As a kid growing up in the 1950s in Los Angeles, I was really into sports. The L.A. Rams were the only real pro team in the city in those days, so by default they were the focus of my loyalty. Luckily for me, the team roster included a couple of extraordinary players who quickly became my heroes: quarterback Norm “The Dutchman” Van Brocklin and star receiver Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch.
Like most childhood heroes, these two athletes were larger than life, and I lived vicariously through their thrilling feats on the gridiron. Van Brocklin, who played his first nine NFL seasons with the Rams, has been described as “one of the most colorful and competitive individuals that pro football has ever seen.” And Hirsch was widely known for his spectacular — and decidedly unorthodox — running style. A column by Francis Powers of the Chicago Daily News summed it up perfectly. “Hirsch ran like a demented duck. His crazy legs were gyrating in six different directions all at the same time during a 61-yard touchdown run that solidified the win.”
As I got older and started playing sports more seriously myself, I realized the value in replacing larger-than-life heroes with real-life role models. Al Kline was one. He coached our high school football team to two city championships, largely because he possessed that rare ability to be your friend as well as your mentor and taskmaster. Kline made you want to perform at your peak and dread the consequences when you did not. His steady guidance, consistent example and positive influence inspired my best effort and helped to shape my character.
Now, as a businessman, the way I define my heroes and role models has continued to evolve, and I use a different kind of scorecard to gauge who is worthy of admiration and emulation. What I look for is purpose, intention, determination and innovation, as well as achievements and results.
In workforce development, you can’t find better examples of these attributes than the accomplished organizations named to the 2013 LearningElite. These enterprises achieve measurable results by making learning and development a key part of their business strategy as well as their culture.
The LearningElite program objectively assesses both the scope and the value of the learning and development services that companies provide and offers powerful benchmarking data. Finalists get a custom scorecard showing their performance across five key learning and development performance indicators —strategy, execution, impact, business performance results and leadership commitment — as well as how they compare to other LearningElite finalists.
In our third year of benchmarking, the field of applicants was impressive. According to Sarah Kimmel, our director of research and advisory services, the organizations that achieved LearningElite status stand out as “true innovators in enterprise education — noteworthy for their unswerving commitment to deploying elite learning and development practices that deliver measurable business value.”
The top five organizations this year not only presented compelling applications on paper but also demonstrated leadership commitment to learning and development during an additional capstone level of assessment. The 2013 Top 5 are AT&T, McDonald’s USA LLC, UPS, Jiffy Lube International and Procter & Gamble Distributing LLC.
These outstanding organizations qualify as inspiring role models for the industry, as do all the 2013 LearningElite finalists. Their efforts to create and employ exemplary workforce development strategies and foster effective future learning and development practices serve as valuable templates for others to follow.
To that end, we’ve put together this special issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine. It features inspiring articles about these elite companies’ exploits in deploying better learning and development practices and an inside look at how they use workforce development to affect business performance. Our goal in sharing their stories is to both honor these real-life role models and provide actionable ideas and insights that can be replicated by other organizations.
There’s a good reason why the LearningElite has become the industry’s most meaningful analysis of learning and development best practices and their influence on business performance. It’s not a beauty contest. The evaluation yields solid data that validates the impact that important learning initiatives have on productivity, engagement, innovation and business results. That’s heroic stuff in my book, and I imagine in yours, too.