Name: Pat Crull, Ph.D.
Title: Vice President and Chief Learning Officer
Company: Toys ‘R’ Us Inc.
- Positioning learning to be utilized strategically and transformationally.
- Developing a training process that is planned, focused and aligned to help drive the business goals.
- Creating a learning culture with shared, measured accountability throughout the organization.
Learning Philosophy: Everything we do in training must yield benefits for:
- Our guests, by creating the best-trained, most guest-oriented service providers.
- Our associates, by providing the right skills at the right time in their careers.
- Our leadership, by supporting our strategy with skills, values and knowledge to change our business.
- Our stockholders, by providing the best return on our training investment.
When the time came for Pat Crull, Ph.D., to look for a new challenge, the veteran corporate learning executive knew what she had in mind. The ideal organization would match her own ideals – it would be serious about the business and benefits of education and would know education is a serious benefit for business.
After all, Crull had some history in that area. Coming from her position as chief learning officer at McDonald’s and building on her roles as a learning leader at Baxter Healthcare and Arthur Andersen, Crull targeted a company that was really serious about the value of training to drive corporate strategy. She found that seriousness in what can be seen as a whimsical paradise – the Toys ‘R’ Us stores.
Crull is now vice president and chief learning officer for Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., which includes the popular chain of toy stores and their other retail properties, including Kids ‘R’ Us, Babies ‘R’ Us, the Imaginarium and toysrus.com. Crull is responsible for providing ongoing workforce development for about 50,000 year-round employees, plus seasonal employees, in about 1,600 stores in 21 countries.
With a big mission like that, it helps to have at your back a large corporation that’s devoted to the strategic furtherance of education. That commitment is a big reason why Crull came to work at the Paramus, N.J., headquarters earlier in 2003.
“What attracted me to come was that I looked at our organization, at Toys ‘R’ Us Inc., and I realized that we were really serious about the value of training to drive the strategy that Toys ‘R’ Us was launching. What a trainer’s delight, to be in a position where training is so valued, where it’s recognized that it’s absolutely necessary to get the company where we want to go,” Crull said.
“It’s not an afterthought, it’s not just a support. It’s critical to the business strategy. We are in a transformational state at Toys ‘R’ Us, and our focus is on creating associates and leaders in our stores who are absolutely dedicated to delighting our guests. Those are skills that have got to be trained and learned and reinforced and so on. I was very much drawn to that opportunity.”
Crull, who is also the 2003 chair-elect of the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) Board of Directors, credited her other learning positions, at McDonald’s, Baxter and Arthur Andersen, with helping her develop the skills she brought to Toys ‘R’ Us. Each position taught her valuable lessons, as good positions do, but it was her role at Andersen that really left a mark.
“It was such a systemic, focused approach to training that by the time I left, I really knew and valued that if you did training right, you accomplished the following things: You always provided it at the right time in the individual’s career; it was tied to a career path. You used the training to focus on the business drivers, and you never wasted one minute of training,” she said.
Andersen’s work as a consultancy drove home that lesson, with the entire organization built on billable hours. Every minute of every workday had to be accounted for, including time spent on learning or training.
“It brought home, almost philosophically, that if you waste five minutes in a training program, either because it was not relevant or because the quality wasn’t there, and then you multiply that by the thousands and thousands of participants, look what you’ve done to the organization,” Crull said. “Then you layer on the loss of whatever development should have taken place. I think that created that mentality. It’s got to be focused, it’s got to be precise, it’s got to be relevant, as well as certainly the quality.”
In a fairly short time at Toys ‘R’ Us, Crull has found an urgency, a hunger for the types of workforce development she’s able to offer. That’s a definite bonus, as she cites as a personal success being able to position training as a key driver to an organization’s strategy.
“The greatest success, I believe, is when training is valued as a business partner, when it is seen more than as a support group,” she said. “When it is seen as being transformational. To do that, as their training leader, I need to understand the business, I need to make sure that all of my trainers have not only training acumen, but they’ve got business acumen as well. We have got to become when we are successful a part of how we do business. Some of my fellow trainers talk about having a seat at the table. That’s some of it, but it’s not all of it.”
