Mergers and acquisitions are part and parcel of business. Companies are taken over, larger firms acquire smaller, comparable companies or merge with competitors to create larger, better-equipped entities that can provide better services in more locations and so forth. Such was the case recently when La Quinta Corp. acquired Baymont Inns and Suites, gaining 2,700 employees and more than 185 hotels.
Aside from the obvious concerns over integrating differing systems seamlessly without disrupting customer care and daily business operations, an important part of the acquisition involved educating approximately 100 new corporate managers, as well as district directors and senior leadership teams, to effectively connect them with La Quinta processes and procedures. Because this was a crucial aspect of the acquisition process, Christina Parr, director of training and organizational development for La Quinta University, chose to make learning instructor-led in order to maintain a face-to-face connection, ease fears and address concerns in as personal a manner as possible. “This was our first exposure to these managers, and I can imagine getting bought out by a company and thinking, ‘What is going on? What is my role? Does anybody even care about me? Is my job secure?’ So, we purposefully orchestrated a one-and-a-half-day training event,” Parr said. “It was really important that we make the best first impression on these folks and let them know how valued they are.”
To share La Quinta’s values and mission, and ensure that the new managers could be on-boarded as smoothly as possible, tapping into the right tools and skills was essential. “The training was focused on accounting procedures, a new intranet site combining La Quinta’s old system with Baymont’s old system into a new site called Innsite,” Parr said. Cutover procedures and acquisition processes included payroll and human resource information system training.
The response was positive. Verbal and written surveys and anecdotal poll results said that the managers felt valued and that the learning was well-orchestrated and detailed. “We were very anal in our planning, but they noticed that we really cared about each detail and they noted it in the training,” Parr said. “From a learning perspective, we felt very strongly about the need to have interactive and scenario-based training. It wasn’t, ‘Sit in front of a computer all day and listen to a talking head.’ It was, ‘Here’s how you might want to do something.’ The methodology I espouse is ‘Tell, show, do.’ We tell them about a process; we show them how to do it. They’re given an assignment, and we help them with mentors to do that.”
La Quinta is currently evaluating learning management system providers to help accommodate the new employees’ learning needs as well as aid in delivery of its e-learning platform. “We’re very big proponents of e-learning, and we are in the process of creating many modules,” Parr said. “Some of that content includes service philosophy, check-in/check-out processes, problem resolution and the La Quinta returns loyalty program. We’re scoping out new modules for property management system training.” Each learning module has a test, which typically requires a passing score of 90 percent or better, and the test results are published in reports for group leaders on a weekly basis.
Parr said that executive sponsorship has greatly helped grow learning initiatives at La Quinta. “They’re very attuned to how training impacts business operations,” Parr said. “For example, through this acquisition, the training department took the lead to choreograph the training process for all of the new managers. They understand that the systems are only as good as the folks who operate them on a daily basis. The value (of learning) is intrinsic. It’s understood, and then we move to the next level of strategic planning.”
Establishing the right learning architecture also is important. “To get the architecture in place, we’ve got to have a full-service learning management system that can support 10,000-plus employees,” Parr said. “Then we will ensure that each position by job code will receive training that is specific to the needs of that position. We are also in negotiations with several third-party vendors to discuss adding content such as safety, security and human resources. We know there’s content out there that we don’t have to re-create. So (we’re) maximizing utilization of and partnering with those vendors to provide the best product for our population.”
La Quinta’s next level of development will define career paths for positions and provide the learning content to support them. “Our mission at La Quinta University is to maximize intellectual capital, to ensure that if I’m an employee with La Quinta, I’m learning, I’m valued, and therefore I want to stay on board. I treat the customers better,” Parr said.
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.