How KFC crafted an award-winning training program


What you'll learn on this podcast episode

Training presents an opportunity to not only educate workers, but also inspire their growth. But how can you do that in a way that feels energizing rather than exhausting? On this episode of the Principled Podcast, LRN Learning Manager Leah Hodge explores how to create engaging training with Rachel Donley, the Head of Learning & Performance Enablement for the KFC US market, a division of Yum! Brands. Listen in as the two talk about KFC’s Shift Supervisor training program, which has been receiving lots of industry recognition—winning gold at this year’s Brandon Hall Awards and being selected as a finalist for the Learning Technologies Awards—and improving leadership capability across the KFC US system of restaurants.


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Guest: Rachel Donley


Rachel Donley is a learning leader, instructional designer, gamification proponent, and strategic business partner. With 13 years of experience in the learning industry and 22 years of experience in the retail and food service industries, Rachel’s learning solutions have earned eight Brandon Hall awards. She was named a 30 under 30 Learning Leader in the inaugural Learning 2010 program and awarded the Brandon Hall Rising Star Award in 2017. Rachel holds a Master of Education in learning design from Bowling Green State University in Ohio and currently leads a team of seven to deliver learning and performance solutions to KFC’s 4100 US-based restaurants.

Host: Leah Hodge


Leah Hodge brings more than 17 years of instructional design experience to the corporate learning and development space. As a learning manager and expert in strategic partnerships at LRN, she fosters relationships with clients to analyze their training needs with an eye on elevating the learner experience. She is passionate about designing and implementing creative bespoke solutions that get learners excited about their development, taking them on a journey beyond just checking-the-box completionincluding blended learning, gamification, video and animation, and onboarding learner journeys


Principled Podcast transcription


Welcome to the Principled Podcast, brought to you by LRN. The Principled Podcast brings together the collective wisdom on ethics, business and compliance, transformative stories of leadership and inspiring workplace culture. Listen in to discover valuable strategies from our community of business leaders and workplace changemakers.

Leah Hodge:

Training presents an opportunity to not only educate workers, but also inspire their growth. But how can you do that in a way that feels energizing rather than exhausting? Hello and welcome to another episode of LRN's Principled Podcast. I'm your host, Leah Hodge, learning manager here at LRN. And today I'm joined by Rachel Donley, the head of learning and performance enablement for the KFC US market, a division of Yum! Brands. We're going to be talking about KFC's Shift Supervisor Training program, a project that we worked on together. And the whole program has been receiving lots of industry recognition, winning gold at this year's Brandon Hall Awards and being selected as a finalist for the Learning Technologies Awards. More importantly, the program has improved capability across KFC and their numerous franchises, setting the foundation for a new global best practice. Rachel, thanks for coming on the Principled Podcast today. I know there are lessons for others here and I'm excited to share your story.

Rachel Donley:

Awesome. Thank you for having me.

Leah Hodge:

Great. First question, for those who aren't familiar with this KFC story, let's start at the beginning. What were the business needs supporting this training?

Rachel Donley:

Yeah, thank you. Great question and I think it's really important to start out by understanding a little bit more about the shift supervisor role at KFC. Now, this is our entry level management role for the restaurants and a majority of higher level restaurant managers get promoted from within, from the supervisor role. So this junior hourly manager not only leads the teams during each shift, but they're in charge of everything that happens in the restaurant, including guest concerns, overseeing guest service and really culture, the team member experience. They really set the tone and really impact the culture on each shift in the restaurant. So this shift supervisor role really sets the foundation for KFC's management skillsets and capabilities throughout not only this role but for all future roles these shifts may be promoted into. So knowing that overview and background about what we're trying to accomplish for these roles in general, there was really a few other things that drove us to tackle and go after this training curriculum.

The one was we simply needed a new one. Prior to this training rolling out, the only KFC corporate-provided training for shift supervisors was a very outdated, lengthy, really like old-school, 30 plus minute e-learning curriculum. And so there wasn't a lot of real-world application.

