How Guitar Center Made Learning Rock

Innovation is a lot like learning. It works best when you do a little bit every day. Here’s some inspiration.

Image: Guitar Center

Image: Guitar Center

 

The Challenge:

After opening 80 new stores in three years, Guitar Center decided that its old way of training – “paper manuals and campfire stories” – wasn’t getting (or keeping) its 12,000 people up-to-speed fast or consistently enough. But as they looked to automate and standardize learning, the company’s L&D leaders worried that conventional training might struggle to connect with store managers and retail staff. As Guitar Center’s Director of eLearning, Chris Salles, put it, “they’re into music, guitars, gear and the rock & roll lifestyle. It can be a challenge to engage them in career development and learning.

 

The Innovation:

Guitar Center began modernizing its training like many other companies — with an LMS and a catalog of e-learning courses. Over time, however, the company’s leaders realized they needed something different. “Outside of the things we were forcing people to take as a requirement,” Salles said, “we weren’t getting a lot of action on our learning site.” Shifting from long-form courses to shorter, more bite-sized ones was a quick, simple win. Yet, Salles acknowledged, the company was still “spending 90% of our learning dollars on 10% of how people actually learn,” a reference to the 70-20-10 model.

In 2013, the company decided to pursue a more enlightened approach, emphasizing informal learning as much as formal training. As Salles described it, “we really were looking to connect with employees in ways in which they want to learn.”  So he and his team started to invest more of their time and budget into tools to facilitate and leverage collaborative learning on-the-job — things like user-generated videos, virtual meetings, online discussions, blogs and simulated practice exercises with live feedback from managers (not to mention a new mobile-ready, cloud-based learning system).

 

The Impact:

Guitar Center started to see results within the first year. Time spent on the company’s learning platform has grown to record levels. More importantly, sales metrics and employee retention have both increased. And Salles says the collaborative approach, enabled by Guitar Center’s new systems, is getting new hires up-to-speed faster and helping all of the retailer’s staff to connect better with customers. That, he says, is “the type of thing we would never be able to put into a formal learning process.”

 

The Takeaways:

Here are three things you can learn from Guitar Center’s new approach to L&D:

  • Connect with learners by re-focusing L&D on how people really learn in your organization. But start by linking your infrastructure and programs to critical business priorities.

 

Your Turn:

Guitar center is not a Degreed client, but we love how Guitar Center’s L&D leaders put learners first. We applaud their agility in changing course. And we admire their grit in reinventing how learning works for their workforce. How is your L&D organization innovating?
Degreed is a new continuous learning platform that can help you put learners first and leverage the entire learning ecosystem. Click here to start making the shift.

Written by Caitlin Probst