At Walt Disney Company, over the last 10 years training has evolved to include flexible learning delivery, customized learning experiences, and collaborative development with internal training customers.Disney has moved from an instructor-led training approach to an approach that uses face-to-face instruction (classroom, on-the-job) combined with online instruction (game simulation, e-learning). This matches Disney’s business strategy, which has always emphasized matching the appropriate technology and methods to the audience regardless of whether the audience is a guest or an employee (cost member).
A single training event or program is not likely to give a company a competitive advantage because explicit knowledge is well-known and programs designed to teach it can be easily developed and imitated. However, tacit knowledge developed through experience and shared through interactions between employees is impossible to imitate and can provide companies with a competitive advantage. Pixar’s development of successful computer-animated films such as WALL-E (a robot love story in a post-apocalyptic world of trash) and Ratatouille (a tale of a French rat who longs to be a chef) requires the cooperation of a team of talented directors, writers, producers, and technology artists who may be located in different buildings, have different priorities, and speak different technical languages. Pixar follows three operating principles: (1) all employees must have the freedom to communicate with other employees, regardless of their position or department, (2) it must be safe for everyone to offer ideas, and (3) the company must stay close to innovations occurring in the academic community. Pixar University offers a collection of in-house courses for training and cross-training employees within their specialty areas. But it also offers optional classes that provide opportunities for employees from different disciplines to meet and learn together. Screenplay writing, drawing, and sculpting are directly related to the business while courses in Pilates and yoga are not. The courses are attended by employees with all levels of expertise— from novices to experts—which reinforces the idea that all employees are learning and it is fun to learn together.
The emphasis on learning has several implications. First, there is a recognition that to be effective, learning has to be related to helping employees’ performance improve and the company achieve its business goals. This connection helps ensure that employees are motivated to learn and that the limited resources (time and money) for learning are focused in areas that will directly help the business succeed. Second, unpredictability in the business environment in which companies operate will continue to be the norm. Because problems cannot be predicted in advance, learning needs to occur on an as-needed basis. Companies need to move beyond the classroom and instead use job experiences and Web-based training to teach employees skills while they focus on business problems. Third, because tacit knowledge is difficult to acquire in training programs, companies need to support informal learning that occurs through mentoring, chat rooms, and job experiences. Fourth, learning has to be supported not only with physical and technical resources but also psychologically. The company work environment needs to support learning, and managers and peers need to encourage learning and help employees find ways to obtain learning on the job. Also, managers need to understand employees’ interests and career goals to help them find suitable development activities that will prepare them to be successful in other positions in the company or deal with expansion of their current job.
Creating and sharing knowledge refers to companies’ development of human capital. Human capital includes cognitive knowledge (know what), advanced skills (know how), system understanding and creativity (know why), and selfmotivated creativity (care why). Traditionally, training has focused on cognitive and advanced skills. But the greatest value for the business may be created by having employees understand the manufacturing or service process and the interrelationships between departments and divisions (system understanding) as well as motivating them to deliver high-quality products and services (care why). To create and share knowledge, companies have to provide the physical space and technology (e-mail, Web sites) to encourage employee collaboration and knowledge sharing. Ford Motor Company has communities of practice organized around functions. For example, all the painters in every Ford assembly plant around the world belong to the same community. At each plant, one of the painters serves as a “focal point.” If a local painter discovers a better way to improve one of the 60 steps involved in painting, the focal person completes a template describing the improvement and its benefits. The template is submitted electronically to a subject matter expert located at Ford headquarters, who reviews the practice and decides whether it is worth sharing with other assembly plants. If so, the practice is approved and sent online to the other assembly plants. Ford has collected $1.3 billion in projected value for the company and has realized over $800 million of actual value from its communities of practice.
As companies recognize the value of training and development and view them as part of a broader learning strategy, seven key capabilities are needed, according to a survey by Accenture Learning.These capabilities are:
1. Alignment of learning goals to the business goals.
2. Measurement of the overall business impact of the learning function.
3. Movement of learning outside the company to include customers, vendors, and suppliers.
4. A focus on developing competencies for the most critical jobs.
5. Integration of learning with other human resource functions such as knowledge management, performance support, and talent management.
6. Training delivery approaches that include classroom as well as e-learning. .
7. Design and delivery of leadership development courses.