Toyota Embraces E-learning—and Change

By Sarah Fister Gale

Mar. 19, 2008

In 2004, Toyota Motor Europe was in a quandary. It was releasing an increasing number of new vehicle models each year, each with long lists of environmentally friendly technologies and other manufacturing selling points, and the amount of training necessary for its sales, marketing and engineering teams also was surging. Toyota’s sales and marketing organizations in countries across Europe needed quick, easy access to product training before new models were released to the public. But Toyota Motor Europe had no centralized way to deliver that content.

Brussels, Belgium-based Toyota Motor Europe combines three prior Toyota entities on the continent and is responsible for the company’s marketing, sales, manufacturing, and research and development there. It works with 29 independently held national sales and marketing companies based in 48 countries scattered across Europe. At the time, each company had its own system for collecting and disseminating new product information.

According to Sann René Glaza, Toyota Motor Europe’s senior manager for the Learning Technologies Group, some of the more established national marketing and sales companies had their own e-learning or classroom-based systems and fully staffed training departments, while others, particularly those in emerging markets, had little or no formal training in place. Adding further complications was the fact that product and training materials had to be translated into 30 different languages to meet all of their needs.

“Every country launched new products in their own way, with their own training and sales events, which was not cost-effective,” Glaza says. “It was imperative that we develop an entirely new network to get the same product information out to all of the local sales and marketing companies.”

To manage the flow of information and streamline the education process, Toyota Motor Europe implemented a centralized learning management system developed by Certpoint Systems, a global learning management software solution provider headquartered in Roslyn Heights, New York, with offices in Belgium. The new system, branded Toyota Connect, includes access to frequently updated e-learning modules, content management tools, online registration, assessment tracking and an integrated user-friendly authoring tool to develop unique regional content.

“We really wanted to make this something that the marketing and sales companies could manage on their own,” Glaza says of the new system. “We have a grand total of four people in training and support [at Toyota Motor Europe headquarters]. It was important for us to be able to concentrate on refining the curriculum.”

Road show
    The greatest challenge in developing the learning system for Toyota Motor Europe was that it had to be both centralized and decentralized, says Kenneth Fung, senior vice president for Certpoint. “Each sales and marketing group was autonomous with different maturity levels, staff size and languages, but they all needed access to the same global content.”

Each national marketing and sales company would also have to pay for access to the new system—and participation was not mandatory.

Going into the project, Glaza knew it would be a hard sell. “I’ve found, as a program manager, that getting people to embrace e-learning is much more about change management,” she says. “It’s bigger than making people to use the system; it’s about changing the way they think about getting information.”

Toyota Motor Europe began to introduce the system in early 2005, and to ease into the change, Glaza went out on the road with her IT people and representatives from CertPoint to educate executives, managers and training managers about Toyota Connect and the value it would bring to their businesses. “We demoed the system and showed them the time and cost savings,” she says. At the end of the presentation, Glaza’s team asked for letters of commitment from the national marketing and sales companies.

“It was a difficult process,” notes Fung, who was a member of the road show. “They had to see the value of the system and it took a while to convince people.”

As part of the lure, Toyota Motor Europe gave all of its national marketing and sales companies access to a “light” version of Toyota Connect, so that they could try out the e-learning content. Once they bought in fully, they could take advantage of all the courses and assessments, as well as the tracking, notification, learning management and authoring tools. At that point, the marketing and sales companies could decide which functionalities to use, how they wanted to track assessments and which courses they would make mandatory for personnel.

Key members of each country’s training staff were also brought into headquarters for a three-day training session on how to use the system and the authoring tools.

“It was all part of the change management process,” Fung says. “The change management is almost as important as the technological pieces, because if you are not able to get buy-in and convince people to change their behavior and attitude about learning, what’s the point?”

By the end of the road show, 26 markets had signed up, Fung says. “That’s incredible for a non-mandatory tool that they have to pay for.”

Leveling the playing field
    Today, through Toyota Connect, Toyota Motor Europe’s central training office develops core content that is disseminated to all of the regional offices, where the course material is translated and tweaked for local users by regional training personnel. Each national marketing and sales company has its own domain and the ability to localize its content. But the core content is the same across Europe.

“In this way, they all receive the same training to ensure the message we are giving our retailers is consistent in quality,” Glaza says. “It really does help to maintain our brand image. Even if they make some minor tweaks and changes to localize the material, we can still maintain control of the message.”

The translation tools in the system have also delivered valuable benefits to local dealers. Before the e-learning system, it took the national marketing and sales organizations 10 weeks to translate course content and new product information from headquarters, which meant training materials often weren’t ready until well after a new model hit the market. With the Toyota Connect templates and tools, the translations can be completed in several days. “That means they are getting product knowledge to sales people 90 percent faster,” Fung says.

Early success
    Many of the national marketing and sales companies saw early success with the new system, particularly those in France, who have been the greatest champions of the system, Glaza says. They participated in an early pilot program, measured results and shared their numbers with the rest of the organization.

Their measures of success include the reduction of a four-day classroom training course to two days, replacing the two days of instruction with e-learning modules. The marketing and sales companies estimate each day an employee spends in off-site training is the equivalent of €1,000 billable time, and there are 12 to 20 participants in each session. “That savings adds up quickly,” Fung says.

The dealers in France have also seen a 90 percent reduction in administration time for training because employees sign up directly for courses online and receive automated confirmations and notifications of courses, eliminating the need for the training department to handle course management.

“Toyota France was able to show significant numbers in terms of time and administrative savings,” Glaza says. “That helped us generate a lot of excitement.”

Even more impressive were the success stories coming out of emerging markets. Romania in particular saw great results among early adopters, and used those early successes to persuade skeptical managers to more fully embrace the system.

Camelia Strete, training manager for Toyota Romania, says that prior to 2006, her group offered only classroom training and had no tools or system for self-study. When Toyota Connect was launched, she attended the three-day training and was so excited that she went back to Romania and delivered a presentation on the new system at a dealer conference, showcasing its benefits and educating managers on the technology they would need to invest in—including computers and office space—to give employees access to the new content.

Unfortunately, her enthusiasm for e-learning wasn’t contagious. “They didn’t say it out loud, but a lot of managers were reluctant,” she says. Most of the dealers agreed to implement the system, which launched in February 2006 in Romania, but their usage of the e-learning modules varied significantly.

To prove the system’s value, Strete spent the next year collecting information about usage and impact among local dealers. In December 2007, she went out on a road show of her own with a graph that she was certain would change the minds of those reluctant dealers.

The graph ranked dealers in order of the amount of time their employees spent online, and compared it with the same list of dealers in order of sales rankings.

“The two rankings were extremely close,” Strete says. Her data showed that those national marketing and sales companies that spent the most hours training had the highest sales. “It was very realistic for them. It showed the direct link between training and sales results.”

That presentation won over the managers, whom Strete relies on to foster a work environment that places value on learning.

“So much of e-learning is about management’s attitude,” she says. “If managers encourage people to use the training and reward them for it, the whole team will do it. That’s when you see results.”

Sarah Fister Gale is a writer in Chicago.

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