VW Credit Uses Authentic Feedback To Compile Data For Innovative Training
By Alison Huff


With a name that translates to "people's car" in English, Volkswagen is a German multinational automaker who has left its mark on the global driving experience. With 80 years in business, Volkswagen offers vehicles under well known brands like Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, and Bugatti, along with the Ducati brand of motorcycles.

Volkswagen Group of America, a subsidiary of its parent company, Volkswagen AG, is headquartered in Herndon, Va. In addition to offering the same prestigious brands of vehicles, Volkswagen Group of America provides VW Credit, Inc., a financial services company who has been in business for more than 30 years as the preferred financial services company for Volkswagen.

VW Credit provides financial products, customer support, customer service, and account management for individual consumers and more than 1,000 dealerships across the United States. Training a vast network of employees is no small undertaking, but VW Credit has taken an innovative approach to ensure the success of its workforce. We recently spoke with Milica Vincent, Learning & Performance Manager at VW Credit, to learn more about their data-driven method of professional development.

When It Comes To Training, The Proof Is In The Data

Since Vincent joined the Volkswagen family in 2011, she has been developing training for people in the VW Credit sales field, the employees who support dealers from a financial aspect, while also partnering with VW and Audi brand academies to make sure there is a robust curriculum for finance managers in dealerships. Compliance is a huge component of training, given the regulations put forth by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the certification curriculum that VW Credit provides is offered to dealerships, the sales field, and finance managers.

With 43 Business Development Mangers (BDMs) who report to ten Senior Managers Sales Operations (SMSOs), the certification curriculum is broken up into areas that cover compliance, brand awareness, and experiential training. Every January, the curriculum is enhanced to ensure optimal training and education.

One portion in particular, a combination of web-based and instructor-led training that relates to employee expertise, is a combination of courses that have to do with communication, finance, financial statements in the dealership, and dealership operations. To make the most of training, Vincent embraced "The Stolovich Method," which focuses on human performance improvement through the use of a performance map and gap analysis.

Vincent regularly enjoys attending conferences, particularly sessions provided by the International Society for Performance Improvement. It was during one such session that she discovered Harry Stolovitch, a prominent speaker and the man who co-authored "Telling Ain't Training," a book for learning and development professionals. Stolovitch's method focuses on applying data to identify gaps in development, and using that information to build a map that will address them.

Vincent also hired Bonnie Beresford, a woman who has a PhD in Human Capital Management and mentored under Stolovitch, and who was instrumental in implementing the map and gap analysis at VW Credit.

To begin the process, Vincent identifies the top ten performers out of 43 BDMs at Volkswagen Credit. A full day is spent with those individuals, asking them to identify their definition of success, along with what activities and sub activities they engage in to achieve that definition of success.

"You write down these ideas and activities and you figure out what the categories are," Vincent explained. "As you meet with each team of experts, they refine it and adjust it until you end up with a map that everyone agrees on."

From that one exercise, Vincent ended up with ten major activity titles and numerous sub activities for a total of 62 activities, some of which might be as specific as delivering lease training at a dealership. "Once you have documented that map, you take all of those activities and you create a survey, which you then send to every single person in the field," Vincent said. The surveys were sent to all 43 BDMs.

For each activity, Vincent asked two questions: "How proficient are you on this?" and "How important do you think it is?"

The same survey was sent to all ten SMSOs, only they had to answer the same questions relative to each of their BDMs.

"So when you’re done gathering all that data, you end up with four buckets of information," Vincent explained. One bucket shows a gap in an area where both the BDM and the SMSO agree there is a gap, the second shows where a BDM believes there is a gap but the SMSO doesn't see it, a third shows where an SMSO sees a gap but the BDM does not, and a fourth shows where neither the BDM or the SMSO sees a gap.

The primary bucket is the one where both the BDM and the SMSO see a gap. From there, Vincent can discover what the gap is, create development around training, resources, or incentives, and reach out to other areas of the company for support and reinforcement in those areas.

"I think the thing that’s most exciting about it, is that once you start using this angle, people can’t seem to get enough data," Vincent observed.


Robust Feedback Turns Into Robust Training

In addition to the survey questions, a comment section has proved to be worth its weight in gold. Vincent asked questions that allowed employees to share their thoughts and opinions, which opened the door for valuable information.

"It's authentic feedback, it's not something where you're guiding them to the information," Vincent explained. "And now you have a study that has both qualitative data and quantitative data, so it's very well rounded."

That type of information was first used to create recommendations for the courses that were incorporated into the training curriculum in 2013. When Vincent met with the senior management at the corporate headquarters in 2014, she was in for a pleasant surprise. "For the first time ever, in the history of there being field training for VW Credit, they did not make any changes to the curriculum," she said.

Currently, new BDMs and SMSOs have the first year to complete all of their certification courses. During the following year and all subsequent years, they maintain their certification by completing two types of development that is endorsed by their manager. The training is customizable to their individual development, an innovative approach that grants freedom and creativity. Employees can choose from web-based or instructor-led courses, courses they've taken in the past if they need a refresher, or they can select books from VW Credit's lending library.

The company has also made available an entire library of TED talks which count toward personal development goals, and they are currently exploring interactive software to create an even richer and more individualized experience. "To entice sales people, you just really have to be as innovative as possible," Vincent noted.

Completing certification is something that's included in their performance reviews, but every person in the field receives an annual gift if they've achieved their certification, along with a personal letter from the Senior Vice President of Sales acknowledging their efforts in developing themselves.

The incentives don't stop there, however. "The biggest incentive for finance managers is the knowledge and expertise that comes from the training that helps them make more money," Vincent observed.

Vincent credits Bonnie Beresford for much of her success with the map and gap analysis. VW Credit's experience was later published as a case study in "Developing Human Capital," written by Gene Pease, Beresford, and Lew Walker. Its success was also featured in "Using Performance Mapping and Gap Analysis to Improve Performance: An Evidence-Based Assessment of Performance Gaps," written by Beresford and Paige Barrie.

The map and gap analysis has changed training at VW Credit for the better since the moment it was implemented, and Vincent offered a word of advice for anyone who intends to utilize this powerful tool for their own training purposes. "Use data that’s relevant as often as you can. If you're using a performance map and gap analysis, update it every three years," Vincent said, noting that over time, a workforce will have turnover, a change in circumstances, and a change in environment. "You’ll find that people are more than willing to participate because they care that someone is interested in their specific development and their culture," she added.

"The important thing is that you're planting a seed when you're sharing data that comes straight from them," Vincent observed.

With valuable people-driven data firmly in hand, VW Credit's training program continues to sow the seeds of success.

About VW Credit
VW Credit is part of the VW Group and the preferred financial services company for Volkswagen. In operation for more than 30 years, VW Credit offers stellar customer service and financial expertise to individuals and more than 1,000 dealerships throughout the United States.

About our Training Series
As part of our own expansion and growth, we’re excited to continue our training series. This series encompasses a wide variety of channel topics designed to help channel partners gain knowledge of successful business practices.

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