To be sure, Crull’s eye is on more than a seat at the table, and her thoughts are definitely on more than her own career.
“The vision we are working toward is that Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. is recognized as the best developer of people in the retail world and recognized as an employer with associates who excel in guest delight,” Crull said. “Everything we do, either directly or indirectly, in training has got to make a difference for our guests. We’ve got to engage our guests, we’ve got to have our guests walk out and say, ‘Wow, that was worth the trip.’ To help create that, one of the key elements, of course, is that our associates and managers are trained.”
That’s an ongoing mission, and the education behind it never stops. Crull heads a 25-person team in New Jersey, along with field trainers in every country, region and district where there is a Toys ‘R’ Us store. With training conducted in a variety of ways – Crull is setting up a blended learning solution that includes directed activities in stores, self-paced, paper-based training (soon to be computer-based) and some instructor-led and Web-enabled solutions – it’s a constant for the corporation.
“We are not into training being an event. We are not into training being something that you do for any other reason than it’s how we get our job done. Training is part of our real work,” Crull said. “I don’t want any quick fixes. What we’re trying to do is create training so it’s an integral process of how we do all of our work. Our sales work, our operational work, the running of the stores, the running of the districts, the running of the regions and so on. The phrase I use a lot is that training is part of the real work that we do.”
Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. is also about to move to a new corporate facility in Wayne, N.J., where more training will take place, including skills building and corporate culture education, delivered at key stages in employees’ careers.
“We spend a lot of time determining the appropriate mode of delivery,” Crull said. “Everything is driven by a needs analysis, everything is piloted and tested before it goes out; we measure for quality and relevance and effectiveness, and adjust as needed. That way we know we’re teaching the right thing and we’re doing it in the most efficient manner.”
That determination starts with a close partnership with field operations, Crull added. By involving field leadership, the corporation is setting a standard for associate training that guarantees the learning takes place.
“If field leadership are really partners, it becomes part of their ongoing operations audit,” Crull said. “So the store director is appraised and rewarded based on the ability to do that training. That’s a starting point.”
Crull hasn’t been with Toys ‘R’ Us long enough to see firm measurements of her efforts, but that’s certainly to come.
“We are setting up the traditional measurement for quality, measurement for relevance, in terms of is it actually used on the job, measurement for learning, we’re going to spot-check pre- and post-tests,” she said. “And our ultimate measurement is does it make a difference in our sales, does it make a difference in our customer delight scores, does it make a difference in the commitment of our associates to our organization? And of course, those are all measures that we track through the district.”
All that basically means Crull has found a home, and is instilling the values she cherishes.
“It’s a trainer’s delight here,” she said. “The passion with which I was recruited by our CEO, by our senior executives, was an introduction to how the company feels about where they want to go with training. There’s a recognition that we need to change what we have done. That was the appeal that got me here. I truly believe that what I know about training is going to make a difference in the business, and I believe that the leadership of this organization values that.
“We’ve done other things in the last 18 months to two years to make our business right. We’ve done a lot of things in our stores, with the renovation of the stores, with how we are displaying our merchandise, our contents, our presentations, a lot of things designed to enhance the guest experience,” Crull added. “When I was recruited here, that was exactly the message that was made very clear to me, and since I joined I see every day as being valid. The message is we’ve done the other things, we’ve got our strategy, we know how we’re going to focus on delighting our guests, now we need to develop our people to make that happen. What a dream for a training leader.”
It’s more than a dream. It’s what, in fact, Toys ‘R’ Us should be: fun.
“This may sound very trite, but I’m going to say it anyway, because it’s absolutely true for me,” Crull said. “I love what I’m doing, so much. I have such a passion for training and such a strong belief in the value that it brings that all of this is great fun. It allows me to create some of the energy I need to do what we’re doing.”