Valvoline's efficient and comprehensive talent development program helps employees move quickly up the career ladder.

The next time you go to your local Valvoline service center for an oil change, take a moment to consider your technicians. It's likely that they faced—and beat—stiff competition for the job. For the 1,800 hires the company typically makes each year to staff its 383 company-owned automotive service centers, it receives more than 60,000 applications. The company's 730 franchised stores maintain similar ratios.

Valvoline competes with fast food restaurants, convenience stores, and other chain retailers for entry-level talent. Yet not only is the company successful in its recruiting efforts; when compared with other quick lube chains, Valvoline's turnover is half the industry average. The company's leadership attributes this success to the career opportunities made available to employees. Instead of remaining in technician positions, entry-level employees often climb to management levels and beyond.

That's why, when hiring for technician positions, managers are looking for more than basic automotive savvy. They're also looking for certain leadership qualities that have proved critical to the company's success. "I call them 'building blocks' because we believe employees must have them in order to develop the higher-level competencies they need to progress in the company," says Jamie Hinely, Valvoline's director of global learning solutions. "That matters to us because we have a much higher success rate with homegrown leadership in our stores, so we're not really hiring technicians, we're hiring our future."

Rapid promotions, aided by a dedicated promote-from-within strategy, are a major incentive for entry-level employees to stay and grow the company. During the past five years, 100 percent of Valvoline's service center managers were promoted from hourly positions. One hundred percent of the company's area managers were promoted internally, as were more than 90 percent of its market managers. "We simply don't hire externally because we don't need to," Hinely notes.

Although employees are responsible for their own career growth, Valvoline's talent development team designed and implemented a certification program that ensures employees are fully equipped with the knowledge and skills to do their jobs, and also flags them as being ready for promotion.

Entry-level employees typically start in the technician or customer service adviser role, and then progress to senior technician, assistant manager, and then service center manager. New hires undergo training that results in certification, a title change, and a pay raise within 60 days, followed by another raise within 120 days. Every Valvoline employee becomes certified, with the overwhelming majority (98 percent) being certified on time.

The learning process is primarily hands-on, supported by print and online resources, including many short, interactive online courses. Progress is tracked through the company's learning management system. The talent ­development team has been able to trace a positive correlation between certification and retention: Since on-time certification hit 98 percent, turnover has dropped 14 percent.

Advertisement

Employee performance is reviewed monthly or every trimester, with managers indicating their employees' level of readiness for promotion from among one of five categories: ready now, ready in six months, ready in one year, maintain, or at risk. These data are compiled and analyzed for potential skill or talent shortages, backfill gaps, and "blockers"—employees who stand in the way of others being promoted.

To enable such frequent performance reviews, the talent development team recently streamlined and improved its performance management system. The LMS alerts managers when it is time to conduct performance reviews for their direct reports, which are recorded in a simple five-question electronic form, and then automatically routes them for approvals. That format has helped the company shift from ratings-oriented performance reviews to more qualitative, discussion-based assessments.

"The rationale in revamping the performance system was mostly about taking it electronic and tying it to the LMS," Hinely explains. "But the frequency of reviews takes the focus off ratings and moves it to development discussions. In our stores, performance in-role is important, but the focus is really preparing for the next role. For that reason, performance reviews have really become development discussions."

Valvoline's rapid promotion strategy directly supports its expansion, since growth is aided when a large number of employees are ready to step into manager roles in new stores, and employees are ready to backfill their positions. The rapid succession system implemented by the talent development team in conjunction with the operations division not only tracks individual employees' readiness for promotion; it also identifies which markets have the best talent to support expansion. Since implementation, manager bench strength is up to 27 percent from 15 percent, enabling two major acquisitions and significant market growth, which increased the company's store count by 32 percent.

Hinely says that the opportunities for advancement at Valvoline are "absolutely a factor" in attracting so many applicants for entry-level positions. "Our ideal candidate is looking for a long-term career opportunity. We stress the ability to make that happen in our employment brand. Our extensive training program is highlighted in our postings and career site, and in our customer-facing advertising."

New York native Kevin Krossber started as a part-time technician at his local Valvoline store at age 17. He became a service center manager at age 19. Now 31, Krossber is the director of operations for the Pacific Northwest. "Everyone in upper management believes in living our core values to support the people in the field," he says.

View the entire list of 2017 BEST Award winners.