In America, like much of the developed world, we are unabashed hero worshippers and idol-makers. We prize chutzpah as much as real character and we often turn even moderately talented people into cultural icons at the drop of a hat or a text message.
It’s not that different in business. We tend to idolize the CEOs who command the biggest companies or make the most money. We focus more on the trappings of their success than on the impact and importance of what they do for a living. And we elevate organizations associated with the flashiest products and brands rather than those that make the most critical contributions to the quality of life on the planet.
But smarter men with sharper minds know better. Take Plato, for example.
Way back in the day, 429–347 B.C.E., Plato made his mark — according to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy — as “one of the most dazzling writers in the Western literary tradition and one of the most penetrating, wide-ranging and influential authors in the history of philosophy.” This sage of ancient Greece said: “A hero is born among a hundred, a wise man is found among a thousand, but an accomplished one might not be found even among a hundred thousand men.”
Plato knew that, in any arena of endeavor, an elite few are especially worthy of our respect, admiration and imitation. They are the ones who actually achieve something important — something beyond the normal range of effort or accomplishment. Not mere idols, they stand as role models and benchmarks for the rest of us.
This special issue of Chief Learning Officer focuses attention on a very select group of accomplished leaders — the first CLO LearningElite. Selected through our rigorous, peer-based benchmarking program, these organizations demonstrate exemplary effort, offering employee-sponsored workforce development and learning that delivers significant business results. They not only set standards of excellence for the entire industry, they provide a valuable yardstick for continuous improvement.
The LearningElite was developed under the guidance of a select group of chief learning officers and senior learning and development practitioners. It benchmarks and recognizes individual companies for their efforts in five key L&D performance dimensions: learning strategy, learning execution, learning impact (internal), business performance results (external) and leadership commitment.
Of the hundreds of organizations that applied to this inaugural benchmarking initiative, only 43 surpassed the benchmark in all five areas, earning the status of LearningElite. The top honor for 2011 went to AT&T for outstanding performance across the board. Cynthia Brinkley, senior vice president of talent development and chief diversity officer at AT&T, is featured on this month’s cover and profiled on page 36.
In this issue, you’ll also discover some of the secrets behind successful development efforts at the top 10 LearningElite companies.
Awards were presented to LearningElite organizations chosen to recognize their quality and outstanding performance in the five key areas evaluated: Deloitte was recognized for leadership commitment. Defense Acquisition University got the nod for strategy. The award for execution went to Qualcomm, IBM earned top marks for impact, and AT&T was singled out for business performance results.
Much of this issue is dedicated to these and other 2011 LearningElite organizations. It’s riveting reading that reflects the business imperatives driving effective learning and development at today’s most dynamic enterprises. And to keep the momentum going, we’ll be offering additional opportunities to learn from and interact directly with LearningElite leaders June 7-8 in our Human Capital Media Convention Center, HCMconventioncenter.com.
In publicly recognizing these elite learning-focused enterprises, our aim is to do more than just heap them with praise and accolades or turn them into industry heroes. We want to use this forum to identify their specific achievements and shine a light on the critical role that learning and development plays in organizational success. By providing these insights, we hope to inspire and equip other enterprises — possibly yours — to join their ranks as truly accomplished and extraordinary learning organizations.