Ready, set, skate: Sonic adds a dash of competition to employee training
When it comes to training remote teams, the challenge for L&D professionals is more than just getting information distributed evenly across national or global locations. Sure, that training has to be tailored to the correct roles and delivered in a timely way. But what if it could also be a motivational tool?
At over 3,500 locations across the U.S., fast food restaurant chain Sonic has aimed to do just that with its Dr Pepper Sonic Games. The event involves nine months of training — including quizzes, team challenges, secret shoppers and individual competitions — for restaurant crews at participating Sonic locations. Training culminates in a search for the "Final 12" crews, who participate in a competition that concludes the games.
"Dr Pepper Sonic Games is an extensive premier training program that is open to all Sonic Drive-In crews coast-to-coast each year," Matt Schein, vice president of operations at Sonic, said in an email to HR Dive. The company has held the games for more than 20 years, growing them into a training program that drive-in crews look forward to and are excited to participate in. The nine-month program ends with a dozen crews selected as top competitors. Each is brought to a central location to compete for the title Best Crew in the Country; two days of final competitions are included, along with some rest and relaxation for all the teams.
Training runs from location-based sessions, quizzes, secret shoppers and more. The company sees crews excited and energized by different training components. "At Sonic, we feel that this differentiates us from other QSRs because we are providing continuing education that is very specific and relevant to our crews' every day work," Schein said, "while still providing challenges that provide a well-rounded understanding of every aspect of the drive-in in a fun and encouraging atmosphere. This has been a great way to drive employee engagement through building their capabilities and recognizing their accomplishments."
Gamifying the Games
In addition to an overall gamification feel for the training itself, crews access an online portal to compete in digital training modules that help them advance to the next level. "The key is making it fun and engaging," Schein said, "Most activities and trainings are in-person and are based on individual work areas including order taking, food drink, frozen treat and ice cream preparation, guest service and delivery, monthly promotions and food safety."
The competition was first waged in 1994, and as each passing year brought new technology, changes were made to adapt and modify how crew members are evaluated using different methods and channels of communication.
Building teams with training
The success of the games, Schein believes, is the teamwork element that brings everyone together and creates a unique dynamic at the drive-in with everyone reaching for the same goal and building up each other. More than just a game, the company sees exceptional improvements in food quality, guest service experience and overall employee performance because of this robust training program.
"Our work culture is something we take great pride in and is implemented from our corporate office down to each drive-in,” said Schein. The program encourages team building, he added, and is the "perfect representation of our highly collaborative organization, where employees believe in the business strategy and are empowered to bring their art and craft to life."
The deskless worker training challenge
Sonic's program is one form of addressing a larger problem within L&D circles: How can employers train deskless workers who don't typically sit in front of a computer during their day-to-day? It's an area of investment that has generally become easier in recent years to thanks to technology, but engagement remains area of focus.
"Many employers have found that it's actually become easier to provide training to deskless workers today with the rise of mobile learning," Sari Wilde, research leader for Gartner's HR practice told HR Dive via email. "Even if workers don't sit in front of a desk all day, most of them still carry mobile devices." Gartner's data suggests the trend to mobile learning will continue to rise.
"Workforce research shows that employees actually value development and want access to learning on the job." Max Caldwell, principal and people and HR transformation practice leader at the Hackett Group, told HR Dive in an email. "People want to build their skills, be considered for promotion, and enhance their 'employability' in other organizations."
And the winners are …
Sonic's 12 finalist crews will be announced soon, with each team member earning an all-expenses-paid trip to Washington, D.C., to compete for the Best Crew of the Country title in September. The top three crews will be recognized at an awards ceremony in front of thousands of Sonic franchisees and executives.
"For many participants," Schein said, "this will be the first time they have flown on an airplane or traveled outside of their home state, which makes the events even more special."
Follow Riia O'Donnell on Twitter