And so it was very important and very needed that we updated this content so that not only it was more relevant, but it was also fits the modern learner. So I think that's the second piece and business need that we had here. Was to really look at our shift supervisor population today and say, "What does our shift supervisor demographics, generations, and the current industry across our restaurants, what do they really need? What does our modern learner need?" Some of that is based on research just across the board for current modern learners across any industry. And then some of that was really specific to the restaurant setting and really needing to grab their attention quickly, making sure that we're flexible, that we're mobile so that we can make sure that this shift supervisor role that gets pulled in many different directions when they're in the restaurant, also has a way to learn that fits what their everyday experience is in the restaurant and it makes it easier for them to learn as well.

We also had a need with this training and one of our goals was to create consistency across our different restaurants. Because the older LMS 20, 30-minute e-learning courses were so outdated, KFC did not mandate that anyone was taking it. And this really resulted in a very inconsistent training and skillset building experience across our systems. A lot of restaurants or larger franchisees had created their own shift supervisor training programs to fill that gap, but some of the smaller organizations or some of the ones without those resources really didn't have a lot of training available.

Now at some of our smaller organizations and restaurants, they may not have the resources or the necessarily ability to be able to craft their own training programs to fill the gap. And so again, this was driving a really inconsistent capability across our shift supervisor population. So one of the goals with this was not only updating, meeting the current learners where they're at, but also making sure that we were really level setting those foundational skillsets, behaviors and core competencies for shift supervisors across the entire US system. Regardless of which restaurant you're at, every shift would receive the same basic set of skills to make sure that they can be successful in role.

And then I think the last thing is just like with any other training that we provide at KFC US, we also want to make sure that we're looking at business metrics and are we making a positive impact on the things that we would expect this learning to help drive? And so for shift supervisor, because they touch so much of our restaurants and so many of the pieces of our operations, we're really looking at how is this increasing like team member and restaurant engagement and culture? How is this increasing worker performance across different guest metrics and what's that meaning from a culture turnover and people perspective?

Leah Hodge:

Thanks for that Rachel. We really had a lot of goals to achieve with this training and I think we achieved that definitely. And so what I'd like to do now is dig into those design principles that were behind the Shift Supervisor Training. And I love... I'm biased. I love that the one outcome we had was that simulated game. Can you talk about how KFC chose that format?

Rachel Donley:

Yeah, absolutely. That's my favorite part as well. I think games and simulations in general just allow us to provide a level of behavioral practice that really isn't...  can't happen and it needs other type of like LMS delivered learning context. If anyone's familiar with the KFC US system, we're across the entire country, different time zones, close to 4,000 restaurants, and we just don't have necessarily the setup to deliver some kind of simulated experience and hands on, a face to face across the system. So when we're thinking about delivering something that's scalable and can be taken at any time by anyone in any time zone, we're really looking at something that's through the LMS and really games and simulations let us get as close to the learner environment as possible and really simulate assessing and letting the learner practice what they've learned in a safe and controlled environment.

Now, we'll never specifically match an exact restaurant set up layout or experience in the game in a simulation, but we got really, really, really close. And this is so important, we all know from a learning transfer perspective, it's really important to make the learning and have them apply what they learned as close to the real world as possible. And I think that it just cannot be understated how much games and simulations can really be a force to seed what people have learned, start to apply it before they get into an environment, well, that has a lot going on. And especially if you think about shift supervisors, they're managers, they're leading a team, they're leading guest experience. We would much rather at KFC US, we would much rather have our shift supervisors learn, fail and try again, and practice in a game and a simulation environment than do that in front of a team member and a guest when that can really impact one of their experiences.

So it's super important for us, the kind of gaming methodology and something we really, really lean into. It also allows us to track the experience as well. So again, we need something scalable. It's hosted on our LMS. It only marks complete if they pass the game. And it is quite challenging for a reason because this is where we want to again, really push them and have them start to apply some of the behaviors they've learned. But again, it lets us track that on our operations scorecard. And so when we report on our completion metrics, not only are we reporting on did they take this course, but we're also reporting on did they pass this assessment, essentially is what the game is, and demonstrate these skills and behaviors to the maximum that you were able to do in this gamified environment.

Leah Hodge:

I agree, we achieved a lot with this simulated game. And if you think about it, it can be so daunting for somebody stepping from a team member role into their first leadership position. And to have that opportunity to practice in a simulated environment had to really help them feel more comfortable as they stepped into their role and stepped into the restaurant and their new role. So you talked about some of the learning elements that you prioritized for this training. Were there any other elements that come to mind?

