Name: Allan Weisberg
Title: Vice President of Organizational Capability
Company: Johnson & Johnson
- Established Johnson & Johnson’s e-University, with approximately 50 schools encompassing business function, operating companies and regions, and more than 6,000 courses.
- Devised and put into effect an action-learning program for executives, which addresses real business issues.
- Leads Johnson & Johnson’s internal consulting group, using people inside the organization to support the business.
- Delivered region-specific learning content to Johnson & Johnson employees around the world, including some who had never had access to the company’s educational offerings.
- Blended e-learning with classroom-based education, thereby producing a beneficially symbiotic bond between the two modalities.
Learning Philosophy: “We really recognize the importance of our workforce and how critical the workforce is to the success of Johnson & Johnson. Therefore, training and development plays a very important role in terms of the corporation. We also recognize that with the kind of workforce we have, a global workforce, with different access to training and different access to development, that we need to be flexible and have the adaptability to deal with the different situations.”
At Johnson & Johnson, which has been providing health-care goods and services for well over a century, the watchword at both the organizational and individual levels is “integrity.” The company was seventh on Fortune magazine’s list of most admired companies this year and took the top spot in the pharmaceutical category of the survey. Additionally, ever since The Wall Street Journal started publishing its annual poll five years ago, gauging corporate reputation among U.S. businesses, Johnson & Johnson has been ranked first. A large part of the company’s sterling status comes from its principled and conscientious workforce, which is indoctrinated with the well-known Johnson & Johnson credo from the outset of employment, said Allan Weisberg, vice president of organizational capability. He added that learning and development supports this code of ethics, and vice versa.
“(Educational philosophy) is really embodied in the Johnson & Johnson credo,” Weisberg said. “First comes the customer: the doctors, nurses, patients, mothers and fathers that utilize our products; secondly comes our employees, in terms of making sure we’re treating them with fairness and dignity; third comes the community that we live in. When we do all those things effectively, then the shareholder gets a fair return on their investment.
“We have an orientation process for employees when they first come to the company, so they have the ability to understand what our credo values are—not only the statement, but what it means to live our credo values,” he added. “Your values are only as good as the application of your values. It’s having the values, living out your values and people understanding your values. In terms of learning, we have an opportunity with the content that we have to make sure that we’re reinforcing the values, reinforcing the priorities. In everything we do, we’re trying to make sure that we are helping reinforce the values and reinforce the key messages the corporation is trying to achieve.”
Weisberg, who has been at the company for almost three decades and worked in six different business units, said the values system at Johnson & Johnson encourages and rewards merit. “One of the things I’ve always taken pride in J&J, and what differentiates Johnson & Johnson, is that the people who are going to be successful are the people who do the right thing for the corporation. I really enjoy and get satisfaction out of doing the right thing, bringing pragmatic solutions to a very complicated company.”
Since Johnson & Johnson sells products in more than 175 countries, the entire world can be regarded as the community spoken of in its credo. Likewise, the company’s community of learners, comprised of more than 110,000 employees in nearly 60 countries worldwide, is global in nature. “It’s a challenge,” Weisberg said of developing learning that caters to various languages and cultures. “There’s not enough good content in multiple languages. We’re continuously working on it. One of the things we try to do with anything that we develop is we try to test them in different regions around the world. The worst thing I think you can do with any content is develop it in the U.S. and say, ‘This is good enough to utilize around the world.’”
However, Weisberg and his team were somewhat surprised by the receptiveness of learners overseas to initial offerings. “We went in with that perception, that there would be a tremendous amount of cultural differences,” he said. “We found at Johnson & Johnson that there really is a universal culture, and our content seems to apply around the world.” In addition, many users in other countries want their learning delivered in English, the worldwide lingua franca. “We translate our content whenever possible. Some of our executives want the content to be in English because they think it’s a good way for some of their people to learn English. We also teach global English online.”
The ability to deliver educational content around the globe has been enhanced exponentially by the company’s drive toward e-learning, best exemplified by Johnson & Johnson’s e-University. “We really broaden out by using technology,” Weisberg said. “At our Johnson & Johnson e-University, we have over 6,000 titles. If you go on to our university (Web) site, what you will find is that we will have content for North America, content for Latin America, content for Asia. The content that we have there is based on surveys we did in different regions of the world. We try to get the local people’s input on what the right kind of content is, on what’s really important to them.”
The capacity to distribute learning through technology has been a great boon in a number of ways, Weisberg said. Even in the recent past, getting knowledge and skills education to those who needed it could be a source of frustration. “In the old days–and the old days were only a few years ago–we would predominantly take people off their job. They would sit in a classroom. Very often, it was difficult to assess whether they had the knowledge or not. Now, we can really identify who needs to go to what training and have a record of whether they’ve had the training or not.”
A substantial number of Johnson & Johnson employees in foreign countries had never even seen any of the company’s training programs prior to its e-learning initiatives. Bringing learning to those locales has been a point of pride for Weisberg in his tenure as Johnson & Johnson’s head of learning and development. “The satisfaction I get out of that is that these are people who may have never had access to training,” he said. “I get very excited when I hear from our colleagues in China that they’ve utilized something we’ve been able to provide to the sales force in China. We’ve been able to reach people, and hopefully that makes us more effective in China.”
E-learning also has delivered cost savings for Johnson & Johnson. The company has saved up to a half-million dollars on individual compliance courses alone, Weisberg said. However, he added that he was skeptical of relying too heavily on financial metrics. “What we really recognize is that we’re really looking at behavior change in the training,” Weisberg said. “Once you get past behavior change, it becomes very, very questionable, because you’re measuring so many different variables. Our management, while they’re interested in and positive about those savings, are much more concerned about the investment in people that we’re making, the training that we’re providing people. Our leadership’s belief is that when you’re making that investment in your people and improving the skills development, it’s going to pay huge dividends. We know that by improving individual capability, that’s only going to drive the performance of a company.”
The levels of behavior change, in terms of increased employee proficiency and participation, are measured through a learning management system (LMS). “We invested in a single LMS solution for Johnson & Johnson,” Weisberg said. “Using a learning management system has really helped us drive our costs down in terms of the individual training that we’ve done. The learning management system becomes almost the pipes for our Johnson & Johnson e-University. We have the capability now of launching any training program throughout Johnson & Johnson, throughout the world.” According to Weisberg, the e-University gets approximately 15,000 different visitors per month, and more than half of Johnson & Johnson’s workforce visits the university Web site every quarter.
E-learning also supports the classroom, formerly the company’s prevailing delivery method. “We’re probably doing about 50 percent of all of our training now through e-learning,” Weisberg said. “If you go back maybe four or five years ago, maybe 10 percent was technology (based). We are really starting to make our training much more a process than just an experience. What we believe, and what we utilize a lot, is when you use e-learning with classroom, it just expands the ability, so that when people come into the classroom, it automatically can become an advanced course. The argument was: e-learning or classroom? And the answer is: yes. It’s both. It’s using the things that you’ve learned before and the things you’re learning now and applying them together. Blended learning is a natural. I can see a day when every piece of executive education will have an e-learning component, because it will just enhance the experience when you get together.”
Because of its commitment to employee improvement, gifted and capable people are drawn to Johnson & Johnson, Weisberg said. “We’re very committed to the development of talent within Johnson & Johnson. Learning is an essential part of careers at Johnson & Johnson. We have a series of courses that are designed for different levels. We also have, through the Johnson & Johnson e-University, a place where people can go and design their own learning plan based on their needs. That’s a unique opportunity. They have the ability and freedom to develop themselves. We think that’s a real competitive advantage.”
Brian Summerfield is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.