Phoenix-based Automätik keeps corporate trainings engaging
Like most professionals who’ve been forced to sit for hours in a training session, Michael Thiel knows that likely every single employee in this situation would rather be elsewhere.
As the executive vice president at Phoenix-based Automätik, his job is to battle that feeling.
The family-owned training and events firm’s knack for turning boring and nap-drool-inducing training workshops into engaging events that keep attendees alert and wanting to learn more has garnered it big-name clientele like BMW, Sub-Zero/Wolf, Toyota and Kia Motors America and, locally, the Arizona Diamondbacks and businesses in Glendale, Chandler and Scottsdale.
Recently, the company made its award-winning formula available publicly to small businesses through courses that focus on improving workplace skills like public speaking, facilitation, meeting planning and professional etiquette. The company has led more than 500 of these public workshops.
“We discovered the secret sauce of how learning sticks, how to design friendly content that’s very engaging. We realized this could be of value to the public,” he said.
The cost of these half-, full- and two-day workshops range from $595 to $1,395 a person, Thiel said.
With its training and events divisions, Automätik collaborates with 10 to 15 major national brands a year, often on multiple projects for each, Thiel said. Since moving the headquarters from Dallas to Phoenix in 2000, the company has experienced about 15 percent annual growth each year.
Dave and Kathy Sweet started Automätik at their kitchen table in Dallas in 1990. Dave’s experience with Ford Motor Corp. led him to start a consulting firm, working with auto dealerships and customer sales-satisfaction training.
His personal high standards meant that most training manuals didn’t match up. He decided to make them better. Soon, Dave and his wife, Kathy, made this their full-time jobs.
Two years later, the couple had more work than they could handle. Positive word of mouth fed a growing client base and the need to start their own firm, creating custom training for major brands. They named it Automätik, in reference to their early with work with a German car company.
It didn’t take long for their expertise to spread beyond the automobile industry.
“They figured out what they’ve done for the car industry is not about the cars, but about the training … how the brain works,” Thiel said of the Sweets’ discovery that ultimately became the key to success.
Pushing creative boundaries and considering methods that haven’t been road-tested are part of the process. Going back in time is at the heart of this.
“So much training out there is designed the opposite of how the brain is hardwired to learn. When you’re a child, you love learning. Children touch, experiment, they’re not afraid to make mistakes,” Thiel said. “It takes some experience and depth of thinking to reverse engineer a lecture into that.”
This service is in demand. In 2018, total U.S. training expenditures — including payroll and spending on external products and services — totaled $87.6 billion, according to industry resource Training magazine.
Specializing in product launches, the company has helped design or produce more than 150 unique product launch, press, consumer marketing, leadership and sales/service training initiatives, according to company data.
Differentiating themselves from a competitive field, especially with automotive companies, relies on innovation and service, Thiel said. This means going beyond what has been considered tried-and-true traditional methods and keeping them contemporary.
“We try hard to stay ahead of the curve as far as leading trends in the marketplace, like general pop culture and how to bring some of that magic in the learning and development space,” he said.
Recently, they did this for Kia and training for its product launch for its Telluride SUV. They developed a paperless, custom learning app.
“In most (of these sessions) people are on their phones. Many often fight that. But we (thought), let’s work with the fact people are on their phones these days,” he said.
This impressed Kia, which liked the 100 percent digital-training concept, which was given to more than 700 Kia dealerships and nearly 10,000 team members this spring.
It was the deciding factor to go with Automätik when proposals were reviewed, said Marian Perkins, senior manager of retail training operations for Kia.
“Everyone came back with a paper solution. They came back with a mobile solution. We thought, wow, that’s great because that’s where we want to take our training in the future,” she said. “To do this digitally, as opposed to hauling around a workbook and spending money on print, it makes a lot more sense.”
Perkins has worked with Automätik since 2012, when she was with another major automobile company.
“They are one of the most creative teams I’ve worked with. They're always looking for new and innovative ways of doing things,” she said.
Avoiding lecture-based approaches is, as Thiel called it, their secret sauce.
“You achieve learning objectives by being active participants. Instead of looking at power points, there are more peer-discussion groups, where you actively dive into content and bring it back,” he said. “We try to keep things fun.”
Where: 3419 E. University Drive, Phoenix
Interesting stat: The average training expenditures for large companies increased from $17 million in 2017 to $19.7 million in 2018, according to industry resource Training magazine.
Details: 480-775-6216, automatik.com
Published 9:00 AM EDT May 9, 2019