When Lynne Zappone first assumed the role of vice president of talent development and learning for the Americas at InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG) in 2003, she took over a learning function that was all over the map. At the time, IHG was in the process of consolidating its hotel and corporate training under one umbrella.
“When we consolidated, it was about looking for synergies across all of those employee groups and ensuring that we were reinforcing certain messages in a consistent way,” said Zappone, who has since moved on to Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen to serve as its chief talent and HR officer. “It was making sure we were teaching sales skills, revenue management and operations skills consistently across the multiple brands at the company.”
From there, the president of IHG’s Americas region gave Zappone broad latitude to evolve the company’s training efforts. “[He] said to me ‘We’ve got this big group, and there’s a cost to the company to doing that, but we have to deliver training,’” Zappone said. “So he challenged me to run the training group as a business within a business.”
Zappone said her instincts told her to concentrate on IHG employees because they had the most value to her customers. “It was important to decide which programs are value-adds,” she said. “You have to put a lot more attention to the quality of your instructional design. You have to talk to your end users: How do they want to receive training? What are their pain points?”
One pain point for IHG’s workforce was also a pain point for the company. When Zappone took over, IHG was delivering classroom-led training all around the region, sometimes to classrooms of two or three people. “It was a high cost to us, and it was a high cost to the hotels, because they’d have to bring people in,” she said. “It might have been in their own backyard, but the experience wasn’t as good.”
IHG began offering training in fewer locations, concurrently improving its quality and scope. The firm also expanded its virtual training offerings. At first, Zappone’s team worried attendance would suffer from this new approach. These concerns proved unfounded. “We just started to get more and more participation because we were meeting the customers where they needed to be,” she said.
In 2008, Zappone took over the role of senior vice president of global learning and set about building a full-fledged learning management system — a $2 million investment.
“The call went so quickly, and when we hung up our IT rep and my VP of learning said, ‘Did we just get approval? That seemed too easy,’” Zappone said. “And that’s because they had done their homework, created a great story and could show how the system would help us expand learning to a greater population that would improve efficiencies.”
In April 2011, Zappone moved to Popeyes, which she said offered her a blank slate and the chance to build another learning function from the ground up. “I was offered the opportunity to come up with a strategy and to put practices in place to build that capability, and that’s what lured me away,” she said.
Zappone said improving the training experience is still about meeting employees where they are — but not necessarily through a computer. Quality training still largely happens in person, she said, and the Internet has grown as a training tool.
Aside from the Internet’s growing influence, Zappone said during the past two decades the function also has experienced a greater alignment between learning, development and talent management. “It’s not enough to just train people once they’re hired,” she said. “You have to think about who you want to hire; what are the skills, capabilities, competencies and values you’re looking for in those top performers; and how do you find them, on-board them and develop them over time, so that you’re ready for the next move.”
Daniel Margolis is a former editor at Chief Learning Officer magazine.