Modern Training

3 lessons in learning and employee engagement from a former startup

Posted on: July 19, 2023Updated on: July 31, 2023By: Maliyah Bernard

It’s a familiar story: a bright-eyed, scrappy organization that could once quickly seize any opportunity evolves into a large enterprise full of red tape and even more stakeholders to make decisions that used to be lightning-quick. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and how the startup journey often goes. But it does take intention to maintain that inherent agility even as the company grows.

Just ask Endy, a Canadian mattress company that’s holding tight to its startup values. After Sleep Country Canada acquired the organization in 2018, Endy’s teams remained focused on agility, proactivity and achieving the results that matter most even as it expanded its leadership position in Canadian retail. Gloria Chau, Endy’s Manager of Learning and Development, recently joined ITK to share inspiring lessons that bigger companies can learn from the journey of startups like Endy to keep employees motivated and invested in a culture of learning that drives business results.

Mattress Retail Store Associate and Employee

Endy’s secret for continuous and deliberate learning? Microlearning.

Diverse and growing workforces like Endy’s have many moving parts—from employees on the sales floor to those supporting customers over the phone, email or chat. Besides the need to connect across departments and managers, there’s also the challenge of ensuring everybody, no matter the shift they’re working, has access to a consistently high-quality level of learning to meet or exceed customer expectations and develop professionally.

Endy favors continuous and deliberate learning—emphasizing investment in soft and transferable skills that allows employees to grow and support the parent company—over traditional, classroom-based education that doesn’t match the realities of the retail frontline. 

A focus on microlearning means they can target areas like leadership skills and DEI training while promoting a culture of continuous learning. And getting buy-in from key Endy stakeholders who were able to recognize its value made a significant impact on how the rest of the company saw it:

“Having leadership and staff champions has been key,” says Chau. “Some of our leaders are on the Top 10 leaderboard on Axonify at times, which means that our leadership team has really invested in leading by example and ensuring that everybody understands the importance of learning. With that buy-in, the team has felt eager and excited to get on board, and we continue to build on that.”

3 takeaways from Endy’s journey

1. Keep employee learning compelling (and competitive)

It’s been proven that learning works best when it’s fun and engaging—especially when you’re dealing with not-so-fun regulatory considerations, compliance and onboarding requirements. Igniting a passion for learning and making it an ingrained habit requires a long-term commitment and dedication to creating meaningful and enjoyable programs.

“We’re always finding new ways and running new campaigns to increase engagement on the platform,” says Chau. “Whether it’s pairing product giveaways with the training for new product launches or doubling the points for merch redemption, we have lots of exciting tactics to keep people on their toes and make sure that we’re delivering a fun but well-rounded ‘something for everybody’ type of program.” 

“One of my most memorable [learning campaigns] was a few months after the launch of the Axonify program when we looked at how to boost engagement. Our team doesn’t typically have any merch or company swag, but we got creative and created ‘Endy University.’ We wanted to lean into the school and academia theme, so we coupled ‘Endy U’ with a campus store and set out with our creative team to design a line of apparel a student would wear. We brainstormed everything from hats, tote bags, athletic shirts and even a team mascot for a fictional sports team!

Making sure that the creative plan and strategy fit in with our learning strategy and injecting a sense of fun and nostalgia was essential to getting our team hooked.”

2. Don’t stop measurin’ (learning progress and relevancy)

Once learners are engaged and motivated, you need to find ways to keep them that way! Along with initiatives that make ongoing L&D programs sticky, it’s also important to track the impact of the learning experience you’re providing to make sure that teams are engaged, especially when it comes to long-term staff, and stay plugged into what’s happening in the L&D industry.

“We look at participation rates on all of our platforms to ensure we’re being proactive and keeping a finger on the company’s pulse. We check in regularly to make sure we’re meeting everybody’s needs,” says Chau. “Also, as L&D practitioners, I know that sometimes our [own] learning and development fall by the wayside. Still, it’s important to stay informed on trends happening in the world to make sure that the content we’re presenting is fresh and exciting.”

3. ‘Fail fast, learn faster’

One final piece of advice that Chau offers to help corporate leaders think more like a startup: don’t be afraid to fail because that’s where improvement happens. 

“Success comes from staying on top of everything that’s happening in the world and being up-to-date, but also from not being afraid to make mistakes. One of [Endy’s] company values is ‘fail fast, learn faster.’

It means the learning journey is never really over. You’re constantly improving, from an L&D perspective and on departmental and individual levels. Always looking at how you can [continue] to build a continuous and deliberate learning culture in the workplace helps employees understand that learning enables them to solve your business problems faster.”

Want to foster an employee experience that helps people do their best work every day? Remember to protect and maintain the space needed for agility and creativity to develop so teams can keep pace with changing business needs and avoid getting stuck in the dreaded “This is how we’ve always done it” loop. 

Employees, managers and key stakeholders have different goalposts when it comes to learning but should all be aligned on the same results. Connecting training to big-picture solutions is one way to accelerate your growth and sustain that culture of learning. Also important: having critical conversations about how the company’s learning strategy is aimed at enabling all employees to deliver value, provide a great customer experience and drive revenue so they’re willing to buy into new learning initiatives and stay engaged.

Watch the full ITK episode with Gloria Chau for more learning lessons from a former startup.

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Maliyah Bernard

Maliyah Bernard is an academic writer turned content writer. As a former frontline worker, she loves writing about all the ways organizations can support these essential workers smarter.

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