At Jenny Craig Inc., the success of the overall business, its 621 company-owned and franchised centers and more than 120,000 weekly clients depends greatly on the knowledge and skills of its employees. Employing approximately 3,000 field employees in its nationwide company-owned centers and about 175 employees at its California-based headquarters, Jenny Craig continuously invests in its people through comprehensive, continuous blended learning solutions to improve the way in which they help clients look better, feel better and live healthier lives.
“One of the things that the company has always invested in is training, which means that we have always invested in the skills of our people,” said Tania Azar, vice president of field operations and former national director of training for Jenny Craig. “We know if our employees are highly skilled they are going to be effective in our consultations, which means they are going to be effective with our clients and overall going to improve customer service.”
In order for the company to deliver individualized, safe and effective weight loss and lasting weight-management solutions to its growing clientele, Jenny Craig’s field employees must be effective consultants as well as up to date on current weight-loss trends. That’s why all new field employees go through an initial expansive orientation program that covers both the technical information and soft skills required to hold successful consultations. “Our employees don’t have to be RDs (registered dieticians), but they have to be knowledgeable of how to implement and deliver the program,” Azar explained. “We have orientation programs for almost every position in the field. For example, when a new employee comes to us as a counselor, the person that sees the clients on a once a week basis, they go through a five-day orientation program. In this orientation course, they go through all aspects of the program, nutrition information as well as, most importantly, how to communicate with clients, how to motivate them, how to support clients through plateaus, how to help clients visualize their future and get down to their goal weight.”
Once field employees are promoted, they go through program director training, which is a three-day training program where employees enhance their consulting skills and learn how to sell the program to new clients or clients who are restarting the program. For new managers, Jenny Craig holds a four-day orientation program that largely concentrates on managerial soft skills and outlines business operations.
The training at Jenny Craig doesn’t stop after orientation. Its headquarters produces at least two staff meetings per month that provide updates on the company’s products and services, as well as general information regarding weight-loss trends, exercise and mindset. “We deliver from the corporate office two staff meetings a month, and this is with the most up-to-date information,” she said. “But we also have on a quarterly basis what we call CE (continuing education) courses and those are again classes that ensure that our employees have the most up-to-date information as well as to ensure that their skills are the best that they can be—specifically communication skills.”
According to Lisa Talamini, RD, chief nutritionist and director of program development for Jenny Craig, the quarterly continuing education courses are used when more in-depth training is required. “So if there is a big topic that perhaps has a lot of content and skill that is required—especially if it is a counseling or consulting skill—oftentimes Tania will choose to make that a quarterly CE, a larger training initiative, to put more focus on it,” Talamini said.
For both the continuing education courses and orientation programs, the company certifies employees to ensure that they are trained to its standards. For example, during a recent quarterly continuous-education initiative, Azar said that they reeducated employees because the company added new fitness tools to support their clients in their activity stages. “During continuous education initiatives everyone in the field is trained. For instance, last quarter we worked hand in hand with The Cooper Institute, which is a fitness organization based out of Dallas, Texas, to modify our activity model as well as make some additional fitness tools. The activity model is where we actually work with our clients to understand where their activity level is, prescribe some different activity options for them and follow up in their consultations. So, we made an educational video that takes employees through the communications in the consultation with a client, and then it outlined all of the new fitness tools with their features and their benefits. Then we brought the staff in and they watched it, and after, they were also given feedback on their skills.”
In addition to training through internally made videos, instructor-led sessions and staff meetings, Jenny Craig offers some e-learning via its intranet, as well as extensive hip-to-hip training and continuous feedback for field employees. However, with the clientele growth Jenny Craig has experienced during the past year with the Kirstie Alley advertising, the company’s employee population has almost doubled, and Azar is currently making plans to implement more e-learning next year. “We have done some webinar e-learning training at a very basic level, but we are limited right now with our current infrastructure and our resources,” Azar explained. “So we have been able to do some of that at the management level, but we are currently putting in the budget for fiscal ’07 plans for a new learning management system so we can take a lot more training to a Web-learning structure. This will help us train people faster as well as control the costs of training.”
At Jenny Craig, all programs, tools and upgrades are developed internally in conjunction with a group of experts in the fields of medicine, psychology, nutrition, exercise, physiology and lifestyle change. Like the company’s collaboration with The Cooper Institute, the Medical Advisory Board and nutrition and dietician techs are also responsible for developing and incorporating the latest information and more effective strategies for obtaining and maintaining healthy lifestyles for Jenny Craig’s clients. According to Talamini, the training and development organization also regularly participates in the meetings with the Medical Advisory Board and other experts in order to develop learning initiatives in tandem with updates and program development.
“Today the training organization comes to our Medical Advisory Board meetings. Today we have updates and share articles when there are new developments,” Talamini explained. “It is a very collaborative, interactive process where we talk in terms of, is it going to be a written training? Is it going to be a training video? And it may even be if we are developing a new client tool that we use the tool itself to train the staff.”
Their collaborative efforts were evident last year when Jenny Craig implemented a motivational interviewing add-on, which is a communication style that was typically used for treating alcohol and drug behaviors and now is being used for weight loss and creating lifestyle change. “A couple of our Medical Advisory Board members have utilized motivational interviewing in some of their own subject matters. So we worked with the program development team in being able to take that information and simplify it so that it can be replicated in a 20-minute consultation with a client,” Azar said.
However, the process of adapting the motivational interviewing technique to the Jenny Craig setting was challenging. “Taking high-level information sometimes and really bringing it into our setting, which is really a different setting compared to a clinical or research setting, can be challenging—especially because what we know about successful weight management is constantly changing and growing,” Talamini said. “So we had to break it down into very conversational language with our staff to not only increase their skill levels, but also really empower them to be more effective in their consulting so they can create a more rich experience for their clients.”
In addition to certification, Jenny Craig uses other methods to measure the success of its training programs. “We have a Mystery Shopper program as well as Mystery Caller program for all centers. We send out random polls via e-mail or the mail to clients to track customer service scores, and we use other hard metrics too,” Azar said. “We take all of the data collected and provide feedback to the staff in regards to how they are doing. It also helps us identify where we may need to provide more training and development, what our next move should be, etc.”
Overall, Azar said that the company’s continuous blended learning efforts have helped them reach set goals and have influenced bottom-line results. For example, in December 2005, the organization set a goal to increase membership sales—particularly the Jenny Craig Rewards option—and Azar implemented a training initiative to coincide with that goal. According to Azar, the total membership sales including the rewards program increased. “In both cases the total sales increased, with a more than 10 percent increase in overall premiere program sales. So we know that the changes we made and the training we used had been successfully implemented in the field,” she said.
According to Azar, client-satisfaction levels remained the same in 2005 while Jenny Craig’s gross revenues increased by more than 40 percent. Azar said this was an achievement because usually when business increases customer satisfaction drops. In addition, she said employee retention improved by more than 20 percent in 2005. “We train with a result in mind. We don’t train for just the heck of training. Knowing what number you want to change or what skill you want to change is critical, and it needs to be specific and measurable. So by having your end result in mind, you train toward that result and you are going to see an increase in productivity or increases in whatever you are trying to measure.”
–Cari McLean, email@example.com