Rachel Donley:

Yeah, and I think when you're designing a game, a simulation, I think what we designed was both really, it was a mix of the two. There's a lot of different decisions and approaches you can take and a few things come to mind that we really focused on when we were making this to make sure our ultimate goal of providing as much challenge in practice to the learners as possible was achieved. And so one of that is obviously kind of the realism. This is not a game in a sense of a cartoon or going through a Monopoly game board, although I think there's use for that too in some situations. In partnership with you, Leah, we built an actual restaurant environment in this simulated game. And so our learners are walking around in a form of the restaurant in both the back of the restaurant where they cook things, and in the front where they interact with guests, and outside where they interact with our facilities and our guests also in the parking lot.

So it was really important that we made this really as much as we could feel like, "Yep, you're on shift, you're in the restaurant, let's do this." Part of that ambiance was also using some different elements to create this almost immersive experience. We used music and sound effects to bring to life some of the nonverbal or not overly avert things and triggers that you have when you're in any environment. Like the clock strikes three o'clock and you hear a fryer beep, and those are things that in the real restaurant helps shift supervisors and the team know that it's time to do something or take action.

Well, obviously in our simulated environment, we needed to make sure that the learners had those non-overt triggers as well so they could make decisions just like they would in the restaurant. So we use sound effects, music, we use character movement as the teams are moving around throughout the restaurant so that they would get those clues or, "Oh, the cashier needs to talk to me. She just walked up to me." We used a clock to track the time because in a busy restaurant environment, a lot of actions and decisions are based on time as well. So that really helped to really ground the game into what we were trying to accomplish realistically.

And then as you know, we broke it into three levels to make each level progressively more challenging. Because we had such a large scope of what we wanted to assess and let the learner practice, that allowed us to break it up, gradually get more and more difficult as we went, but not overwhelm the learner. And I think it also in level one, the first level, I think it also really helped them to get used to the game environment too. They were like, "Okay, this is where I'm at. I've kind of practiced. I know how to move around. I'm ready to go."

Now, one of the other things that we looked at was the scoring, which I think brings in the gamification elements as well. Just like in a real restaurant, decisions that a shift supervisor or other manager make have consequences. So we used scoring to simulate the consequences. Now that maybe a recognition as in like, "Yep, you made the right decision." If you decided to cook the right amount of chicken, then your score went up. And so that was not only a level of realism and to help the learner understand the real-world implications of their decisions, but it was a way to also provide feedback. And again, that could be great feedback. Yes, you answer the right question. So we really didn't have that traditional, "Yes, that's the correct answer." It was, "Oh great, my score went up. Great. I did answer that question correctly. I'm getting the hang of it."

And in some cases they made a poor decision and their score went down. And I know we waited those quite a bit, depending on the real-world severity. If there was a decision that led to a safety concern, they almost failed the game right away. Whereas if it was kind of a minor in the real world, you could really recover from this decently easily, then the scoring impact wasn't as weighted. So again, we're trying to really help the learner understand those real-world consequences of their decision making. And that also really lent itself into the real-time feedback. We know that learners learn best with active participation and experiencing it and getting feedback. We know they learn really well from trial and error and failing and learning from your mistakes. And so we really thought through in the simulation games, how can we make sure that the learner is still immersed in the experience but fully understands what their decisions or the upcoming decisions, what those impacts have, what their feedback on their performance is, where they're doing well, and where there might be some opportunities for some additional learning for them.

And I know we built that into the feedback not only throughout the course where we would have exclamation points pop up or a mentor character would pop up that says, "Hey, okay, we need to make sure we focus on this." But I know we were really specific too in the end of the game, especially if you did not pass. Because again, it does not mark complete unless you hit a passing score. But depending on how low below the passing score they went, we provided some more specific direction of, "Hey learner, you may want to take a look at this and this. Talk to your coach about it, think through it a little bit more and then play the game again because these were the areas that you struggled with today."

I think the last thing that I want to call out that we also really looked at was this blended learning approach. I know we're talking a lot about the game, the simulation specifically, but all around this game is a really blended approach of e-learning courses, infographics, videos, mini games that I would almost kind of say are more knowledge check. There was a very large amount of time spent in this learner curriculum, is on discussion activities and practice shifts with their coach in the restaurant. So even though we have a really robust amount of things that we're delivering at scale for every restaurant, there's really a lot of weight in this curriculum on that hands-on practice and learning alongside your manager or another trained shift supervisor. And as you said earlier, it's really all about getting them prepared to be in the restaurant. So really what we're doing throughout this blend is getting them closer and closer to being able to do this on the job on their own.

