How an Award-winning Restaurant & Brewery Transformed Employee Engagement

When it comes to LMS engagement, odds are you don’t immediately think of the interesting and ongoing body of research aimed at unraveling the why and how of the human emotional response to artwork. While scientists are still trying to figure it all out, we know from our own history and experiences that art – from fine art to graphic design – can move us in ways we might not always expect. Sometimes design can create an emotional connection that draws us closer. Sometimes it can turn us away.

This is a success story about how one of the best restaurants & brewhouses in the country saw employee engagement jump dramatically after paying careful attention to the graphic design, layout and branding of its learning management system. In other words: this is a real world example of how design can and does drive engagement.

BJ’s Restaurants

BJ’s Restaurant & Brewhouse has long had a lot to be proud of from its award-winning handcrafted beers to their unforgettable California twist on Chicago-style deep dish and their world-famous baked to order Pizookie®. But, behind the scenes, Creative Learning and Content Manager at BJ’s, Elke Bosworth knew there was something more they could be doing to connect with their 20,000 + team members at 171 restaurants across the country.

“When I started in 2014, our internal training platform had a few logos, but it didn’t completely flow with our larger mission of being inviting, warm and welcoming,” recalls Bosworth, who has a background in design.

Bosworth worked hand-in-hand with Wisetail Client Experience guru, Mike Davis, as she embarked on updating BJ’s learning management system, “BJ’s COMPASS.”

“Her mission was really to create consistency. Here you have a great company that is fun, interesting and great to be a part of. Elke didn’t want that feeling to stop right when employees had to log in for training,” said Davis.

The timing for a redesign made sense as BJ’s had just rolled out a new marketing plan with fresh branding elements shortly after Bosworth started in 2014.

“The stars truly aligned for us to look at a complete redesign of our LMS,” said Bosworth. “We had new logos, fonts, colors and backgrounds at our fingertips and we wanted to make sure our training platform could go hand in hand with our new look.”

Armed with a background in graphic design and a sincere desire to help her team connect more with the company and with each other through the learning process, Bosworth and Davis worked through ideas and best practices for driving engagement.

Prior to the redesign, they had about 29,000 logins and 2,550 active users. After the redesign and up until now, they had a huge jump in logins at close to 213,700! Active users spiked to 13,373, photo profile changes increased 80 percent and recognition messages nearly doubled. What’s most jaw-dropping is they went from close to 7,000 module and course completions to well over 700,000!

“I can’t take all the credit as we have also increased engagement on the site with things like new restaurant openings which added several new users, interactive polls for our hourly team members to vote on things that affect their work environment, and increased engagement from our field supervision team to get their teams involved.  However, the redesign did help in building the framework to increase interest among new users to become return users and get everyone more involved and active on the site,” said Bosworth. For Wisetail’s Mike Davis, there is no doubt that BJ’s success is clear: design is an important driver for LMS engagement.

before and after showing more lms engagement driven by design

BJ's Restaurants Design Drives LMS Engagement


With warmer, updated colors, fonts and wood textures, the site looked more inviting. But the true test was: would the changes create an emotional connection that would keep team members coming back?

Would design actually drive LMS engagement?


Key Takeaways

“The raw numbers that increased from before and after – from number of logins to profile photo updates to content completions – you can tell that people were not only logging in, they were coming back to the site and completing content. The user contributions are also growing fast at BJ’s and it shows: people are coming back to a site that is more pleasing and engaging to them,” said Davis.

A recent study on the learning management system (LMS) landscape, conducted by the Brandon Hall Group, suggests nearly 40 percent of companies are actively looking to replace their current LMS. The report concluded that an outdated site is “one of the top five reasons companies decide to switch providers.”

In Davis’ experience, he says companies making the biggest strides in user engagement through their LMS are those who understand the emotional connection people feel toward the content is often driven by design.

“Elke was uniquely situated to ramp up BJ’s learning and development content because of her background in design and her ability to see how design elements could draw her team closer together,” says Davis.

What if you are a learning and development professional without a design background? Team up with your marketing team!

“I suggest getting to know your marketing team and ask for a little help.  After all, your team members are your internal customers.  It’s important your brand is represented the way your marketing team intended,” said Bosworth.

Required Training is a Gateway for Future Engagement: Design Matters!

Through required training, Bosworth saw a huge opportunity to make a positive impression that would keep people engaged in connecting and sharing ideas from the field.

“You have to make learning user-friendly and you have to create something worth returning to see. If it’s plain, unappealing and hard to use – people will suffer through required training and likely never return. On the other hand, if you offer something simple and fun along with social elements – people will come back. That’s human nature and that’s what our analytics are showing.”

Keep Content Fresh, But Keep It Consistently Easy to Find

Bosworth works to keep learning and development material updated and fresh – but is careful about making sure people know where to find older content.

“When I first started using BJ’s COMPASS, there was a lot of content on the site but it was difficult to find or understand where to look for it. My goal was to create navigation that needed minimal direction,” Bosworth recalls.

“One thing that makes people stop engaging is if there’s inconsistency or difficulty in navigating material that they used in the past and appreciated. Now, BJ’s has made it as easy as possible for team members to come back and return to content they might not have finished experiencing,” said Davis.

Hospitality from Day One: Treating Your Employees as Customers with Appealing Design

This is one the core values behind Wisetail’s work to power learning and engagement at a growing number of the nation’s best restaurants.

“Especially for restaurants – so much goes into designing and nurturing the customer experience. The best restaurants are seeing that when they treat employees as customers and offer consistency in training from day one, that creates an emotional connection to the mission and ultimately helps build culture,” said Davis. “Elke was first a fan of BJ’s as a guest so she understood how special the customer experience truly is. Carrying over that hospitality to learning and development means inviting guests, making them feel welcome and appreciated. Making the site more inviting and hospitable from a graphic design standpoint has resulted in people returning over and over again to complete coursework and engage.”

Beyond the statistics, it’s the human connection that Bosworth has found most rewarding.
“That’s the real pat on the back: I can see people connecting, learning, coming back and enjoying the experience while helping the entire company become even more welcoming.”



We’d love to hear your thoughts on design and LMS engagement.  Send us a note or request a Demo.

Check out another Wisetail client Success Story on Content Creation from Charles Ehler of Bar Louie.

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