FCB is the third-oldest active advertising agency in the US with 190 of ces in over 100 countries. With Chicago operations starting back in 1873, it’s always been an industry leader. In fact, it was the rst major agency to go public and its original owner Albert Lasker is considered the ‘father of modern advertising’. In 2019 alone, the FCB network earned an unprecedented 51 Cannes Lions including the coveted Titanium Grand Prix. Its near 9,000 employees are members of a very open, energetic and creative culture.
In order for FCB Chicago to remain competitive in the creative landscape, they knew they would need to develop a robust training program for their employees. According to SVP, HR Director, Katie Repp, when she took over training in 2014, “Basic classroom training was offered, and most employees used it to check off a box, not build a skillset.” It was time to up their game and try to get their people excited about training again. “The future of talent management depended on experiential learning.”
That’s when Katie met Combustion. Leslie Ehm, Combustion’s President & Chief Fire Starter was invited to deliver a workshop at FCB’s Global HR summit in NYC and, well, it was training love at first sight.
“At that point, no other training partner was doing true ‘experiential’ yet; targeted around creative thinking. When we came out of the HR session with Combustion, I remember saying to my Chief Talent Officer, ‘That was life changing for me; I’m going to change how I do everything.’”
Katie Repp, HR Director, SVP
She believed that Combustion’s focus on experiences was going to change employee development because, “you learn – experience – apply, get pushed a little harder, and then learn – experience again. No other training company was offering that type of learning.”
Katie wondered how this new style of learning might go over – especially with agency people who have a reputation for being critical of training and not prioritizing learning. The beauty of the Combustion model though is that their trainers are beyond credible. They are staffed with former Creative Directors, Strategic Planners, and professionals within the leadership space. With the badges of honor Combustion brought to the table, Katie was con dent training would be changed forever.
FCB Chicago kicked off the new training offering with Combustion focusing on creative thinking, presentation skills, and insights training. As it turned out, it was also love at first workshop for the employees. Andrew Friedman, FCB Chicago’s former L&D Manager said, “Employees were walking out saying ‘I grew from that experience,’ never, ‘I knew that already.’ Combustion really was creating life-changing ways of thinking about things.” FCB Chicago was seeing behavior change in people even after one C-Lab™.
From there, growing the program became easy. “With the reactions we were getting, the stellar feedback that was coming in, and the basic progression in careers that we were starting to see, we finally had a business case to build out more training.”
Participant Adam called out the way Combustion worked with him as an individual that made learning stick:
“It’s really the first training that I’ve ever had that looked at you as a person, rather than ‘these are the best business practices, now you need to adapt yourself to that.’”
In the first year of the new training offering, employees had to be manager nominated. By the second year of partnership with Combustion, the training brand was so strong, employees got to sign up for training on their own. And of course it didn’t hurt that the participants themselves consistently started asking for more Combustion training.
Adam recalls, “After taking the first workshop, I went back to Learning & Development (L&D), and said, ‘If there’s any Combustion workshops that come after this just ping me, and I’d like to do them.’”
By year 3, FCB Chicago added yet another layer to their training agenda. Finally, there was enough traction to tie
trainings directly to skill sets! The L&D Team rolled out an online portal where training could be accessed by talent trait (traits used to measure performance) or training track. Both of these options had been created and vetted directly with the Combustion Team so that employees understood how Combustion training impacted their day to day performance and goals. Employees loved it as it was the rst time they truly understood the value of great training and how it impacted their career development.
Kay, another participant, felt similarly strong after a leadership workshop: “After I took Feeling Forward, I immediately spoke to Andrew and said, ‘Put me in more of those sessions, I have to see more.’”
“I recommend Combustion to everyone that I talk to at FCB. I would love to see them deliver even more training sessions here, selfishly. I’m just open to anything and everything they offer. Combustion has such a great reputation here.”
“Combustion does a really good job of keeping it really entertaining,” says Mike, a regular workshop participant. “It’s always fun to hang with them for the whole day. They keep things exciting, keep things fresh.”
Dan, another Combustion devotee agrees, “The Combustion team is what makes it very different for me and for attendees. It doesn’t necessarily feel like you’re in training. The days go by very quickly.” He adds, “The brutal honesty in the workshop was what really drew me to Combustion and made it such a memorable experience.”
But this isn’t just about providing FCB with training that people love (although that’s a major bonus). What matters is whether the training actually works. In year 3, the FCB Team spent time analyzing what happened to those people who invested the time in training for just one year.
“People who took training were developing more quickly at the agency; they were actually progressing in their career getting promotions.”
Andrew, FCB Chicago’s former L&D Manager
In year 3, FCB had a 95% attendance rate at trainings because people wanted to be involved with the Combustion trainers. Katie says, “They were seeing the reality of how it connects to moving forward in their career. Before Combustion, there wasn’t healthy competition to get into the classes. Now we are seeing full classes with waiting lists.”
Combustion was able to help FCB make a real change in their training offering by custom building a calendar that matched their tracks, partnering with the L&D Team to make sure talent traits were appropriately tied to trainings, and helping support tracking the Analytics to discover the power of training!
“What I love the most about Combustion is that they love our people as much as we do. I feel like our people get that they’re pushing them so hard because they genuinely want them to be better. That really makes the investment come alive for them which makes them happier, and want to stay and grow with the agency.”
So what makes Combustion so very different in the eyes of FCB Chicago? Katie believes there are a few elements. First – there’s the caliber of trainer both in delivery and subject matter expertise.
“Even though we’re doing the same class for different groups, Combustion trainers are so well skilled, they’re able to truly personalize training for different levels. The trainers understand the challenges and they get the client issues. I love that the folks at Combustion walk into the agency with true street cred that leads to results quicker.”
And then there’s Combustion’s ability to partner and grow with clients.
“Combustion continues to keep innovating and building with us just as our company keeps innovating and changing and it’s really cool to find a partner that can do that with you,” Katie says enthusiastically.
Andrew agrees: “I love the fact that Combustion takes the evaluations and the feedback really seriously. We always have such great conversations about how to make these little tiny tweaks to help our training feel a little bit more personalized.”
We’ll leave the last word to Katie:
“It is so rare in this industry to find great training partners, let alone behavior changing scientists. We are forever changed, and infinitely better.”