A People-First Approach: WM’s Success in Employee Engagement and Retention

WM, headquartered in North America, is an extensive environmental solutions organization that offers services across the United States and Canada. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, WM was considered an essential business, and its frontline employees continued to report to work every day. In response, the Learning and Leadership Development (L&LD) team at WM developed a people-first learning culture to provide leaders with the skills and psychological well-being to support their 33,000 frontline workers.


The impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic caused significant disruptions to WM’s operations. However, the collection and disposal of trash, recycling, and composting had to continue, necessitating a human-centered leadership approach. The L&LD team sought to create an environment of empathy, vulnerability, social connection, self-reflection, and honest conversation. To care for their 33,000 hourly workers, the L&LD team focused on empowering the frontline leaders who were motivating and guiding those employees. Strong, healthy, and connected leaders drive employee retention and trust. The L&LD team leveraged the latest technologies and led a large-scale workforce transformation to empower their leaders and meet the immediate challenges facing WM.


WM’s L&LD team worked closely with senior leadership to crowdsource information about what competencies best contribute to the success of their frontline employees. Once they had those skills in mind, the L&LD team reviewed the most popular digital learning offerings in the market, and chose Skillsoft due to the variety and robustness of the content.

With the help of their team at Skillsoft, WM mapped Skillsoft’s business and leadership content to the predetermined critical competencies at the foundation of the frontline leadership program. Skillsoft’s online courses were leveraged as self-paced learning accelerators throughout the program.

In 2021 when the program was ready, the L&LD team launched three pilot programs; the goal was to provide valuable lessons to leaders across the business — operations, sales, and customer service. After each pilot, the program evolved to fit participants and business requirements better. The program developed, growing from a 12- week program to a 26-week program with two additional weeks for reflection, application, and discussion. As a result, 87% of the participants found the program to be a valuable use of time, and 100% felt it helped them be more effective in their roles.

The final Frontline Leadership Development (FLD) program included a mix of frontline managers from WM’s sixteen business areas, spread across 24 cohorts of 40 participants each.

The program incorporated blended learning, self-paced learning, and virtual instructor-led training to accommodate the participants’ needs and preferences. The L&LD team also provided unlimited digital coaching resources to further development the frontline leaders. In addition, group learning opportunities allowed the leaders to share common challenges, find solutions, and foster a sense of community at work


The WM team monitored employees’ sense of belonging after the FLD program’s launch. Of the over 900 participants enrolled in the program, 560 graduated, and the employee retention rate three months post-graduation was 96%. The retention rate among the 341 non-graduates was 75%. The L&LD team incorporated celebration into the learning culture and personalized each leader’s graduation from the FLD program to celebrate personal milestones and the team’s collective progress.


Five months post-graduation, out of 900+ who were initially enrolled in the first cohort of the program.

The majority of the FLD program participants were route managers. The chart below shows the YoY Route Manager turnover (both voluntary and involuntary) trend moving downward, in support of their goal to increase retention. These incremental improvements are expected to increase as additional frontline leaders complete the program and apply their new skills with more frequent check-ins and one-on-one meetings with real-time discussions on performance and goals.


Route Managers

The FLD program received recognition for its success and was awarded the Learning in Practice Trailblazer Bronze Award by the Chief Learning Officer community in 2022. This award acknowledges WM’s investment in people—instead of only focusing on retention— and illustrates the positive impact such investments can have on the development of leaders within the organization.



Retention rate among graduates after three months of completing the program


felt it helped them be more effective in their roles


Improvement in retention rate for Route Managers YoY

What do our customers have to say?

I am definitely more aware of how I am communicating with my employees. I have found the balance between helping without taking over; holding my employees accountable without removing their own responsibility. I am learning how to give them space to make and learn from their own mistakes while offering support and encouragement when needed.




Has WM’s story inspired you? Learn how you can unleash your organization’s edge by working with Skillsoft.


WM is an environmental services company that provides a range of waste and recycling services for homes, businesses, and communities. WM has a keen focus on people, service and sustainability, and prioritize maximizing resource value while minimizing environmental impact. They have a commitment to safety, ethics, and diversity. They are a leader in their industry and are recognized for their efforts to create a better workplace and a better planet. They also take strict measures to ensure compliance with legal requirements and ethical standards.