02 Mar 2021
Clif Bar Doubles Down on Its Commitment to Self-Directed Learning
Clif Bar has always believed in being a ‘different kind of company.’ The sentiment runs deep in the words of Kit Crawford, one of the company’s co-founders: Clif Bar is “the kind of place we’d want to work, that makes the kind of food we’d like to eat, and that strives for a healthier, more sustainable world—the kind of world we’d like to pass on to our children.” This same ethos has fueled the company’s approach to self-directed learning, one that aims to equip employees with the right tools to take charge of their own development and growth.
- Anything learning-related was managed manually via spreadsheets and email signups. This made it challenging to measure attendance, completion rates, and more.
- There was no central learning hub, with the exception of a simple intranet landing page.
- On-demand learning content was sparse and primarily job- or compliance-related. There were no curriculum tracks for key competencies around leadership and management.
- In-person and virtual learning events garnered the most attention company-wide. Employees weren’t accustomed to visiting a central learning hub regularly on their own.
Clif Bar’s small, yet mighty, learning and development team had a bold mission to create, from the ground up, a dynamic culture of learning across the company. But doing so hasn’t come without its own challenges. “Before Cornerstone, we didn’t have a central learning management system,” explained Jennifer Freitas, Clif Bar’s Director of Learning. “We managed all learning-related activities via a hodgepodge of spreadsheets and emailed meeting invites. It was all very manual and, as you can imagine, quite clunky.”
A reliance on manual processes and a lack of centralized learning content is a pain point that many small businesses understand all too well. Ultimately, Clif Bar knew that if it wanted to make learning a core component of its culture, a strategic investment in a learning management system would be critical—especially one that could grow with the company over time.
So after vetting about 20 different vendors, Cornerstone rose to the top of the list. “We were first sold on Cornerstone’s comprehensive features and functionality, including on-demand learning, live learning, and reporting,” said Freitas. “But what stuck out to us most was that Cornerstone offered us something that we could grow into, something that could help us build, develop, and maintain a more robust culture of self-directed learning.”
Thanks to the powerful combination of Cornerstone Learning (implemented in 2017) and a subscription to Cornerstone Content Anytime (CCA) in 2019, Clif Bar was able to bring ‘Epiphany Labs,’ its company-wide learning hub, to life. Since then, it’s where all the magic happens: live sessions, lunch and learns, on-demand courses, compliance training, and so much more.
Reinforced cultural synergy. “Cornerstone’s reputation as an employer really vibed well with our culture,” expressed Freitas. While this is not necessarily a ‘result’ in the most traditional sense of the word, this says a lot about the importance of cultural alignment in a company’s decision-making processes. Even when it comes to partnering with external vendors. Freitas continued, “We knew that Cornerstone was dedicated to helping us achieve our ambitious learning goals, and that made a huge difference in our minds.”
Improved learning strategy. “Before Cornerstone, we were focused purely on the mechanics of learning and less on building a holistic, company-wide learning strategy,” confirmed Freitas. “Now, we can be much more methodical in our approach and focus on the ROI of delivering quality learning to our people.” This is one of the biggest benefits of implementing a powerful learning management system. It can both enable businesses to scale learning to meet their employees’ growth and development needs and also create a foundation for measuring the near- and long-term impact of that learning strategy. This is critical for driving adoption, boosting engagement, and weaving learning into the fabric of day-to-day employee life.
Strengthened leadership. “In 2020, we launched a new overtime leadership program, called ‘Leader Trek.’ Originally designed as a blended learning experience (some in-person, some online), we had to pivot to an all-virtual experience during the pandemic,” explained Freitas. Clif Bar used on-demand content from CCA to supplement and augment its instructor-led training (ILT) to offer a more flexible and comprehensive learning program. Even more, it served as a great test case for understanding how to use CCA’s curriculum feature to mix on-demand learning with live programming to manage long-term blended learning experiences. “Although we piloted ‘Leader Trek’ with a small cohort of 15 leaders, we had strong engagement and received positive feedback throughout the program, giving us insight into how to make the program even better for the next cohort.” said Freitas.
Increased engagement. “A lot of new on-demand content comes with every Cornerstone Content Anytime quarterly update,” said Brandon Hodges, Clif Bar’s Learning and Development Specialist. “It gives us an opportunity to boost engagement by spotlighting fresh, timely, and relevant content in our monthly email digest and Learner Home carousel.” In fact, the monthly email digests have boosted course registrations by as much as 200% soon after being sent out. “Our goal is for employees to come to our content first whenever they need to learn something,“ added Hodges. “Because the production quality of Cornerstone’s content is amazing, our people see real value in it and are coming back regularly for more.”
Supported remote learning. “I cannot imagine not having our learning hub during this particular time,” expressed Freitas. “We used it for everything, from employee onboarding to leadership training to remote working seminars to stress management workshops—and so much more.” Before COVID-19, Clif Bar used Cornerstone Learning for some compliance training, including anti-harassment courses. However, in 2020, the team added ‘Safe Return Training’ on the compliance front, when a small number of employees, who were able to return to the office, had to complete this mandatory training. Freitas added, “The ability to manage this training all online and do daily completion reports was critical for the team handling safety in the office during the pandemic.”
Addressed evolving learning needs. “The COVID-19 pandemic has really taught us a lot about how to address employee needs in a more thoughtful way,” explained Hodges. “The kind of courses our people were most interested in during the pandemic was quite different than in years prior.” In 2019, for example, the most popular course titles included topics like “Use Stories to Engage Your Audience” and “What Makes a Good Story?” Whereas, in 2020, employees gravitated to topics like the “21-Day Happiness Challenge,” “Watch Out for Burnout,” and “Reduce Workplace Anxiety.” Offering more relevant and timely content like this contributed to a 198% increase in online training hours completed. “Without Cornerstone Content Anytime, we wouldn’t have coursework like this ready to go. It came to the rescue to support our employees during such a stressful and confusing time,” reiterated Hodges.
“Online learning offered employees critical resources for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic, and it also gave us a new way for keeping our culture alive and keeping everyone connected, even when working remotely.”
— Jennifer Freitas, Director of Learning at Clif Bar
Clif Bar’s learning and development team is already devising new ways to add even more value to the company’s self-directed learning culture, including:
- Encouraging employees to leave ratings and feedback to the coursework, fully knowing that positive word-of-mouth will encourage more employees to take more courses;
- Boosting completion rates for eLearning courses, perhaps by assigning ‘pre-work’ for some of the on-demand courses;
- Identifying opportunities to create closer alignment between on-demand content and live learning sessions, based on the positive feedback received when testing the new Leadership Program curriculum, in order to drive more organic attention and engagement around the on-demand learning content; and
- Building learning journeys focused on the skills needed to deliver on Clif’s strategies as well as help our learners develop the skill agility needed for their own success.