challenges we have is being able to accommodate both learning styles and be able to provide an environment for both of those franchisees to be able to say you can use the same system regardless of what camp you’re in, and that’s certainly a challenge.
JL: You know, it’s interesting. I think in camp one, you’d find a lot of practitioners that are familiar with the prescribed route, which is a very employee mindset to prescribe it in and lay it out in the most efficient way that you can. But how do you go about accommodating camp two? What’s your mentality there to provide them that exploratory or experiential type learning experience?
CS: We have the ability just to create a library for our users and create courses and lessons. They can search for a lot of different materials. We have, I would guess, three or four hundred materials out on our site for lessons, for e-learning lessons, for resource materials and PDFs that they can print. So they have the ability to search through our program. We also created an index for them so they can very easily go into this index like you would in the back of the book and look for something very specific and it will do a direct link to the material that you’re looking for. We give them the ability to browse around so that they don’t have to follow our prescribed order.
Attracting New Franchisees Through Training Practices
JL: Interesting. Interesting. Is the training program something that you use to attract new franchisees to invest in in Dairy Queen versus some other type of a franchise organization? Do you see that coming into play or not really?
CS: I would say in a roundabout way it is. Our LMS is one of the very first things that our crew members see and one of our goals is to be an employer of choice. So if this [LMS] is one of the very first things that a brand new crew member will see, in order to create that employer of choice environment, the learning management system is a big piece of that. We’ve done some independent research that says a lot of our employees are actually referrals from other employees, so if we can make the learning management system a very positive experience from day one for new crew members, they’ll tell their friends and it’ll be easier to get choice employees and to get top talent. If we can make that process easier than I believe that feeds into becoming a more attractive franchise.
JL: I see. Yeah, that’s great. And I saw on your LinkedIn resume that you integrated some gaming strategies or gamification strategies or are at least starting to. How are you thinking about tying that into the overall strategy?
CS: We’ve done a lot of gamification research over the last year and that’s one of the big things we want to add to our system to increase the engagement. One of our concerns is that we have crew members who are coming through their first week or two and they’ll complete their training and then they don’t ever come back into the learning management system. We post new materials, we have LTOs (limited time offers) that we post new videos and new information about. We want to try to reengage them to come back in and we believe that the gamification strategies will help with that.
We are starting to introduce more of the gamification strategies including levels. Meaning, a crew member can go up a level if they pass food safety, or they can move up a level if they pass their chill training. We’re including more game-based learning, including a contest- our LMS has the ability to do contests and badges. So that’s something that as we get more mature with our training process, we want to be able to add in those elements to it.
Key LMS Features Used by DQ
JL: Excellent. Can’t wait to hear about your progress. Everything that you’ve said I’m just nodding up and down to because you have to use something- the content or the experience, and a combination of both, really- to entice those voluntary users. And in my experience, nothing entices me like actually getting a reward- maybe a free sundae- or things like that. We see a lot of creative rewards for limited time offers as a way of getting your whole store to certify quicker or take training quicker.
There’s a lot of opportunities in other industries that we see tying in that next step of contests. That’s pretty cool.
If you had one or two or three LMS features that you think are just critical for franchise, how would you prioritize those? Sounds like organizational management perhaps?
CS: Yeah. I would say our LMS vendor has the ability to create what they call content pages, which are HTML, CSS pages. We really customize the look and feel of our environment to match who’s logging into the system. I would say that’s the biggest, the most beneficial piece for our franchisees. Crew members on their first day need a much different message than shift leaders who need a much different message than store managers (who are going through your certification process) who need a different message than store managers who have been there for five years and who are certified and who are more tenured. So the ability to create our custom content pages really allows us to target the person and the end user and do specific use cases for that user. We think: ‘ok, this person is a crew member and they haven’t completed food safety, here’s the message they need to see’ versus ‘oh, this is a store manager and they’re tenured, they’ve already been certified, so this is the message or the content they need to see.’
So, it’s really handy to be able to turn pages on and off, turn content on and off. That helps us even with our menu type so that people who are working in a store that only sells Orange Julius don’t have to see grill lessons. We really have to customize it for the person, for the role, and also for the store itself.
JL: Wow. Well, that’s interesting. When you customize that- not to get too geeky on you- but is that being driven by when the new employee gets entered into that homegrown user management system, or how do you drive where they get placed? I guess that’s just happening. When the manager enters them, then they say what their job role and title is and then you start tailoring from there.
CS: That’s exactly right. Right now we dictate that by their job role. So when they enter them into the user management system, they have to specify if they’re crew versus manager versus a shift lead versus a trainer. Our LMS will change based on that.
We’re getting ready to, as we’re increasing our gamification aspects in the LMS, we’re getting ready to change that. So it’s not just their job role, but it’s also their lesson completion. We can say, ‘oh, they’re a crew member and they’ve also completed food safety,’ then they should see this. So that’s certainly a change that we’re making to our system.
Data Protection Regulation Awareness
JL: Nice. That’s a nice enhancement data. It’ll really give you some targeted flexibility to do things like that. So, I’m reading in my email inbox and LinkedIn feed and everything about this general data protection regulation coming out of the European Union. I’m just curious to see how doing business across all these international lines impacts your thinking with different data privacy requirements being driven around the world. Is that something that is a daily challenge or something that’s not.
