Training Goes Mod(ular) at Apple

By Betsy Jacobson and Linda Keegan
Abstracted from
Training and Development Journal,
July 1995

Authors’ Note: The enduring principles communicated in this article
are as relevant today as in 1995—perhaps even more so today, when
time and resources are scarce, and training gets put on the back burner
more and more frequently because of the urgency of daily work.

When Apple University surveyed the changing landscape of its competition,
seismic shifts were made in the thinking that underpinned its training
strategies. By shifting delivery of management training to focus on meeting
customer needs, management trainers increased customer satisfaction, aligned
training more closely with organizational strategies, and created a structure
that boosts team building.

Apple University trainers needed a different way of teaching management
skills, one that addressed the fast-paced conditions under which Apple
employees work. Plus, they needed to design classroom training that mimicked
on-the-job training. By viewing their customers’ needs from Robert Tucker’s
10 driving forces that influence consumer behavior, the staff created
short training modules on a series of topics that were customized to meet
employees’ specific needs.

This new approach departed from old practices and led to significant
shifts in strategy in the following ways:

· Trainers shifted from behavioral to experiential training. Participants
learned from their real-life experiences on the job, rather than learning
what the trainers theorize they need.

· Training sessions were shortened from three days to three hours.
Given the time pressures they face, managers are more willing to sign
up for half-day classes, allowing them return to their jobs quickly.

· Trainers targeted intact work groups rather than groups of people
who don’t work together. This helps build teamwork and multiplies the
spin-off benefits of training.

· Training sessions provide a break in the work group’s daily
routine that fosters new ways of thinking, solving problems, and communicating.
Shared knowledge and language enhance team effectiveness and help team
members communicate more clearly and coach others effectively.

· Trainers emphasized consulting over consistency. Instead of
serving solely as instructors, trainers serve as consultants in the classroom.

· Trainers moved from generic training to customized training.

· Trainers decreased the training-development cycle from six months
to two months.

· Trainers reduced class sizes at Apple from 24 to 12 trainers.
Smaller classes enabled trainers not only to pay more attention to individual
participants, but also to focus on development needs, cover material faster,
and offer more flexibility.

· Trainers moved training from a remote location to the customer’s
location.

· Trainers shifted from providing training as a program, to the
concept of providing training as an intervention.

· Trainers continue to work as consultants with trainees’ work
groups on a long-term basis, in an ongoing effort to bring about positive
changes in team or department behavior.

The just-in-time training strategy has not replaced all other management
development efforts at Apple, but it does serve as a cornerstone for other
efforts. If your company wants to take a similar approach, the authors
offer many practical guidelines to follow.