Blended Approach Builds Competency-Based Interviewing Skills

How does a 255,000 person organization recognized by Fortune Magazine  as a “World’s Most Admired Company” maintain a world-class workforce? Through blended learning.

ARAMARK is a leader in professional services, providing award-winning food services, facilities management, and uniform and career apparel to health care institutions, universities and school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses around the world.  In 2008, ARAMARK conducted an in-depth analysis to define the critical leadership competencies needed to maintain and grow the quality of their organization. After rolling these competencies out to employees in 2009, ARAMARK set its sights on integrating these competencies into the interviewing process.

The company recognized that experience and skills were only part of the equation for success at the company and that the intangibles embodied by their competency model were even more important.

“He seems like a great guy” or “I think I’d really enjoy working with him” isn’t the kind of feedback that can help you evaluate whether someone has the business acumen to run a large facility. The company needed a common language to evaluate internal and external candidates, something that would objectively map back to these leadership competencies and to the company’s overall view of talent management.

ARAMARK’s Global Talent Management group, led by Ash Hanson, associate vice president of learning and development, formulated a training plan to build the skills of hiring managers in order to better integrate competencies into the interviewing process. ARAMARK chose Kineo to lead the blended design of the program and to develop the e-learning and instructor-led materials.

Working across segments

ARAMARK is a large, diverse organization serving 15 industries across the United States. Each business operates in a unique business climate and is guided by a distinctive management philosophy. Individual managers must account for local market conditions and modify content and approaches based on their own individual business needs.

The challenge was to develop an approach to training managers in hiring skills that would be generic enough to work across the various segments of the business, but specific enough to equip managers within business segments and geographies to apply their new skills to address their specific needs.

ARAMARK was also fairly new to e-learning on the whole, with some e-learning successes here and there, but also some resistance. Previous e-learning had been mostly compliance-based and people tended to see it as a means to an end, not an element of their own professional development.

In packaging the piece, ARAMARK wanted to be sure that this distinction was clear—so that employees could see the value of the program and get something useful out of it.

Enter a blended solution

Kineo VP of Learning Design Cammy Bean worked closely with the ARAMARK team to create a framework that provided a flexible and sustainable approach no matter where the program would be rolled out. The solution takes a blended approach, with e-learning used as the pre-work for a one-day instructor-led workshop. The e-learning introduces the core concepts of the five-step competency interviewing process, while the workshop focuses on role-plays to provide participants the critical practice needed to put the process in action.

She explains: “We wanted the e-learning to focus on the basic definitions and provide some realistic examples of the interviewing process in action. This approach allowed us to jump more quickly into the role-plays in the live workshop, giving participants more practice and opportunity for mastery.”

Tiffany Esposito, ARAMARK’s director of learning and organizational development, and team leader on this project, says of Kineo’s design approach: “The e-learning gave participants a solid foundation before they came to the workshop. By the time we got to the workshops, they were ready to actively role play and make the content their own.”

Creating a foundation through e-learning

The e-learning pre-work is approximately 70 minutes, and is mandatory before attending the workshop. The solution uses a conversational approach to engage learners and challenge them to consider the approach they used in their most recent interviews. Through asking reflective questions, the learners connect more closely with past experiences to make the learning experience stickier and more relevant.

The program introduces each of the five steps of the interviewing process through interactive scenarios that model best practices and involve the learner by having them guide the process forward. Kineo animated still photos with audio narration of both the interviewer and the job candidate so the learner can hear how an actual competency-based interview should go. This low-bandwidth approach meant the program could deliver across ARAMARK’s wide technology platform.

At key moments in the sample interview, the simulated interview program asks the learner to help the interviewer decide the right way forward. It identifies key points in the interview process in which interviewees tended to make mistakes. At these moments, the program stops the sample interview and asks the question: “What should Sarah, the interviewer, ask next?” Each possible answer represented a plausible response, often exemplifying the most common mistakes people tend to make.

This design approach prepares the learner for the workshop session where they’ll spend significant time practicing the interview themselves. As the e-learning wraps up, the learner is asked to consider a current opening or key position on their team and to identify the critical competencies for success in that role.

Each learner brings this “homework” to the workshop and starts the process of taking the general concepts covered in the e-learning and making them actionable through workshop activities. This gives the e-learning a strong call to action that connects with the workshop, and of course with the learner’s day job.

Providing practice through live workshop

Having gone through the e-learning, all attendees arrive at the workshop with a solid foundation of the interview process. Now they have the chance to practice these skills through live role-play sessions.

Kineo’s design team worked closely with ARAMARK’s experienced facilitators to design the workshop and create the accompanying materials. During the workshop, the facilitator reviews key concepts with the group to encourage retention and provides an active forum for discussion. Learners move back and forth from role plays that provide practice and skill building to exercises that give space for introspection about past interviews and future opportunities.

Role plays are done in groups of three, with three separate opportunities for extended practice. Each participant gets to play the role of interviewer, interviewee and observer. This approach allows participants to practice the skills and learn through the process of observing and providing feedback.

Piloting and refining

The entire curriculum was created over a period of three months, with an initial pilot program in June 2010 and a second pilot session at the end of August. ARAMARK selected a group of managers to participate in the first drafts of the e-learning and classroom sessions.

The Kineo design team took part in the live sessions as objective observers, taking notes on participant responses and questions. After the program, Kineo made adjustments to the curriculum to accommodate feedback and improve classroom flow and delivery.

Steve Lowenthal, Kineo’s US CEO, notes, “Having the opportunity to review the workshops in action was a key part of our design process. Seeing how real workshop participants reacted to the exercises gave us important feedback and helped us see what was working and where changes were needed.”

Feedback so far?

Kineo’s designers worked closely with ARAMARK subject matter experts to create a highly interactive learning experience which helps learners practice the concepts put forth in the e-learning and the practical application started in the e-learning scenarios.

The whole package has been designed and documented in detail to allow for a consistent and scalable roll-out across all of ARAMARK. The first sessions officially kicked off in early 2011. In many businesses and geographies the program is integrated into new manager on-boarding activities that highlight the application of the ARAMARK Leadership Competency Framework to specific Talent Management activities.

Dale Wallace, Senior Director of Leadership Development at ARAMARK says, “The program is a hit on all levels. This blended approach to Interviewing Skills development has shortened the amount of time spent in the classroom, while focusing that time on practice and application. This is a stark contrast to the 2 ½ day program we used in the past. Additionally, evaluations show that people are taking away actionable skills. ARAMARK is a very action-oriented culture.”

Wallace adds: “When we first rolled out the competency model people ‘got it’ and wanted to know more about how to use it—this program is meeting that demand. Not only are we improving the interview prowess of our managers, we’re also helping them improve their overall understanding of talent management. Kineo’s project approach and design expertise has helped all of us in the learning community hone our skills too!”

ARAMARK has continued a gradual roll out of the program to specific management teams. “We see ourselves as partners to ARAMARK’s Learning and Development team,” notes Steve Lowenthal, “and the content doesn’t just stop and go static.” Kineo and ARAMARK will continue to work closely to adjust content and fine-tune the learning experience as additional learners go through the program.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

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