As I am finalizing my presentation to the 2007 Summit on Globalization of HR in Taipei, Taiwan, September 28-29, I came across some interesting materials I got from 2007 ASTD Conference & Exposition last June in Atlanta, Georgia.
ASTD President Tony Bingham asserts that there’s never been a better time to be in learning. The knowledge, skills and abilities of organization’s talents are top of the mind for senior executives today. No longer are systems and processes the differentiator for organizations; there are becoming commodities. Today people are THE differential advantage for organization. This is one case where senior executives universally agree. And workplace learning and performance professionals have a huge impact on the learning, and thus the success, of those people.
Tony asks, “so how can we improve the learning function in our organizations? One way to look is at examples of best practices from ASTD’s BEST Award winners.” The award program started in 2003 to recognize organizations that understand and demonstrate the critical connection between employee learning and achieving business results. Since 2003, ASTD has recognized 80 organizations in eight countries with a BEST award. There is no awardee from the Philippines yet.
Tony continues, “Four of ASTD’s 2006 BEST awardees—Computer Sciences Corporation, Equity Residential, QUALCOMM, and Wipro—shared some insights with ASTD about these key messages and how learning impacts results in their organizations. These winners:
• Demonstrate the connection between learning and organizational strategy.
• Can articulate the value of learning and its impact on the bottom line. They
• understand the value of learning and protect the investment, even when times are
• Ensure that the company’s leaders are heavily involved in learning, and model
• leaders as teachers.
• Are, in most cases, focused on global development.
• Share a sense of urgency around developing a competitive workforce and having
• enough talent in the pipeline.
• Understand learning’s role to lead talent management – especially in recruitment,
• development, and retention.
One of the hottest topics in the profession today is talent management. Tamar Elkeles, vice president of learning and organization development for QUALCOMM, a two-time BEST Award winner, notes that it’s important for companies to create a learning brand—something that no one else has—to attract and retain talent in an organization. She notes that providing great training and development is top reason employees join organizations.
Azim Premji, Wipro Limited Chair, a three-time BEST Award winner, explains that learning is an integral part of the company’s strategic direction. He notes that because Wipro is in the hi-tech industry, their people need to be refreshed and challenged all of the time to participate and contribute to customers’ requirements in determining and applying solutions, which is the heart of their business.
The ability to recruit, develop, and retain talent is and will continue to be one of the biggest and most important challenges in the learning field.
Almost every CEO talks about the importance of leadership development. They understand that developing more effective leaders means a more effective staff. Highly effective leaders and staff result in happy customers who want to do business with their companies.
Another aspect of talent management is the skills gap. Some of the BEST Award winners are focused on creating career paths and developing emerging skill sets in new technologies. Premji notes that it is important to thoroughly select the right workforce and constantly teach that workforce. Wipro’s multi-month learning programs connect closely to the company’s career growth paths and competency training systems.
Demonstrating value for learning is how they link learning to organizational results. Tony Pusateri, Equity Residential SVP, one of only three organizations to have won a BEST Award every year since the program’s inception in 2003, notes that because of Equity’s dedication to training, the company has realized results, including happier customers and more financial success. Elkeles asserts that companies must understand that people are the largest asset they have, and investing in and developing people—even during tough times—is critically important.
With these best practices of BEST Award winners, what can we learn from their expertise?
• Create a learning culture and a learning brand. Leverage this brand to help recruit, develop, and retain your staff.
• If you’re not dealing with the skills gap, it’s time. To fill the skills gap, learning professionals must understand the current and future business needs and identify the skills required to address those needs.
• Get your leaders teaching to engage your staff and your leaders. BEST organization employs the “leaders as teachers” model.
• Become a business partner. The fastest way to demonstrate that the learning function belongs at the leadership table is by linking learning to the organization’s key metrics and/or key strategies.
Learning must be aligned to business results to be considered relevant and successful. There’s never been a better time to be in the learning profession. People are the competitive advantage for organizations throughout the world, and, senior management knows it. And, people development is the core competency of learning professionals. With the attention of senior management, now is the time to clearly demonstrate that your work is aligned with your organizations’ initiatives and helping to drive organizational success. No other business function can better impact its people than learning!