Human Resources News & Insights

Case study: Training initiative brought us into the Digital Age

Periodically, we like to share the success stories of companies dealing with HR issues. This case study comes courtesy of Phil Gomes, senior vice president of Edelman, Chicago.


We were looking for ways to get our employees to achieve and maintain the latest digital skills.

Our staff requires the most up-to-date skills to best serve our clients.

And with the speed that things are moving in the digital era, we knew it was crucial to get staff on board with those competencies ASAP.

But what specific skills would our workers need – and what was the best way to train them?

To the drawing board

First step: Rework staffers’ job descriptions to encompass digital skills.

We did that by adding “digital analogues” to each person’s job profile – supplements to current skills they already had that they’d also need in a digital environment.

HR worked with our digital experts on positions all the way up to the senior vice president level.

As we went through the process, we knew that most of our workers would need new training to get up to speed on these new skills.

Our first thought: Let’s bring everyone together and train them in the same location.

We did that with some success for about a year and a half, with teams spending time solving real-world client social media issues.

But we soon found that this approach was very expensive. Plus, it wreaked havoc on people’s schedules.

Earning ‘belts’

That’s when we hit on the idea of self-paced training.

The benefits were obvious – staffers could move at their own pace, and they could find the time that best worked for them to get it done.

In the end, we settled on a training program where employees earn “belts” – white through black, similar to judo – for completing training.

Staffers work to earn a specific belt, which includes eight to 12 lessons and sometimes a short film.

Then after completing a test, workers are awarded a new belt. Employees’ belt status is then reflected on their intranet profiles.

We add to the overall difficulty by writing a large number of test questions for each module and then varying the questions for each test.

Occasionally we do need to update certain modules. When that happens, an employee’s belt status becomes “incomplete” (or temporarily lowered) until he or she re-certifies.

Then, once they successfully complete the new training, they’re bumped back up to the previous belt.

2,500 people trained

The program has been a tremendous success – more than 2,500 employees have trained themselves and a large percentage have received “black belts.”

That means that many employees have the necessary digital skills to serve our clients best.

We’ve also found that our staffers enjoy the competitive element of earning new belts.

And thanks to the positive press that the program received, we’ve seen added interest in the company, which has helped with hiring and recruiting.

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