As executives with a strong interest in the delivery of learning, you don’t have to be told that education is big business. Whether your business is manufacturing or marketing, there are undeniable advantages to leading a well-trained team.
But for some businesses, offering education is more than a wise decision. Some enterprises simply must lead by example. As a major force in business-to-business consulting, Deloitte Consulting is one of those enterprises.
“We train everybody globally every year,” said Nick Van Dam, chief learning officer for Deloitte Consulting, in charge of the development efforts for 15,000 employees in 34 countries. “Everybody will go through training, basically. It’s an exciting challenge, actually.”
That total commitment to workforce development is no accident. Working with a budget of close to $40 million, Van Dam oversees the delivery of all types of education, from new-employee orientation to skills training to Friday workshops focusing on issues like leadership development, change management and risk management.
Changing its name in 2003 to Braxton, Deloitte Consulting is in the intellectual capital business by definition, sharing the expertise of its employees with other companies as needed. That requires, Van Dam said, an ongoing need to identify knowledge, best practices, ideas and experience. That mission includes emphasizing individual knowledge and sharing common ideas, values and processes.
“That is kind of our challenge from a business perspective,” Van Dam said.
As recently as 1999, Deloitte offered about 95 percent of its educational initiatives via the classroom. That pendulum has swung wide, to where now about 85 percent of Deloitte training is online. Blended solutions and classroom still exist, but most training takes place electronically.
That, Van Dam said, was a simple matter of cost analysis. A goal of 40 hours per associate for training simply meant too much time for costly travel, and way too much time away from client sites.
“We came to the conclusion that this was not something we could continue to do,” Van Dam said.
Van Dam joined Deloitte Consulting in 1995. Since becoming chief learning officer in 2000, he’s boasted 100 percent participation in training programs and achieved a 45 percent reduction in learning costs, while at the same time building an e-learning infrastructure and tripling the number of per-practitioner learning hours. Van Dam also oversaw some reorganizations the new technology allowed, like reducing the number of project-management courses available to associates globally from about 70 to about five.
Of course, a consultancy like Deloitte provides all kinds of education.
“We believe a lot of people basically learn through different kinds of assignments in their career. The good news is, in a firm like ours, that’s what people do,” Van Dam said. “They work on different projects, different locations, different complexities. That’s the way you learn. But it just goes beyond the assignments. You also have to have a lot of opportunities for people to develop skills, to become knowledgeable of something.”
Van Dam and his team addressed that through a learning and growth model for associates. Whether it’s learning on the job or working with a coach, Deloitte consultants are given broad opportunities for professional development. For Van Dam, that’s win-win.
“E-learning is learning using the Internet, with the goal to improve performance and improve business results,” he said. “We believe and I believe it’s important to track, report and manage learning within a firm. I feel strongly that online learning management is an important component in e-learning. It’s a broader picture than just a course you can take over the Internet.”
Van Dam also oversees Deloitte’s corporate university, where employees have access to more than 3,000 courses, some developed in-house and some content purchased. One recent success story from the corporate university, Van Dam said, involved training 4,000 consultants on SAP solutions. The global team needed the latest and greatest information, delivered typically in a two-day, in-classroom course. That, of course, is a noteworthy amount of lost productivity.
Using e-learning technologies, Deloitte Consulting was able to offer the training electronically in a variety of formats, including a classroom component. Consultants from all over the globe were able to take the training simultaneously and conveniently.
“Like every industry, the consulting industry has become more and more competitive,” Van Dam said. “We need to look at cost, and we need to do things differently.”
Efficiency certainly comes to mind. Van Dam was able to reduce training costs by about 45 percent at the same time he built the e-learning infrastructure. Other successes include shaving back a five-day course for new managers to a three-day program. The re-engineered training relies more heavily on best practices and case studies, providing real-world information consultants can take to clients.
“It’s much more interactive and also much more engaging,” said Van Dam. “That’s kind of what our people require. They are bored in no time if they have to listen to people for a day.”
The technological atmosphere is also a tool for attracting and retaining new talent, especially younger college graduates looking to build a career at Deloitte Consulting.
“Using technology in learning is their nature actually,” he said. “They are digital natives. That’s what they expect from a learning perspective. I believe that if organizations do not think about those things, they won’t be very attractive for young people. They will have challenges in terms of getting them excited and engaged in their workforce.”
Saba has become an important partner for Deloitte Consulting, providing the backbone for its in-house educational systems. Van Dam said Saba emerged after a careful review of the learning technologies to see what best fit Deloitte’s needs.
Van Dam isn’t alone in his respect for the advantages Saba has brought Deloitte Consulting. As global leader of the change, learning and performance group, Deloitte partner Jeff Schwartz is also committed to the company leading by example.
“We’re very committed to sort of walking the walk, on running ourselves as a global business with best-of-breed technologies,” said Schwartz. “What that means is we run our finances and HR systems on SAP. We run our sales management processes on Siebel. The backbone of global learning processes and administration is Saba, and we use other products like Centra to support the virtual classroom piece.”
For Schwartz, Saba helps Deloitte achieve integrated results and deliver those to clients as well.
“We believe those are the kinds of goals global companies should be aiming for when they’re thinking about e-learning. Part of our success clearly has been partnering with Saba,” Schwartz said. “That’s clearly what our clients are looking for in the marketplace now and what they’re expecting from us and Saba to bring them in some way together.”
“This is a case where we show our clients that we drink our own coffee basically,” Van Dam added. “What we sell is what we do. We believe in it, and it works.”
The respect goes both ways. As chief learning officer for Saba, Brook Manville has witnessed first-hand Deloitte Consulting’s shift to e-learning. The old way, he said, just didn’t cut it anymore.
“Their business imperative is not unlike a lot of other global organizations now. Everything has to be sped up faster because the pace of competition and globalization is intensifying,” Manville said. “It’s not even a question of cost, though they were happy to take the cost out. It’s as much about speed and consistency and being able to reach a large number of people. To do that, you’ve got to move to a much more e-enabled solution. They’ve put an increasingly large amount into Web-based and virtual classroom. Once you have that aspiration to reach a large number of people simultaneously at reduced cost, you need a platform to deliver and manage it. That’s what Saba does.”
Manville identified three phases of working on learning initiatives with global organizations like Deloitte Consulting. First is discovering the need for e-learning; second is installing the platform to enable it.
“The third is when you really start to think creatively about transforming the organization,” Manville said. “How do you change the game, not just automate it? They’re constantly experimenting.”
Of course, Saba and Deloitte Consulting have an interdependent relationship of sorts, better described by Manville as a “virtuous circle.” Deloitte is not only a Saba customer, but also recommends Saba as a solution for its clients, when appropriate.
“It’s kind of a different relationship when you’ve got a company that is not only using your product, but actually recommending it to their customers. You get kind of a double-loop effect,” Manville said. “It’s not just how they’re using it, but how they see it used in other contexts. It’s kind of a magnifier if you like. It’s not a reseller relationship, it’s really a learning-loop relationship. We get a lot out of it, and we work with them in that spirit.”
And that work will go forward. Among future initiatives, Van Dam is planning to roll out a global orientation program in February, giving new hires a chance to get organized even before walking in the door. It’s all part of the never-stop-learning philosophy.
“Working for a consulting firm is different,” Van Dam said. “Here really you feel on a day-to-day basis that the development of skills, learning, is very important. It’s not necessary that people think, ‘Hey how many days do you spend in the classroom?’ It’s how can you develop, how can you learn, how can you develop skills you can use at clients tomorrow and moving forward.”