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Grant Thornton: Technology Builds Continuous Learning

June 29, 2005
Related Topics: Succession Planning, Talent Management, Technology, Metrics, Measurement, Technology
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Grant Thornton LLP accountants and business advisers provide an array of services, including audit and assurance, Sarbanes-Oxley and corporate governance, compensation and benefits, economic advisory and family wealth planning. Grant Thornton works to create a continuous learning culture aligned with business strategy to ensure that the organization’s 4,000 employees are challenged and enjoy a sense of pride in their work.

“Historically in our profession, training was done more seasonally because the classroom was the only way to do things. Now, our people need to learn more continuously because breaking issues that are strategic and strategic initiatives that need to be implemented in the organization can happen anytime during the year,” said Bob Dean, chief learning officer, Grant Thornton. “In order to be a continuous learning environment, you need to have multiple ways of delivering learning, so we try to leverage multiple delivery channels—not only the classroom and conference environments, but virtual classrooms. We have Grant Thornton University, from which people can access self-paced, Web-based learning, and we also believe in the importance of collaboration as part of the learning process. We want to create compelling learning content because when you have multiple ways of delivering learning, the learning is only going to be as good as the content.”

Grant Thornton University was formed in June 2002 and has installed a robust technology infrastructure to aid learning efforts. “All of our client-serving professionals have high-end laptop computers, and all of our offices are wireless-enabled. They are able to use these computers with the software that we’ve provided to use our tools and access our network from our client environments, as well as from their homes,” Dean said. “We also have a very robust network here at Grant Thornton with three core elements: data, voice and video. All of our telecommunications is delivered over an IP-based network so we don’t have any charges for long-distance calls within our company network. We also have video capability on our network that enables us to send video fairly routinely. That enables us to use a product like Centra for Web conferencing where we integrate the voice and the video in a very efficient and cost-effective manner.”

Grant Thornton does not begin any learning activity without a strong business sponsor. Task forces for each of the service lines participate in a collaborative business planning process. Each service line for insurance, tax or business advisory services creates its own business plan with elements that will evolve into learning initiatives. Dean and other members of the learning team meet periodically with the sponsor to evaluate how much the learning solution has contributed to the success of its targeted business initiative. Other metrics to assess learning’s value include hard numbers, as well as capturing compelling stories around business impact that emerge from strategic learning initiatives.

“We evaluate every program that we do,” Dean said. “It’s actually a requirement of our accounting profession that when people go through training programs, they be given an opportunity to evaluate the programs. We do Level 1 evaluations, but we also do Level 3 evaluations around the job and performance impact of the learning. So 60 days after people attended a program, we have them complete a Level 3 evaluation. Then we also talk to our business sponsors and our supervisors of the employees to see if the intended value from the learning has in fact been delivered. The evaluations are all done formally. Some of the conversations we have with sponsors and with operating office leaders are done more informally. We also use surveys with those people.”

Dean said that the impact of learning at Grant Thornton is emerging. Various programs have helped people develop skills and knowledge about the firm, their jobs and helped them to be better performers. “We also have a significant leadership initiative here which involves learning and leadership solutions, and we have seen the beginnings of business results to help with succession planning in the firm, improve retention and build the culture of the organization,” Dean added.

“We have successfully engaged in a lot of learning innovation here through use of technology, but as the pendulum has swung back to more face-to-face learning combined with online learning. We are trying to deliver much more high-impact face-to-face learning events than perhaps were done in the traditional classroom. Our goal is to increase the retention for learning, the application of learning and ultimately, enhance our people’s learning and performance skills. We also want our people to develop leadership competencies all the way from the campus to partner, and we will be providing a set of courses that will help them to run our business and also personal development competencies that will help them as life skills. Combine these with the technical training that we’ve always done here, and I really hope to some day show very clearly that we have created a continuous learning environment.”

–Kellye Whitney, kellyew@clomedia.com

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