Dealer.com spent 14 months creating UFuel, an online learning system that employees use for everything from mastering software basics to deepening the expertise necessary to further their careers.
Dealer.com sounds like a place you might go on vacation. Amenities at the Burlington, Vermont campus include full indoor tennis and basketball courts and an organic local-foods café that will deliver meals right to your desk. Not surprisingly the $50 million company, which helps car dealers design and manage their Web sites, is catnip to young, educated workers. And those workers, nourished by Facebook and Twitter, prefer their minimum daily requirement of information delivered outside the classroom.
In 2008, with its employee count inching toward 200, Dealer.com wanted to ensure all were masters of the company's products and fully conversant in car-dealership culture. Consistency was critical; the company needed to track who had what skills and ensure everyone kept abreast of developments in technology, marketing, and the auto industry. That meant training, delivered regularly over the long haul. It required a vehicle that screen-savvy employees (there are now more than 300) would find comfortable and, ideally, even enjoy.
"It can be confusing when you're jumping into an industry like automotive from another space," says CEO Mark Bonfigli. "We wanted employees to know we understood and cared about getting them the right tools."
The recently hatched training department spent 14 months creating UFuel, an online learning system that employees use for everything from mastering software basics to deepening the expertise necessary to further their careers. "The name means fuel for your own growth," says Director of Training Matt Murray. "The idea of total wellness is a big part of Dealer.com, and UFuel helps to reduce stress levels and increases productivity."
Dealer.com licensed a software backbone, and the trainers developed company-specific content. ("Some people say it takes 300 hours of work to produce one hour of online training. I don't know if that's exact, but it gives you an idea," says Murray.) New employees use UFuel, coupled with classroom training, to become certified in Dealer.com's products, customer service process—even its history, culture, and "playground rules" for the sports and workout facilities. After that, most training takes place at employees' desks, at their own pace, with refresher instruction available on demand. Departments are developing their own classes for the system.
UFuel includes simulations that place employees inside auto dealerships and present them with problems they are challenged to solve. "We want them to see the world through the customer's eyes," says Murray.
UFuel also eliminates the need to seek classes in non-Dealer.com products—Microsoft Power Point, for example—and even some general business skills in institutions outside the company. The system is rich with electives employees can use to manage their own development. And when the company rolls out new products and features, as it does often, employees need not interrupt their work to herd into a classroom with hundreds of colleagues, all trying to get up to speed at the same time. Instead, the training is pushed to their desktops.
"Individuals across an institution are always at different levels in their professional lives, and they have their own ambitions," says Murray. UFuel lets them take control of the education that will get them there.
LEIGH BUCHANAN is an editor at large for Inc. magazine. A former editor at Harvard Business Review and founding editor of WebMaster magazine, she writes regular columns on leadership and workplace culture. @LeighEBuchanan