Last night, at the University of Pennsylvania's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, CorpU hosted its 13th annual awards for excellence and innovation in learning and development. The black-tie ceremony held in the Egypt Wing of the museum, honored the achievements by many organizations who pushed the envelope in learning, creating programs and practices that improve both business and employee performance. These awards establish high standards in seven critical learning areas: alignment, alliances, branding, launching, leadership development, learning technologies, and measurement.
Each category was judged by a different independent panel of outside experts, previous award winners, professors, and practitioners from academia and business alike. They looked for work that was impactful, innovative and best represented the transformative effect that well-crafted learning programs can have, and had to sift through hundreds of applications from around the world (applications came from more than 50 countries) to help identify the excellence and innovation happening at organizations large and small who apply a business-aligned learning function to improve performance.
Alignment is a critical element to learning organization – and business – success. It is a measure of how well the corporate learning function designs and executes efforts that produce the desired outcomes in their company’s strategy. This requires that the learning organization understand how the company creates the products, services, and capabilities that meet expectations of customers, investors, and society.
The Alignment award winners included Raytheon for its creation of a mid-level talent pool process, Town Sports International for its new sales training, the Veterans Administration’s Learning University for its part in bringing the VA workforce up to 21st century standards, EDF for its program to align experts and corporate strategy so that the company could become more effective and efficient in multi-party negotiation with municipal contracts, and MillerCoors for its work in creating a unified sales approach across the company.
Alliances is all about creating relationships that solve critical business challenges and enhance the corporate learning unit's contribution to the organization as a whole. The best alliances enable both partners to develop innovative solutions and creative ways to work together – like this year's winners have done.
Sherwin Williams' partnership with Case Western Reserve enabled it to create a new leadership program for its high potential employees, as did the relationship between Duke Continuing Education and Raytheon. Westinghouse University partnered with Pennsylvania State University to bring certification training onsite for its nuclear engineers, while Owens & Minor University went the other way, bringing its knowledge of supply chain processes to the United States Army Medical Materiel Agency and other partners and customers. Aon’s relationship with Harvard Business Publishing enables it to train its own leaders, while also providing Harvard Business School material to its clients.
Branding is a complex process that includes setting expectations, developing innovative marketing strategies and matching the learning experience to those expectations to attract learners and raise the ability of the learning organization to tackle business challenges in a company over a sustained period of time.
Pacific Rubiales Energy used all sorts of new media to brand its new corporate university and connect the learning function with the company's corporate social responsibility efforts, and Mars University created one compelling mission and service promise across the company, and developed a single, clean look and feel to convey the brand. Two of this year's winners in the branding category reached beyond their company's walls. Turkcell Akademi embarked on an ambitious program to raise the profile of the company with college students, enhancing the company’s ability to attract graduates as new hires, and the University of Farmers leveraged its stellar reputation in a successful series of ads that increased brand recognition and sales by positioning the company as a leader in agent and customer service training.
Launching has been one of the most popular categories – and one of the hardest to judge – over the last few years. Even in the face of difficult economic times, or maybe because of them, learning organizations have been applying creativity and innovation to finding new ways to help businesses deliver on their strategies. This year’s winning launches addressed different audiences in their respective companies.
Raytheon completed a redesign and relaunch of a signature program for high-potential managers; the freight company C.R.England addressed their executives at all levels; Microsoft, Town Sports International and HP addressed sales employees at different levels. NASA found new ways to address the needs of its safety and mission assurance professionals, and Owens & Minor created certification programs to address the needs of its distribution center employees. WiPro’s launch effort addressed a long-term need to improve the employability of Indian college graduates by improving the skills of engineering faculty throughout the country.
Leadership Development is an ever-changing field. The critical skills needed by today’s leaders – leading teams, managing globally, fostering innovation – require that leadership development programs change, too. And this year’s winners were very aware of those needs. They were also aware of the importance of involving current leaders in preparing the next generation. Regardless of the decisions made about on-site vs. virtual, team vs. individual, etc., they all involved some aspect of leaders as teachers, mentors or coaches.
Eastman Kodak and Owens & Minor both addressed the needs of its pre-executive population. Mars University created a program that addresses the needs of leaders from their first management role to the highest level. Raytheon plugged a gap and created a program for executives at the director and vice-president level, and the VA, continuing an earlier theme, created a program that will teach 21st century leadership skills throughout the organization. Faced with an ambitious growth plan, the Aditya Birla Group needed to build a leadership pipeline at all levels; its carefully designed plan of identification of competencies, evaluation of candidates against those competencies, and a robust set of learning programs and processes addressed the unique nature of leadership in the company’s diverse businesses and locations.
Technology is an enabler – but what constitutes innovation varies considerably from company to company. This year's awards show the range of ways technology can make a difference in a learning environment. Microsoft utilized a group of best-of-breed vendors to create an end-to-end platform that reaches its global sales and service organization. BC Ferries had to reinvent the LMS to meet the specific needs of sea-going employees at different levels, doing different jobs on different vessels. Cricket Communications developed an end-to-end technology solution that included an LMS, HRMS integration, performance support, and performance management and delivered tailored, job-specific learning that is available on-demand. PayPal's TechJam brought technologists together, first virtually, then face-to-face to unleash creativity and discuss and debate innovative new solutions – and to change the culture by encouraging engineers to explore technologies in a way that allowed people to be able to use it later, when a specific kind of issue arose.
Measurement is a key component of all learning. In fact, each award applicant has to describe how it measured the success of its efforts. But this award goes further and recognizes those companies that have created new tools and techniques and applied them to measuring how well learning meets the needs of the company and contributes to attaining its strategic goals.
The Boeing Company partnered with the University of Washington’s LIFE (Learning in Informal and Formal Environments) Center to evaluate differences in social interactivity and learning outcomes between a lecture-based course and a challenge-based course; their peer-reviewed findings about the benefits of the challenge-based course has implications for teaching beyond the corporation. The VA established a rigorous series of measurements that included ROI, for how well the VA Learning University is contributing to the overall Human Capital Investment Plan. The University of Farmers actually does it backwards, using a reverse Kirkpatrick to get agreement with stakeholders before any learning is designed as to what the business goal is and what success looks like; this leads to clear measures and goals that are appreciated by senior management.
Best overall is an award chosen by CorpU that recognizes the learning organization that exhibits excellence and innovation across the categories. This year’s winner, Raytheon, was cited by judges in four different categories for its work in creating a robust series of learning programs aimed at leaders at all levels. Their programs assure that the company can meet its strategic needs now and in the future, a critical success factor for any learning organization.
“I’m grateful to be in this network. The calls I had with other members gave me the information I needed to move my project forward.”Annette RollsLeadership Development Program Designer, Boeing
“We were able to realize almost immediate value—in terms of definitively quantifiable savings—by implementing the concepts introduced during this [Art of Negotiation] program.”Ken MurphyEVP of Sales and Operations, Mattress Firm
“In my particular case, I certainly care about the HR functions, but that’s not why I wake up every day. I care about advancing the ball down the field with our people’s professional development skills and knowledge. You guys focus 100% on the learning piece, and that’s what I like.”Jim StewartCLO, Teradata