Leah Hodge:

I think that's really so many elements that went into the development of this training. And I think that's a good call out too at the end about the blended learning approach because they go through so much robust blended learning to prepare themselves for this new role. And the simulated game was almost like a culmination of everything they learned and it was their last step on their journey before stepping into their role. They're testing themselves through this game, but also, I see it as a reward and an opportunity to get really excited about the role before stepping into the role.

The next question I have for you is, I mentioned at the top of this episode that KFC's training has not only received industry-wide recognition, but also improved training across the business significantly with this program. What results stand out to you as signs of real success?

Rachel Donley:

Yeah, well, I think one of them that you mentioned is industry recognition. Obviously we're really jointly proud of winning two gold Brandon Hall Awards for this learning curriculum. Most recently games and simulations in 2022. And then of course best custom content in 2019. And obviously we've maintained and kept up the curriculum between that as well. And then obviously being really proud of being a finalist for the Learning Technologies Award too.

I think more specific inside of the KSC system, there's a few different areas that I would say are really good successes and wins for us. I think most immediately were like, do our franchisees, do our partners out there in the field and our shift supervisors, the learners, are they feeling like this is meeting their needs? Is this serving what we set out to start to do? As some may know, KFC's about 97, 98% franchised. So the restaurants that we own as a corporation is a very small amount of the KFC restaurants that you see across the country. And so we really partner very closely with our franchisees. We have franchisee advisory boards, we meet with them regularly and they help us to craft what some of our strategies are going forward.

When we asked our advisory board that supports learning about not only this program but the outcomes, some of the things they said were, it was a breath of fresh air, they were excited to launch it. They said their shift supervisors in their restaurants are feeling like this is really an investment in them and their growth. And if you think about how much team member engagement matters to our business bottom line, that's huge to get a whole population of leaders to feel that way. And the teams like how we've paced and sequenced this training schedule. So there's more self-directed deadlines to hold themselves accountable. It's really focused on that in restaurant shoulder-to-shoulder piece, is kind of the bigger bulk of this training schedule. So they're feeling like it really fits them. And so I'd say that that lets us know that we really hit the mark on that. Meeting those shift supervisors with what they needed and making sure that we fit the modern learner that's in our restaurant.

Now I also think that there's some data we could look at that says, has this been a success? And I would say that it has. Not only kind of when we first rolled this out, did we have franchisees really starting to adopt this training and starting to use it. So now we're starting to see that there's a really consistent learning and skillset foundation across our restaurants. Remember some franchisees were doing their own thing, some didn't really have a lot of resources. We started when we first rolled it out to see really wide adoption. And one of the results of that, and one of the benefits was that we were able to add this to our operations scorecard.

Now we have a scorecard for each restaurant that basically holds in some of the key business metrics for them and it lets each restaurant know how they're performing and maybe where they have opportunities for growth. Obviously there's guest experience metrics on there as well, but one of the metrics we have is a training metric. So have you completed the training that we know is going to be beneficial to the roles in your restaurant? And because of the success of the launch, because of the wide-scale adoption of this, we're able to get this training added to the scorecard. And what that really sends is a really strong message to the business that alongside of some of these important guest metrics is also learning.

It's also like taking this training is going to be so beneficial to the running of your restaurants and the ultimate success of your guest experience and your teams, that we're actually saying we're going to start tracking it and requiring it for everybody across the system. So that was a huge win. Let us get more visibility and start to compare that to some other metrics as well. I talked a little bit about how shifts touched so much across the business that we would expect to see some guest experience metrics, maybe some engagement impact as well. And we've started those correlations and we've definitely seen a positive correlation between several guest experience metrics and team member engagement metrics and the completion of this training. So that's a huge win too, to show that really the time and the effort that we all put into making this the best training we could for shifts is really paying off in a business in a really very specific business way.

