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What Domino’s learned from imposing constraints

Training people for the next step in a business is an imperfect process, as Domino's discovered.

7 min read




When you think about Domino’s, you think about getting pizza quickly – 30 minutes or less. Domino’s has also become known for technology, including flashy and fun concepts such as ordering with an emoji.

And yet, even Domino’s can struggle with how best to implement technology and efficiency when it comes to internal training. At last week’s ATD conference in Washington, D.C., attendees heard from Domino’s training and learning leaders Eric Kammerer and Drew Helmholtz about how they transformed a specific part of the operation: Training incoming multiunit supervisors for the company’s corporate-owned locations.

Multiunit supervisors are a key part of Domino’s 400 US-located, corporate-owned stories, with each supervisor managing eight stores. This is an environment that requires skills of leadership, conflict resolution, time management, financial acumen – not to mention managing differently from the hands-on, direct-control approach that a one-store manager might embrace. It’s also a potential pathway to executive positions.

The challenge of getting this promotion, in a sentence from Kammerer: “How do I go from telling people to what to do to achieving results by influencing other people?”

Kammerer and Helmholtz explained that the previous training system involved multiple training events over six months but was failing to get participants up to competency quickly enough, if at all. The six-month timeline was lengthy and cumbersome, and it failed to ensure that learning stuck.

So, Wednesday’s session was to show how Domino’s created a better path to training up these multiunit supervisors. While not every problem has been solved, Kammerer and Helmholtz were able to show progress toward a “learn, watch, try, reflect” expeerience for each participant. And the path to improvement started with one simple step: adding constraints.

How was this new Domino’s program structured?

First, they started with questioning people about what activities contributed to their leadership development – and what activities they spent the most time on. Real-world activities ranked higher than structured offerings “where you stop working and you go out into the learning space,” Helmholtz said.

The biggest constraint was time. The new program cut the timeline from six months of on and off training to 28 days of a more dedicated approach. This shorter program would also have to do more — adding functional and technical training alongside leadership development. It would have to rely on technology, including virtual elements, and would usually have small groups, which hampered extensive use of peer learning. The program also depended on having help from leaders at the stores without taking up too much of their limited time and engagement.

How did these constraints play out? One was in the use of technology outside the traditional learning management system. The need to efficiently create one space for learning and note-keeping led to a reliance on Microsoft technology, including OneNote Class Notebook. This tool is more used in K-12 learning but was useful for this setting.

The Domino’s instructors also wanted to ensure participants interacted with other people as much as possible. Beyond peers and market leaders, they received coaching from an in-house expert and external executive coaches, the latter keeping their conversations with participants confidential, even from Domino’s.

These constraints and challenges also led to a change in scheduling that sought to connect all these various activities and learnings, starting with an introduction to the training, an on-site immersion and other activities, culminating in a final week where participants could begin planning for how to handle their new markets while receiving ongoing support through internal contacts, the external coach and e-learning offerings.

Finally, all of this change was meant to align with the 70-20-10 concept, which the Center for Creative Leadership defines as “challenging assignments (70%), developmental relationships (20%), and coursework and training (10%).”

How was it measured? Domino’s set up nine key metrics that incorporated various parts of the job and that could be measured easily both on their own merits and against a baseline of previous participants.

I’m leaving out a lot of detail about how the four weeks were structured and the specifics of Domino’s store structures and procedures. But even without those specifics, what can we learn from Domino’s results? Here are some of the positives and negatives Kammerer and Helmholtz shared.

Positive takeaways

  • 70/20/10 wasn’t imposed; it was the result of the process. 70/20/10 fit the organic findings of what the trainers believed a good structure would be, rather than them starting at 70/20/10 and forcing everything to fit that formula.
  • The new format allowed for focus. The 28 days was a compressed timeline but enabled participants to not worry about juggling either one store’s day-to-day or a whole set of stores. And when there was a deliberate pause, it was built into the schedule — Day 6 was declared an off day, as Domino’s was concerned participants wouldn’t disconnect unless it was built in.
  • Operational metrics will form a baseline. New multiunit supervisors are being measured on nine operational metrics over their first year, and that data is being mapped to participants so that they can be measured against the baseline. This has already shown that competence is not immediate, as seen in the next point.
  • Lack of tech proficiency wasn’t a death knell. Kammerer and Helmholtz shared data of three participants that showed their performance on a single metric. The least technically able member, who learned pretty much only from the 70% of the training, was at or near the baseline throughout. The other two started worse than the baseline, although they improved over time.
  • Be realistic, be flexible. Helmholtz said early on that the old program has an issue of “theory is awesome, but then real life gets in the way.” The changes didn’t necessarily eliminate that problem, but more flexibility has been built in. For instance, the 28-day program has been as short as 21 and as long as 42, depending on people’s needs or schedules or even something like a holiday. This is where having a solid structure helps adjust to bad or busy days.

Room to improve

  • In-house apps. Attempts to track task completion or to watch people remotely and assess them had functional problems, including, in the words of Kammerer and Helmholtz, that “it was a bad app.”
  • Surveys and check-ins. Getting participants to fill out surveys or do weekly check-in calls was also difficult, with some preferring to write nightly notes of reflection rather than get on a call.
  • Getting market leaders to participate. Getting buy-in from them remained difficult, although specially selecting market leaders for the two-day immersion in the first week was a step in the right direction.
  • Connecting learning to real life is still challenging: Kammerer and Helmholtz discussed how one participant couldn’t understand how a learning module made sense for the subsequent real-life scenario – highlighting a disconnect in the trainers’ thinking versus the participant experience.
  • Executive coaches – a step too far? Store managers often didn’t connect to the external coaches, which could reflect a lack of fit, a lack of trust, etc.

In your learning and development or training activities, keep in mind that perfection is difficult or impossible to achieve. Just as Domino’s found, the results will have good and bad components; it’s what you do with those results that matters.


James daSilva is the longtime editor of SmartBrief’s leadership newsletter and blog content. Contact daSilva at @James_daSilva or by email.

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