The centre of strategy is learning

CEOs share thoughts on training and development
By Tony Bingham
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/30/2006

Learning organizations are leading organizations. Learning professionals have a huge impact on the learning and thus the success of organizations. And this is being recognized at the highest levels in organizations. But, organizations need to quantifiably understand the impact of learning on the business. Driving that understanding is the responsibility of learning professionals.

Learning professionals need to ask themselves a few questions. Do they know the key strategies of the organization? And, what about the key measurements for the organization, including how the CEO is measured and measures others? And, are they linking what they do every day to those strategies or measurements?

To help learning professionals understand CEOs’ perceptions of the value of learning and what learning professionals must be doing to be more relevant, the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD) has created a series called “At C Level” in its monthly magazine. Here are some highlights of those interviews.

When asked about learning’s impact on the business, Ed Ludwig, chairman, president and CEO of BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), a medical technology company, said the ultimate question is, “Is the company being more successful? I believe the education we do contributes to making the company grow faster, be more profitable and have higher customer satisfaction ratings.”

When talking about his chief learning officer, Bill Swanson, chairman and CEO of Raytheon, a large defence contractor, said he holds his CLO to the same standards as other top leaders in the company. And, he warned aspiring CLOs to make their business case for learning and not to complain when budgets are cut because they failed to make the case.

He said his number one priority is the leadership pipeline. “I want to make sure that the board has the ability to select two-deep for my job, and I have the ability to select two-deep for the people who report to me, and that next level is two-deep.”

This says a lot about the value of people development at Raytheon.

Swanson also had some thoughts about Six Sigma.

“(It) helps us understand the current and to-be states of the competencies in the pipeline. When there’s a gap, how do you fill it? Guess what? You’ve got to learn. That’s why learning is such an integral part of what we do. It’s the only way to get from point A to point B. That’s why I’m a learning nut.”

Jim Hackett, president and CEO of Steelcase, an office furniture manufacturer, is very committed to learning. In the early 2000s, Steelcase’s revenue dropped by 50 per cent and they eliminated 52 per cent of the workforce (11,000 employees), but the company still maintained a commitment to learning by keeping its learning center.

“The essential basis for why we invested in a learning center, irrespective of the economic cycle, is that we feel that it is the centre of the strategy of the company.” Hackett continued by saying this connection between learning and strategy is becoming a CEO’s mantra for how to direct a company.

Mark Schwab, CEO of Binney & Smith, a company with brands such as Crayola crayons and Silly Putty, said he had a few expectations from HR and training professionals.

“If you’re in HR, you own very specific goals about talent development and talent acquisition. Everybody needs to be in the game. Don’t stand on the sidelines with a black and white striped shirt and a whistle…if you’re in HR or training and development, figure out what needs to be done to win.”

Tony Bingham is president and CEO of the American Society for Training & Development. He can be reached at

. Bingham was the keynote speaker at a lunch held during the recent Canadian Society for Training and Development conference in Toronto.

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