The other thing that I'll mention that I think was a really big win and positive impact on our business is this curriculum was the first time that we did almost like a learner experience platform, if you will. And I don't want to say that it was fully to bright, like maybe some of the other learner experience platforms people are used to. But it was the first time really KFC US looked at our LMS and said, "How can we have, when the learners come in, a different experience than the default LMS experience? And how can we make it super clear that all of these blended things, because again, not all of it is in the LMS, how can we make it super clear that how we recommend you take these blended things? In what order?" And really take some of that burden off of the manager and the trainer and put a little bit on the learner that it's so easy to navigate through this and know what to do at what time, that I'm not continuously needing to ask my coach, my manager, my trainer, what to do. So I think that was a really big win and a really good jumping off point for other curriculums too.

We now have a completely different learner experience when they go in to take training across all of our curriculums, not just for shift supervisor. And this was really the curriculum that led us to stop, pause, think about that, pilot that very different way of engaging with learners when they first log in and let us get some feedback. Let us hear that that was really something our learners valued and let us to kind of expand that across the business, across the rest of training.

Leah Hodge:

I think that's really exciting how you were able to get the franchisees buy in and get them excited about it and how the popularity of that LMS learning page has taken off. And so that's a great segue into my next question and that is, how would you say KFC's training has evolved since launching the Shift Supervisor program? Are there any recent developments that you're excited about that you can share with me today?

Rachel Donley:

I think one was definitely the learner experience really shifting. Since then, we've been able to not only do it on a smaller scale for individual curriculums, but we've switched some of our learning ecosystem technology in the backend and that's allowed us to merge our learner experience platform with our internal communications platform. And so instead of having one place for everyone to go to get their news and communication and resources and another place to go for learning, the LMS, now everybody just goes to one place, one source of truth. And this has completely revolutionized the learner and quite frankly, the restaurant employee experience. It's made it so much simpler for everyone to know where to go. It's made it simpler on the backend as well from reporting and maintaining systems. So I think that's a journey that really started with Shift Supervisor and is been just like I said, completely changed how learners interact and made it so much more user friendly for our teams.

The other thing that I'll mention that's really exciting is this Shift Supervisor model, this blended approach mixing different types of modalities, including games and simulations, including on the job hands-on type of practice, it's become the foundation, the model for all of the leadership training. So we just recently launched an AUM and RGM training curriculum, and that is for the next level of leaders above shift supervisors. So if they were going to move up in the business, that completely matches the model for Shift Supervisor, the flow, including the gains and simulations. It was so successful and it did such a great job preparing our shifts for their role that we were able to transfer that learning and transfer that model over into really the next stage of leadership learning. And I anticipate that we will continue to do that as we go forward and modify and maintain these curriculums.

I think also prior to shift, we had dipped our toes in the gamification area and simulations, but this was the first time we really, really leaned on it heavily across a good part of a curriculum. And I think it was almost a way to get our system for the first time really utilizing games and simulations in a bigger way for learning.

And so what I think it's also done is created an appetite for more. We recently did a learning listening tour across our system just to level set and make sure that we know what's working and maybe what we need to work on as a learning function. And one of the biggest call outs from it was, we want more games and simulations. So it's no surprise right to us, but our teams like to take training that they also enjoy. And so I think it's also created some validation and really like a new platform. So when we go back to start a new curriculum or talk to our franchisees, when we talk now about, "Hey, we really want to lean on gains and simulations," there's really no discussion anymore because everybody knows how value added that is and how much our teams really enjoy it. So I think it's almost created a due standard of learning for KFC as well.

Leah Hodge:

That's really amazing. And I know that the two of us we could spend all day talking about Shift Supervisor Training and how it's been scalable for assistant manager, the AUM role, RGM roles, but unfortunately we're out of time for today. So Rachel, I just want to thank you for joining me on this episode and congratulations again on delivering such an impactful training program to the organization. I hope we hear more from KFC soon.

Rachel Donley:

Thank you. I appreciate the conversation today. And thank you Leah and everybody over there for your partnership on this.

Leah Hodge:

My pleasure. My name is Leah Hodge, and I want to thank you all for listening today to the Principled Podcast by LRN.


We hope you enjoyed this episode. The Principled Podcast is brought to you by LRN. At LRN, our mission is to inspire principled performance and global organizations by helping them foster winning ethical cultures rooted in sustainable values. Please visit us at to learn more, and if you enjoyed this episode, subscribe to our podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and don't forget to leave us a review.



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