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L&D lessons from a chocolate factory tour

A recent tour of a local chocolate factory offered some unexpected transferable lessons for a professional certification program.


What better way to kick off a Halloween morning than with a post about chocolate (and learning and development)?

Last week, I had an opportunity to take a tour of the Theo Chocolate Factory in Seattle, WA (spoiler alert: the company is not named after someone named “Theo”!). Between samples of their various dark chocolate bars, the tour guide shared some information about how chocolate is made, where it comes from, and Theo Chocolate’s commitment to fair trade. It was this information about fair trade that piqued my curiosity and provided some inspiration for a transferable lesson for my learning and development work.  

I’m working on a new project involving professional certification and I’ve been working with my team to determine how best to certify people. Do we just have them take a test (like the PHR or the CPA exams)? Do we combine an exam with performance metrics? Do we have people go through a series of role plays? And once all of that has been handled, how do we handle annual re-certification?

When our tour guide at the chocolate factory introduced the concept of fair trade certification, she told us that Theo Chocolate has committed to increase their fair trade efforts on an annual basis in order to maintain their certification. I asked what it meant to “increase their fair trade efforts”.

Apparently, the standards set by the Institute for Marketecology (IMO) to achieve “Fair for Life” certification require an organization to obtain a total of 90 “total norm points”, while an organization must obtain 95 total norm points within three years and 100 total norm points at five years and beyond.

You can read more details about the certification system here, but the point is that IMO assigns a certain number of points to a variety of certification criteria. In an organization’s first attempt at certification, the threshold to achieve certification is rigorous (but it’s short of requiring a perfect score), and then IMO challenges an organization to continue to score higher in future audits in order to maintain certification.


They gamified certification!

As I work with my colleagues to determine how best to establish certification criteria for specific roles in international eye banking, I will definitely be taking some of these lessons into consideration. We’ve debated for months over how high to set the initial bar for certification, and what people should need to be able to do in order to maintain certification. The idea of requiring continual improvement is quite appealing.

I continue to marvel at what I can learn and apply to my craft as an L&D professional when I’m completely outside of the world of learning and development. When these lessons come from a chocolate factory, it’s even sweeter!

Happy Halloween to everyone… if you happen to find some transferable lessons in your trick or treating or your Halloween parties tonight, I’d love to hear them in the comment section!


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