CS: It’s something that we had to consider when we first set up the LMS. Dairy Queen isn’t actually in Europe, so we can bypass some of those regulations. I will say, we do have a lot of stores in China and are getting ready this year or maybe early next year to bring our China locations into our LMS. We’ve already started talking about their specific security requirements that we haven’t had to do for U.S. locations. It’s not been a big deal for us yet, but it will be by the end of this year. It’s certainly going to be an interesting 12 months for us as we wade through all that.
JL: I’m interested to understand the progress in that too. You should write some blogs for us over the next year on your progress.
CS: I will keep some notes about how it goes.
Training Localization Strategy
JL: Haha, great. Everybody can hopefully learn from your progress. How about from a localization standpoint, do you have to put the content in different languages or do you take a strategy of primarily English?
CS: We have most of our content in French Canadian and Spanish. In that homegrown user management system, they can mark what language preference they have, then that will feed into our LMS, and the LMS itself is translated. Then we have when available, they’ll see the translated content. A lot of our LTOs (because they’re 30-day LTOs), there’s just not the ROI for those to be translated, so a lot of those are English only. But for most of our core items we certainly do translate.
Connecting ROI to Training
JL: You said the magic words to the Talented Learning audience here, or the magic acronym of ROI, which is something we think about a lot here at Talented Learning. Trying to tie the new learning technology to actual outcomes, which we believe there’s a direct linkage that’s measurable.
I’m curious to see how intensive, or not intensive, on measuring the outcomes you’re able to see. For example, does a restaurant do better on an LTO based on more of their people taking training or less? Or just curious to see what kind of metrics matter to you from a reporting standpoint at Dairy Queen.
CS: It’s funny you say that because we just started working on a white paper on that. We have a customer service survey that our consumers can fill out and we’ve just started to try to correlate the two pieces of data. Are more people who are taking the information in our LMS, does that correlate to a stronger performance for our LTOs? So we just started to pull that data, both the usage data from the LMS and our customer experience survey data from our system, and try to match those up.
We’ve tried to do it system-wide to see if there a direct correlation between the number of logins to our system versus our customer service or customer experience survey, and there’s not a direct correlation. But there’s a whole lot of other factors to consider. That’s when we started to really drill into looking at something a little bit more specific. We just started on that process so it should be interesting to see how that pans out in the next couple of months.
JL: Well now you have a new technological infrastructure to tie all this together and it’ll open up a whole new series of opportunities for delivery, engagement, and measurement that you wouldn’t get previously. I think the modern learning systems are pulling those pieces together. It’s hard to measure, but in the littlest ways, with 6,000 stores, if you can find anything to measure, any little factor between those who have and those who haven’t, you could start to build value in everybody’s eyes…or so goes my theory anyway.
CS: Yeah, and one of my theories is something we have on our roadmap. We have internal staff or field trainers that work with individual stores, and I’m interested to see if logins for internal staff correlates to logins for our franchisees. If we have our internal staff logged in and engaged with the system itself, does that affect our franchisees? My theory is yeah, and if we can run some metrics and some data then that’s going to help us internally so that we can train our own internal staff about the LMS.
Franchise vs. Employee vs. Off-the-Shelf Content
JL: Interesting. It leads right to a question: from a content perspective, do you find that there’s joint content, for your employees and for your franchisees? You develop once and use for both or because of that? Or because of that joint employer line do you keep the two content types really separate?
CS: We develop once and use it for both systems, but we have a completely separate system for our own corporate compliance courses and our own corporate training. We don’t use our franchisee LMS for corporate training. But when it comes to product training, our field staff does have access into our LMS and they can watch the same videos our franchisees watch.
JL: Interesting. And do you need to employ off-the-shelf content for your franchisees? Do you offer that service to them or that library to them or is it only proprietary content?
CS: It’s mostly proprietary content. We have very specific products and processes that apply to Dairy Queen systems, so we develop internally with some developers that we have here on staff or we will outsource to vendors who will create the content for us. We have yet to buy anything off the shelf. Not to say we haven’t thought about it in terms of manager training or food safety. There’s some good content out there that we have talked about exploring a little bit more. So far, everything’s been done custom.
JL: And do you use like authoring tools to do that or an LCMS?
CS: Mostly Storyline.[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text el_id=”parting-advice”]
JL: Wow. Great. Well, thanks. As we run up to the last question here, any parting advice you want to give to any organizations that are getting started in franchise learning or training franchisees? Any last bits of wisdom?
CS: Yeah, there’s a lot of different sides that you have to consider and I think it’s best to understand what all those sides are.
For us it’s never done. Our LMS is, has been live for a year and a half, but it’s not done and never will be. And that’s what I always tell our franchisees and always tell our internal staff. We get feedback all the time and it’s a continuous improvement cycle for us. We make changes on a regular basis to continue to try to meet our franchise needs. We get their input at the beginning, we continue to get their input as they are not afraid to email us and tell us how they feel. But it’s our job then to evolve and adapt the program to meet what they’re trying to do and put out the best product we have available. And so there’s definitely training strategies we need to keep in mind, but we also want to try to meet the needs of our franchisees.
JL: Wow. Well, there you have it folks. Words of wisdom: it’s a process, not an event. That’s maybe my take away there…
CS: What we call an evolution.
JL: An evolution rather than event. And so I think in all things in life, that’s a good way to look at it. And especially in today’s agile environment, just keep on making those improvements.
So anyway, Chris, thanks so much for your time. It’s great to learn, and I’m sure everybody that’s listening has learned things that they haven’t considered before. I really appreciate you sharing all that information with us.
CS: Thank you for having me.
JL: All right. Great. Well, that’s it folks. Have a great day everyone. And you can find more resources at talentedlearning.com.