CHICAGO - Education and sharing of information is essential to any alliance, especially one like IGA that represents 4,000 independent retailers who operate in 40 countries. The task of designing learning and development systems to bring this alliance together and make it stronger fell on the shoulders of Paulo Goelzer, president, IGA Coca-Cola Institute, and chief learning officer and executive vice president, IGA International. Goelzer joined IGA in 1996 as a consultant. During his tenure with IGA, he initiated a number of IGA's most effective fast-track projects. The most influential of these projects was the design and implementation of the IGA Coca-Cola Institute, an educational foundation offering blended training to a worldwide retail community. SN asked Goelzer about the challenges of creating a learning system across disparate languages and cultures. Here is what Goelzer had to say about the systems now in place and what he envisions for IGA learning going forward.
SN: What is the challenge in devising a learning system that translates across international boundaries and cultures?
GOELZER: The challenge is not to design a program that will go across boundaries. Retail is a very local business. You cannot create something that is universal. There are two processes. One is the process of translation. The other is localization. I can have English translated to Spanish because it is for those in the Spanish community working in the United States. It needs translation, but it needs no localization. We have cashier training, and a clerk in South Africa is called the 'till pecker' - the position has a name and obviously the functions are similar. So you need to call out its name. That is the localized aspect. The language is based on the culture of that location.
SN: Explain the system and its components.
GOELZER: There are three main components. Last year we trained a total of about 2,000 people. The IGA Coca-Cola Institute, which I founded in 2001, is an educational foundation. We have week-long certification classroom training, run twice a year, for management-level members. Every session is sold out, and we train 80 managers a year. About 50%-60% of participants are international members. Our Web-based training, launched in 2003, is another certification program for entry-level grocery store workers. It is designed to support retailers in their on-the-job training. Those taking a Web-based course must pass each section of the course by a score of at least 80%. If you don't score 80%, the software brings the content back and you have to do it again until you get it right.
The last component is the 3,000-page training manual. It is used as reference to train people in stores and contains everything from job descriptions to store sanitation.
SN: How much does this cost your members?
GOELZER: IGA is a non-profit, privately held company. We exist for the benefit of our members. We get revenue strictly for the maintenance of our foundation. Funding is for training, research and development of people. The Web-based training and manual is totally free to members. The classroom training has the support of a 20-person faculty and includes store tours. The cost to IGA members is about $1,800 for the week.
SN: Is this learning available to all countries where your members operate?
GOELZER: It is available in all countries. Any IGA retailer today has access to these tools. We don't have all languages, but it is all available in English.
SN: Why is IGA's educational training so important?
GOELZER: When people join the alliance, especially our international members, they are looking for ways to improve their operations. They are looking to belong to a network. There aren't too many lone wolves out there in retailing. To cultivate this community practice, they join IGA and education is a benefit of the alliance. That decision was made 20 years ago. Coca-Cola is our partner and supports us. They understand that the longevity and health of global brands are correlated to the number of independents in a certain market. The rationale is the same all over the world. Independents need to aggregate to sell together. In order to stay competitive, they need to share knowledge.
SN: How do you measure results of your training?
GOELZER: I measure the number of people taking the courses, and track how many graduate every month. We receive questionnaires/evaluations from those who take each class. What I have difficulty measuring is what happens in the store. I need to take a retailer that never has used our education and measure its effectiveness in-store. We know training helps retailers. We know that today the turnover happening in our industry as well as in the fast-food sector is huge. Many people come into the stores and they are thrown in with no training. We know with training there is improvement.
SN: Where do you go from here?
GOELZER: I can put knowledge out for everybody. I also can capture knowledge. We couldn't do what we do today without the Web. Let's say we have 4,000 stores - 1,000 owners. There are 1,000 independent labs out there trying to survive and compete. We can capture that knowledge and bring it into the Institute. My vision comes from my belief that knowledge is never complete. Everybody has knowledge, creates knowledge. It is culturally based. It is not universal. That is the reason I believe in localization and translation. Now we can have a centralized depository, a centralized hub for this knowledge where we can all benefit.
SN: What is the next step?
GOELZER: We'll increase the breadth of what we offer, such as courses that enrich the retail experience - train those that sell wine, or cheese specialists. We'll offer different tools, information and skills for retailers to differentiate themselves. We'll train not only the traditional supermarket operators but those running different formats, including smaller convenience stores or hypermarkets. We'll expand our breadth and incorporate local knowledge into our system. If we are looking at Indian, French, Central American cuisines, we have stores in all those places and we can get ingredients, components, first-hand knowledge and information from the people doing local things that could help retailers in other parts of the world.
SN: It's not official yet, but IGA is proposing splitting up into three wholly owned companies. One of those companies would be the Coca-Cola Institute with you remaining as president. Would this be a good move?
GOELZER: It would be a good thing. Our governance would be independent. It means I could take this Institute to a different level and have more autonomy. I am patiently waiting for this to happen.
SN: Any final thoughts?
GOELZER: Applying all this to food, the consumer values health and longevity. If I have the knowledge to create [healthy] solutions and alternatives for the consumer, such as bringing in acai juice from the super berry found in the Amazon, that is what will differentiate my store. Differentiation is linked to learning.