How to Have Productive Employees with a Simple Certification System

Last Updated on March 26, 2013 by Owen McGab Enaohwo

A certification process keeps employees engaged

Nick Sarillo uses this certification system to develop enthusiastic, well trained employees that stick around the company for a long time.

Nick says that an employee that follows his certification system not only see a career path for themselves but they:

[..] [are] more valuable to the company.

So how does Nick Sarillo implement his certification system? And how can you use it to develop employees that are passionate about your company?

The secret behind Nick’s success

Nick Sarillo is a restauranteur from Chicago. He runs a successful chain of pizza restaurants called “Nicks Pizza and Pub”. Part of the secret behind his success is his workforce of nearly 200 trained staff.

Nick has systemized their training using his own “university”. New employees can see what they must learn and what skillset they need to demonstrate before they can get their next raise.

Nick’s training “university” is a system made of small courses and milestones that must accomplished to be certified for a task.

I would actually have someone certified in answering phones, and how to answer phones. So through that process, I started –even rolling the (pizza) dough. You know, most restaurants don’t certify someone just for rolling dough, but I broke it down. I said, “I want you to get certified in this piece first, then get certified in making pizzas; have 40 consecutive hours without a mistake; and you’re certified.

How to develop your own version of Nicks certification system

Let’s break this certification system down, and understand how we can apply it to our own businesses.

The keys to a certification system

I have identified 4 key aspects that drive the success of Nick’s certification system. Together they are what make the whole system work.

  1. Documentation
  2. Clear Direction
  3. Social Proof
  4. Reward
Documentation – don’t leave it to chance – write it down

This is the meat of the training system. You must write down how things should be done. What happens if you don’t document your training? Well you training becomes an oral tradition that is passed down from person to person. The training will vary greatly depending on who delivers it,and what they remember to say. You’ll find that your training process will have a larger variance of outcomes. Some very successful and some spectactular failures.

Written documentation doesn’t need to be boring, or long. It could be a series of videos, a bound instruction manual, some illustrated step – by – step guides or even a series of posters that you have hanging up in the training room.

Clear Direction – See where you are now and where you are going

Without knowing where we are headed, we can quickly become frustrated. Boost your employee’s engagement by showing them exactly the path they are on, and where it leads to.

Nick uses a publicly mounted display board that shows:

  1. All of the certifications that are available; and
  2. Which certifications have been completed by each employee

Certifications have different levels of mastery. You can be a 101 level in bread making and then complete additional training to be certified at 202 level and so on. Nick’s public certification board serves as the roadmap for new employees so they know where they stand today, and where they can grow in the future.

Social Proof

Nick says that you can not only monitor your team’s progress but most importantly your own against the team. Making the certification board public was an essential step in building the team morale. Team members encourage each other as they complete new certifications. He has developed a culture that values continued development.


Finally, a certification system could seem less sweet if there were no rewards for completing certificates. Nick uses rewards as the icing on the cake to further inspire employees to continue their development. And as they do, they become more valuable to the company.

Nick has written the pay levels next to each certification on the board for everyone to see. Now employees can see how to get raises. It adds one more motivation to continue completing the certification.

Automate your training

Nick used a certification system to inspire and challenge his workforce. As a result, he reports that the employees are more valuable to the company and are a driver behind his success in business.

How can you use the key steps:

  1. Documentation
  2. Clear Direction
  3. Social Proof; and
  4. Reward

to supercharge your team? Have you got an interesting system? Let us know in the comments.

Watch Nick’s interview on mixergy (the home of the ambitious startup)

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One response to “How to Have Productive Employees with a Simple Certification System”

  1. Arie, Community Manager says:

    Thanks for the shout out to Mixergy!

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