Patricia Sames leads technician training at Mercedes Benz Manhattan (MBM). She has honed her craft through over 20 years training Mercedes Benz technicians in the United States, Europe, and Australia.
In an environment of ferocious competition for technical talent, the expertise that Pat brings to Mercedes Benz is invaluable. What sets her apart? The data-driven approach that she brings to training, and her genuine commitment to the career growth of each technician she trains.
We recently sat down with Pat to unpack the secrets to her success.
How would you describe the unique approach to training that you bring to Mercedes Benz Manhattan (MBM)?
I take a very numbers-driven approach to understanding the knowledge gaps on the teams I train.
I’ve always been into technology, and into cars, so when I joined Mercedes in 1999, I started out as a technical instructor. Later, when I joined the instructional design team, I focused on interactive learning solutions for the learner as we shifted our focus from instructor-led training (ILT) to a blended learning approach.
I eventually left Mercedes to take a position at Google as an L&D program manager. Google was a great fit because I have a passion for numbers. This approach always drove my curriculum designs – looking at gap analysis and such. It’s important for me to go deeper than just “rules of thumb” when making decisions. Instead, what do the numbers say? What do our test results actually reveal?
Now that I’m back at Mercedes Benz Manhattan (MBM), I love that I get to bring all these elements together! In my role, I draw equally from my curriculum development experience and the heavy-duty analytics experience to answer the question, ”How do we define our KPIs, track them, and measure success?”
What are some of the specific challenges involved in training technical talent?
Technicians typically comprise about 50% of the staff at dealerships. At MBM, I’m the resource responsible for Technician Training and Development. Technicians complete a wide range of manufacturer training programs.
In my role, I focus on gap analysis and targeted onsite skills development. I design development pathways for each Technician and map out training requirements that align with all the training components MBUSA produces. I train face-to-face, build microlearning tutorials, run the analyses, and handle all the compliance aspects when it comes to training.
When I refer to “Technicians,” I’m actually talking about a range of different technical roles. For example, we have Service & Maintenance Technicians, System Technicians, and Diagnostic Technicians. All of them have distinct training needs, so one of my challenges is to tailor training to the specific needs of each role.
We also have a range of different experience levels among our technical staff members. Many of our technical hires join us having just graduated from specific programs. And even these fresh grads join us with a range of skill and knowledge levels! So one of my immediate challenges is to identify the areas where they have gaps and need to learn to be productive on the dealership floor.
How do you define success in your role?
I measure it at 3 levels. First, how quickly can we bring new technical talent on board and equip them with the knowledge they need to succeed in their jobs? Second, how can I maximize the efficiency of our technical team – for instance, by minimizing the time they spend looking up how to perform some maintenance. Time is money for us, so we care a lot about productivity.
Finally, I care about growing our technical talent – regardless of where they started. I have a development pathway for each of my technicians: I know every training they’ve completed and what’s next. So it’s important to me that each of our technicians knows that they have someone who is invested in their individual career growth.
You’ve worked in L&D organizations all over the world. Where do you see an untapped opportunity for L&D to focus?
There’s a huge opportunity for L&D departments to zero in on understanding knowledge gaps on individual teams. Sometimes when L&D teams look at metrics and test results, we look at it more from a learning design perspective rather than a business performance perspective. For example, “Where do we have a curriculum gap?” or “Was this question not formulated the right way?” instead of “What do our test results show us about where our team members are struggling in their jobs?”
I’ve seen firsthand that showing your technical talent that you’re invested in their career growth pays dividends. It’s a powerful way to attract and retain talent, and to differentiate your company from the competition.
To develop your team, you’ve adapted much of Mercedes Benz’s training content to the particular context of the U.S. market. Can you tell us more about that?
The overall training curriculum is defined by Mercedes Benz headquarters in Germany and aligned with MBUSA’s training needs. They have a phenomenal L&D team: A Training Academy that builds out all Learning elements, folks studying learning metrics, and instructional design teams focused on both technical and sales needs.
Teams at headquarters have to focus on creating training that works across all markets and many different countries. Imagine the cost – and headache – for the central L&D team to tailor training materials to every individual market. That would be an impossible task!
The challenge is that the U.S. is a huge market, and it has really distinct training needs. It’s not just that the U.S. is unique because dealers are independent. The differences go even deeper.
Let’s start with technology differences. As one example, when Mercedes Benz released our Dual Screen system in Germany, it was a big focus of the technical training curriculum. But it was years before the system was approved in the U.S.. When it did launch, there were different rules and regulations that we had to follow. These were legal requirements, and they governed how Mercedes had to implement and release the system. So we had to adjust the curriculum accordingly
It’s not about reinventing the wheel when it comes to training. It’s just about bridging the gap so that our team members on the ground have exactly the right knowledge they need to be great at their jobs.
What advice would you have for other folks making the case for localizing their training content?
It’s all about communication. You don’t need to start from scratch! Use the training materials from headquarters to get you most of the way there, and then just focus on the specific things that need to be modified for your market, while working within the standards set by your company’s L&D team.
Numbers drive your business, right? So make a business case that demonstrates the real-world consequences of not tailoring the curriculum to your target audience.
When you’re talking about knowledge gaps on your team, the business case is straightforward. For example, if I don’t teach particular things to my market, because they’re market-specific, we are going to see issues with repairs, with service, with selling the vehicle.
