Western Union’s Learning Is All About the Business

No. 10: By meeting with business executives regularly and quantifying efforts, Western Union successfully creates learning programs that save the company millions.

Western Union’s Joshua Craver, global head of talent management and learning.

Many learning and development teams struggle to quantify their efforts. They create programs before even considering how to measure learning impact, but The Western Union Co.’s Talent Team starts with measurement.

Thanks to a routine of consistent measurement and consultations with upper management, leadership buy-in doesn’t seem to be an issue. Talent analytics link directly to business outcomes, which highlight the business case to invest time and money in the approximately 20 formal programs that fall under WU University, the corporate learning arm for Western Union. These metrics validate strategic learning and talent development efforts in terms that business leaders can support.

WU University debuted in 2010 as a virtual university, adding a brick-and-mortar university at the company’s Denver headquarters in 2014. About three years ago, Western Union also integrated its talent management and learning functions into one 18-person team. “Having that integration of the two allows for a great alignment with the business,” said Joshua Craver, global head of talent management and learning. “Sometimes when talent management and learning are separate, they’re not communicating and using the talent data and analytics to drive their design and deployment.”

Annually, surveys and manager data reveal gaps in managerial effectiveness, which helps the Talent Team see obstacles that the company’s employees need to overcome. With senior leader input, business cases develop and become newly designed learning programs and scheduled projects.

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Surveys measure on-the-job application for various WU University programs, as well as how the courses have changed the skills needed for employee’s roles. This helps learning leaders at WU University refine programming and ensure learning is constantly aligned with business objectives.

The Talent Team holds themselves accountable, too. Monthly reviews identify past achievements as well as growth opportunities. Quarterly reviews are used to analyze data to celebrate success or to recalibrate upcoming plans. Progress is published mid-year so human resources, program sponsors and executives can review tactics. Annual reports occur at year’s end to highlight results and identify areas for feedback.

Multiple learning technology vendors and platforms provide a mixture of development offerings to reach more people with various learning styles. For instance, Cornerstone OnDemand enables learning delivery, tracking and reporting, while Grovo provides additional online courses. Craver said virtual learning accounts for 70 percent of learning offerings.

In 2014, WU’s Talent Team developed Take 10, a series of 10-minute online modules. This library of resources serves employees with limited time who still want to develop business acumen and enhance their performance. Bite-sized learning is a popular trend in the learning and development field, but the Talent Team found that employees who participate in programs lasting 90 days or longer see higher retention rates and greater engagement. Once business leaders see these metrics, they are often more willing to allocate time for staff to attend longer-running courses.

To stay on top of current practices in their field, WU’s learning team reviews CEB’s annual reports, which helps them source ideas to use in their own strategy. They also use comments from LearningElite judges to improve processes. To develop his team, Craver said he allocates a fixed annual investment per person to attend external development programs, helping them earn certifications from best-in-class organizations.

Future plans for WU University include preparing the workforce to achieve the company’s 2020 vision and transform performance management. By 2020, millennials will make up a majority of the workforce, and the company’s 2020 strategy plans to lead change processes specifically for the future of talent at the company. This will build leadership confidence, connect people to technology and evolve the workforce, Craver explained.

Ultimately, five of the WU University flagship programs related to talent development and retention led to multimillions in cost savings, according to the company. With those kinds of metrics available, it’s hard for leaders to ignore the value of  internal learning efforts.

Lauren Dixon is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.