Building Leaders with an Eye on Fun

Dave & Buster’s includes simulations, virtual meetings successfully

With 55 stores and $525 million in annual sales, Dave & Buster’s mission is to deliver an unparalleled guest experience through the best combination of food, drinks and games in an ideal environment for celebrating all-out fun.

In 2007, Dave & Buster’s decided to take a fresh approach to leadership development. Rather than a completely instructor-led program, Dave & Buster’s decided on a blended approach that would include online courses, simulations, virtual meetings and access to online books in addition to instructor-led sessions, as needed.

Once the new learning approach was agreed upon, Dave & Buster’s set out to create competencies for its leaders. These leaders include senior managers, assistant general managers, general managers and regional operations directors.

“We were positioning ourselves for growth and had to ensure that we were able to farm strong leadership to take on advanced roles,” explains Catherine Ferrell, the company’s corporate training manager.

The training, executive and human resources teams came up with 18 competencies for their leaders. Each competency includes basic, intermediate and advanced proficiency levels. This process for defining competencies and proficiencies took a year to complete.

Then, Dave & Buster’s set out to find a learning partner that could provide the content needed to support these 18 competencies. By early 2008, Dave & Buster’s had decided on SkillSoft as its partner.

“SkillSoft was able to offer the leadership competency library to the extent that we needed it,” Ferrell says. “SkillSoft also had an LMS (SkillPort) that we could use to teach and track progress for our management staff.”

With SkillSoft’s help, Dave & Buster’s was able to map courses and simulations to each level and each competency.

“By putting a roadmap together, leaders can now learn what they need to know to advance their skill,” Ferrell says. “We told our leaders: Here is where you are and how we’re going to provide you with the knowledge you will need to build skills to advance to the next level.”

The Roll-Out

Dave & Buster’s rolled out the new learning initiative in March 2008. It was a robust program that included succession planning, talent management, Nine Box performance grid, a professional development planning process, and SkillSoft’s learning solutions.

“We told our GMs that they’d be graded on performance-based competencies and graphed to a Nine Box,” Ferrell explains. “Once the leaders were graphed, we would provide them with a structure to competency training to support their development.”

The initial program was designed to ensure that each leader took all three levels (basic, intermediate, advanced) of mapped assets per competency. That translated to 18 learning assets per person per year. While feedback of the program was excellent and completion rates were in the mid-70s, the feedback indicated that 18 learning assets were too many. The Training Department modified the requirements, allowing leaders to take only the assets within their proficiency level, based on the Nine Box grid. So 18 learning assets (courses and/or simulations) were cut down to six required assets per year. The curriculum change netted excellent results.

Internal Marketing

To keep momentum going, Dave & Buster’s sends out regional reports, allowing regional operations directors to view how their leaders are doing juxtaposed against other regions. Internal marketing via a newsletter, certificates of completion for learning programs, and the intranet keep the program in the forefront.

Participation Expands

The success of the leadership program created an environment where additional leaders wanted to participate. To meet the additional need, Dave & Buster’s decided to make the program elective. Ferrell explains that if a leader was on a certain level, that person was automatically given a SkillPort seat. If that person didn’t want the seat, he or she could opt out.

“Ninety-two percent of leaders said that they wanted to keep it,” Ferrell says. “Once we made it elective, we had more completions than we did all of last year.”

Dave & Buster’s hopes to increase licenses in the coming years, allowing more leaders and high-potential employees to participate in the successful leadership development program.

“We have a lot of managers who are trying to work up the ranks to get to AGM and GM levels who want access,” Ferrell says. “They’re going to supervisors and asking for it. It’s the younger and less experienced managers who want it. We hope to get more access. We are still growing. The need to develop leadership is still a focus.”

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