So you can break that out in dollars and cents and say, “Here’s what it will cost us to not train that, and here’s the cost associated with building this training.”
You’ve recently transitioned from working at Mercedes Benz headquarters to leading training on the dealership side. What have you noticed is different?
It’s a totally different set of training challenges! In many corporate settings, employees get paid while they participate in training. In a dealership environment, ILT Training time may be compensated by the dealer but it’s unusual for team members to get paid for online training. They might need to do it on their own time. The reason is that time away from Bays equates to nonproductive time for a dealer.
Lengthy online training is a huge barrier for technicians. When they get home after 10 hours of working on a vehicle, they are not at all excited to do another hour of training. But they will gladly do 5 minutes of training! That’s one of the reasons I love Learn to Win so much.
You’ve established a powerful model of collaboration with senior management at your dealership. How do you recommend others in your position get buy-in from management for training?
In an organization like ours, time is money. We need our team members to be highly productive.
In this context, our technicians don’t have time to take endless training modules – but our management is very supportive and absolutely understands that our new technicians need to train in order to learn and be successful in their roles. So you need to strike that balance with management.
The most common objection you’re likely to hear is, “My folks don’t have time for this. I need them to work! I don’t have time for them to train.”
The key is to reframe their thinking about what it means to learn in a very demanding, fast-paced environment. Everyone imagines training as an hour-long, in-person session. So you need to show them that there’s another way!
For instance, with Learn to Win, technicians can train on their phones, whenever they have time. They’re waiting for a new car to be lined up? Take a quick Learn to Win module! They can fill that time and make it more productive. Otherwise, they’d just be waiting for the vehicle. Now, they can use that time to learn.
You’ll also find it easier to persuade management once your technicians come back with super positive feedback like, “Yep, that just saved me 20 minutes researching this,” or, “It just helped me with a customer interaction I had 10 minutes later,” because it’s so highly relevant.
You excel at helping new hires at MBM quickly become productive technicians. What advice do you have for others who face this same challenge?
The reality is that throughout the industry, it’s challenging to find and hire experienced technicians. So you’re likely hiring mostly fresh grads who come in with a range of backgrounds and competencies. In that environment, the question becomes, “How do we grow our talent, regardless of where they start?”
My advice: Start the onboarding program with a pre-training assessment. Even if your learners are just guessing at the beginning because they’re unfamiliar with your systems, it’s a useful barometer to understand your starting point.
As new hires complete their introductory tutorials, I mix in quick quizzes. Each of these results gives me more insights into their development trajectory and the knowledge gaps that remain. It’s fast and easy to then follow up with focused content that goes deeper into the areas where they were scoring the lowest.
Focus on being efficient, not exhaustive. Sometimes, I see technicians going through unnecessary extra steps when researching information, and when I ask them why, they say, “Well, this way I don’t miss anything.” They’re taking an exhaustive approach because they don’t know where to focus – but this really hurts our dealership’s productivity.
So instead, we train them to be efficient from the beginning. One useful technique I’ve found is to build out quick reference guides that cover the exact information they need to do their jobs.
For example, if a customer asks one of my technicians ‘Hey, can you check if I activated my Mercedes Me Connect account?” the last thing I want them to do is waste time scrolling through 20 screens to find an answer.
When you show your team that you take an individualized approach to their development, you can really set your company apart in the war for technical talent. Technicians appreciate feeling that you know what their specific knowledge gaps are and how best to develop them. You’re not just treating them as one of the broad masses.
That way, they’re enthusiastic about taking training, because they know that every time they do, they’re taking a step forward in the development of their careers.
How has Learn to Win made you better at your job?
Learn to Win has helped me individualize my approach. And that’s the biggest gain you can have in an organization like ours where time is money, employees need to be highly productive, and they don’t have time to take endless training modules.
Because training is absolutely critical. Technicians need to train in order to learn and be successful in their jobs. So how can you do that efficiently and effectively?
We have so many challenges: Different levels of folks joining the team, never enough time, and a constant flow of new material to teach. But this is the first time that I actually have a tool that lets me cater to individual team members. I can know exactly where to focus my development efforts, and help them grow without taking them off the floor and away from work.
I could go on for hours about how much Learn to Win helps me at MBM. It makes the training rollout so easy! I love that I can tailor the training rollout to a specific target group, an individual, or the entire Technician population.
In the Automotive world, we see constant changes and updates to our products and systems, and with Learn to Win, I can quickly update my tutorials without impacting the ongoing training initiative.
I love the fact that I can release individual tutorials as needed and can tailor content to training needs without having to rewrite a course or tutorial.
Learn to Win also gives me invaluable data insights! It’s a complete game changer for me to understand how learner confidence grows, how and when learners engage, and best of all, how to identify specific knowledge gaps.
Since Learn to Win measures learner confidence and time to complete a task, I can get a real picture of each learner’s true understanding of the topic area – not just whether they answered a question correctly or not.
The amount of curriculum I’ve been able to enter into the program and release – it’s just mind boggling, how quickly I can put this together. The process of creating and releasing a new lesson used to take me at least a week, and now I can do it in less than a day.
Speed-to-market is everything in our business. And that is exactly what Learn to Win gives me and my team!