Working together is at the heart of collaboration, whether “together” means in the same office or just on the same planet (for now). When your company works with others for a living, as does the accounting, auditing and tax service firm Grant Thornton, collaboration is more than just a buzzword.
Using the tools that make collaboration possible, with help from vendors like Centra, Grant Thornton is stepping up its efforts to create a continuous learning environment to benefit its employees and clients. Bob Dean, chief learning officer and Grant Thornton partner, is spearheading that effort.
“One of the ways we’ve begun that journey – and it is a journey, it’s going to take us three or four years to really get where we want to be – is to have multiple channels for learning delivery,” Dean said. “We’ve moved from what was one way of delivering learning, largely the traditional classroom, to now three or four ways to deliver learning, some of which are more conducive to just-in-time learning. In the case of working with Centra, what it’s done for us is open up a webcast channel that we can now use confidently every week in the company if we need to. It really does help you on your way to a more continuous learning approach.”
Dean has been at Grant Thornton more than a year, coming from another consultancy, Ernst & Young, where he was also involved in learning innovation. The move to a continuous learning culture was one of the first ideas he brought to Grant Thornton directors.
To create the collaborative channels, Dean himself collaborated with David Holyoak, Grant Thornton’s chief information officer. The information technology implementation was already in place when Dean joined the firm, so he was able to leverage that to bring more live e-learning to company desktops, wherever they may be.
“When there’s a breaking issue in the business environment or in the profession, we’re able to respond and address the issue and get our people up to speed much more quickly than we would have been able to in the past with the traditional classroom,” Dean said. “Speed to market with new knowledge and speed to market with new services has really been enabled by having this kind of solution.”
For instance, programs on breaking issues can now be delivered enterprise-wide in two or three weeks, Dean said. Relying on instructor-led training, with Grant Thornton’s diverse and disbursed nature, took much longer.
Looking ahead, Dean sees the learning environment expanding to create “learning paths” for employees at all levels of the company. Training will also be available on an as-needed and just-in-time basis. What’s more, the learning channels will allow consultants in the field to connect with company experts quickly. And that expertise will also be more easily shared through streaming media that involves the experts themselves, as opposed to the old days when instructors were relied on to deliver messages several generations from the experts who created them.
“Now our people can be exposed and go right to the source,” Dean said. “In addition to knowing you’re hearing from the expert, you’re getting consistency of message.”
The move has already paid off. Within the first nine months of implementation, Grant Thornton was able to offset the entire cost of the technology investment through savings.
“But that doesn’t tell the whole story. A platform like this has created opportunities for new learning programs, new learning experiences that we would never even have done in the past in the firm because the traditional classroom was not a good delivery environment for a breaking-issues program that might have only taken two to three hours,” Dean said.
“In the past, we might have sent out a white paper on the issue, as well as some PowerPoint materials perhaps. But we would not have been able to ensure the speed to market with the knowledge and the consistency of the message we can today. So it’s hard to articulate a cost savings there. It’s more a benefit to the organization, a new benefit having a platform like this, and it ultimately makes our people better able to perform their client service responsibilities than it does save costs.”
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