In February, Training magazine announced the awardees for its 2019 Training Top 125 Awards during a black-tie gala at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort in Florida. The annual awards acknowledge training excellence among companies, corporations and organizations from around the world, with such judgment criteria as financial investment in employee development and how closely training efforts are linked to business goals. Among the awardees this year were two IREM AMO Firms, Alliance Residential Company and Pennrose.
Rachel Davidson, senior vice president of performance at Phoenix-based Alliance Residential Company was gratified with the nod her company received. “This was the first year we applied. The application to submit was quite extensive—approximately 70 pages long—and we were determined not to be discouraged if we didn’t make the list, but we made it!”
In discussing some of Alliance’s programs that contribute to employee and organizational success, Davidson cites the company’s recent shift in hiring guidelines. The company assessed the qualities that are shared by their top performers and now looks for those same qualities in new hires.
“We worked with Wonderlic to adjust the personality assessment we were previously using to instead measure ‘grit.’ These ‘grit factors,’ as we call them, help us find people who are most likely to be able to align their actions with an organization’s vision and core values and are most receptive to developing skills,” says Davidson.
Sights Trained on Success
Training magazine evaluates companies’ training programs over several measures based on data provided by the applicants.
According to Training, quantitative factors include training budget and percentage of payroll, training technology and infrastructure, innovation, and leadership development, among others. Qualitative assessment is carried out by the magazine’s editor-in-chief and a panel of Training Top 10 Hall of Famers.
Alliance’s specific training practices also influence employee learning. “All our trainers are Dale Carnegie Certified trainers. Partnering with Dale Carnegie has shifted our sales approach from presentational to more relational sales. This shift to training our associates to better connect to peoples’ needs has increased closing ratios or sales by 9 percent.”
Alliance’s training is also designed to “meet people where they are,” Davidson says. “We have roughly 25 hours of training for new associates, but instead of front-loading, we’ve taken a micro-learning approach.” Alliance’s newly introduced online Learning Experience Platform (LXP) breaks training, resources and communications into smaller, more digestible chunks—YouTube-style. An employee can log in to communicate with peers and experts, as well as find training videos, tip sheets or pages from the company playbooks. “This way, each employee can learn in the way that is best for that person. Instead of only having a ‘top-down’ learning environment, they can also learn from each other in forums and through the LXP.”
Alliance’s social media-like approach to learning will generate conversations among employees with familiarity on a specific topic. “We always had leaderboards to showcase top performers,” Davidson says, “but there was no way to connect them with others dealing with similar scenarios. Now, we have ‘communities’ set up that are specific to common goals. Associates can pose a question to the forum or watch topics that interest them or they have knowledge about. When real issues come up, they can learn from one another.”
With this more organic approach, proficiency is reached more quickly and employees contribute to a constant feedback loop that can be used to pivot faster and make training more relevant. “Best practices are manifesting so much more quickly,” Davidson says. “Plus, individuals don’t have to wait for acknowledgment from their leadership to be recognized as an influencer.”
Alliance also partners with IREM to advance its management team through training and professional development. Last year the company announced plans to invest $1.4 million toward its regional managers earning the CPM designation, which includes a $10,000 salary increase for every regional manager who achieves the designation.
Said Davidson at the time: “As a recognized symbol of expertise within the industry, we want to make it easy for our associates to pursue this distinction and continue to set themselves apart as leaders in real estate and within the business sector at large. We pay the education costs for the CPM designation and make coursework available to associates through our internal learning management platform.” Its year-end goal was for 90 percent of its regional managers to have already earned or be on the road toward obtaining the CPM designation.
Michael Pico, chief human resources officer, is in charge of the training program at the other AMO awardee, Philadelphia-based Pennrose. He says over the last several years, Pennrose has expanded its training program and it has absolutely become a top priority for top management. “They are truly invested in the development of employees and see why it’s valuable,” he says.
Employee training must be important at Pennrose—the program is styled the “Pennrose Academy.”
“We pride ourselves on our innovative, impactful and business-focused learning practices,” continues Pico. “Pennrose’s commitment and continued investment in employees has also positively impacted attracting and retaining top talent, even in tough job markets.” Pico points to the learning and employee development department’s role in achieving business results, as well as in generating positive employee feedback. In private surveys, employees evaluated Pennrose so highly that the company was named as one of the “Best Places to Work” by the Philadelphia Business Journal in 2017 and 2018.
It also wasn’t Pennrose’s first year to be acknowledged in Training’s Top 125. In fact, their ranking rose from 59 in 2018 to 35 in 2019.
“As we continue to evolve our curriculum, one of the biggest advances we made was directly aligning the training program to the strategic objectives of the organization,” remarks Pico. “The key is identifying the measurement and goals of the curriculum in advance. Another important component is employee engagement. While we want to focus on accomplishing business goals, keeping our employees engaged throughout the process is a top priority.”
Over the past two years, Pennrose has created an advanced leadership curriculum that includes both front-line and senior leadership workshops, as well as high-potential succession planning. Known as the Emerging Leader Workshop, the year-long immersion program incorporates one-on-one career coaching and a series of diagnostic assessments.
All employees, though, have access to training matched to individual development plans by role. “The plans provide them with a training roadmap beginning at onboarding and continuing for multiple years. All employees are required to take relevant curriculum, and it is tied into our evaluation and bonus structure,” says Pico. Pennrose provides hundreds of courses to any employee, regardless of tenure or job function, that are available via e-learning platforms, such as Yardi Voyager and Grace Hill, or through webinars.
Pico undoubtedly shares Davidson’s view of being included among global training standouts like Best Buy, Edward Jones and the Hong Kong Police College: “We really are proud of the fact we made the list, but most of all, we are excited it reaffirmed that we are providing one of the best learning and development environments for our associates.”