Since its inception in 1851 in London, the Reuters news agency has covered the world’s move into modernity, reporting on events ranging from the assassination of Abraham Lincoln to the fall of the Berlin Wall. The company has built a reputation as one of the fastest and most accurate media outlets over the past century and a half, and also has extended it into the financial services field, which supplies about 90 percent of the company’s annual revenue today. More than 330,000 international corporate clients working in the equities, fixed income, foreign exchange, monetary, commodities and energy markets rely on Reuters’ products and services to provide them with up-to-date information on their respective areas of commerce. If journalism is the face of Reuters, then financial services are its vital organs.
Both the news and market data components fall into Reuters’ content division, one of four within the company. “I’m in charge of learning and development for our 2,300 journalists, which includes text journalists in 19 languages, photographers, video journalists and online journalists, and also the data function, which is about 1,100 data analysts who are dealing with financial information coming from the world’s stock exchanges, commodity exchanges and company actions,” said Richard Taylor, global head of learning for Reuters’ content division.
“We probably have the best journalism training program in a business in the world,” he said. “That’s because we have a world-class graduate induction program, where we take people right out of the universities and put them on a yearlong program to learn the craft of journalism. They do stints in the classroom and on the desks in a variety of rotations, where they’re learning about commodities, energy, equities, fixed income and general political news. We have a big pictures and TV division as well, so they’re getting massive exposure from the get-go. We do local induction as well. We have general courses on writing, where you learn about how to write good headlines and ledes, use strong verbs, sourcing and ethics. We have a lot of specialist courses covering U.S. equities, European fixed income and Asian commodities trading.”
Not all of the learning initiatives are news-writing-focused, Taylor said. Reuters’ content division also maintains a management development program for its reporters. In addition, journalists go through classes on post-traumatic stress disorder and survival techniques needed for those covering disorienting and dangerous events such as conflicts, civil disturbances or natural disasters.
Sales and services, business and corporate services round out the rest of Reuters’ major business units, which—among other things—serve as lines of demarcation for employee education in the enterprise. This alignment of learning and development to the organization’s structure took place only recently, though. “Until late 2001, learning in Reuters was very much a training function,” said Charles Jennings, the company’s overall global head of learning. “It was a hybrid: Part of it was regional, in that we had training centers out in various places in the world, and part of it was functional, meaning we had some training focused around different functions. It was very much a disjointed and disaggregated structure.
“From 2002, we started to pull some of that structure together under a centralized function, and my role was created,” he said. “I’m the first global head of learning in the company, and I sit in the corporate HR center. Part of this new structure we’ve put in place is that each of the four major divisions within the company has a head of learning. Each of those heads of learning report up to a senior manager in the business, and they report across functions to me.”
Part of the reason behind the move to make learning more concentrated was to establish responsibility for both delivery and consumption within each of the four main divisions in Reuters, Jennings said. “We did quite a lot of analyses as to why we didn’t have accountability in the organization for learning and development. When I talk about accountability, I mean both ways. In order to get the accountability—the learning and development function being accountable for business results and, more importantly, business managers being accountable for ensuring that all of the learning and development that went on was done effectively and efficiently—it was important to ensure we has this federated model, which is essentially a typical corporate university structure where budgets and learning and development specialists sit in the business units reporting to the heads of learning. The heads of learning have line responsibility to a senior manager, budgets sit with them, and we pull it all together in a federated model by having a very small central group to look after the common areas, such as infrastructure, new ways of learning and work at the strategic level.”
Although Taylor already held his current position prior to the restructuring, the consolidation has brought some new developments to his job role. For example, Reuters has enhanced its capacity to share knowledge and best practices across business units, he said. “I was always reporting the dotted line to Charles, but had no one else to work with, really,” he said of his situation before the change. “There are now heads of learning for each function, so I have peers across the company. One of the problems that Reuters is dealing with that I’ve been drawn into lately is just poor communication across the functions. The heads of learning are a very small group that—with Charles’ leadership—can talk about this behind closed doors and say, ‘The finance group has no links into the content group, or into the front line of the business where the sales are going on. What can we do about this?’ I’m seeing a lot better discussion, I’m seeing some action come out of it, I’m seeing some sharing of resources—a lot of it is just ideas. Different groups have piloted different things, and no one group can pilot everything. We can have multiple pilots going on in different parts of the company and save enormous time rather than trying to do everything myself, which is what I was doing.”
Since that shift in configuration of learning programs, one of Jennings’ main objectives has been to transform the actual process of professional education at Reuters. “It’s around moving from training to learning to performance,” he explained. “My focus—in terms of strategy—is getting my twin pillars right. The first pillar is infrastructure, which is the right technical infrastructure, the right human infrastructure and the right interfaces with the business. The second pillar is standards, meaning methodology, quality, technical and engagement standards. We spent quite a long time putting some learning infrastructure and standards in place, and also reviewing the most efficient and effective ways to deliver learning and development to support the business. Culminating in the beginning of 2004, a new governance and enabling structure was established to allow us to move from what I call a ‘training fulfillment service’ to a true learning and development business partnership.”
Blending learning technologies has been an important ingredient in the conversion from training to learning and, more specifically, from event- to process-based education. This has included a freestanding e-learning program with mandatory annual course requirements for Reuters employees, supported with incentives like bonuses. Another element has been the adoption of SkillSoft’s Books24x7 Web-based reference library for the company’s technical professionals.
“We were aware that sending people off on a C++ course or a Java course for a day or a week wasn’t really helping them do their jobs,” Jennings said. “We did a survey six months after we rolled Books 24×7 out, and we looked at just two metrics. We looked at productivity savings and potential cost savings from reducing the number of external classroom events. With productivity savings, one of the questions we asked people by survey was, ‘Do you think this is saving you time each week in doing your job?’ Sixty-two percent of the people who responded to the survey said ‘yes.’
“Then, we asked them how much time per week it was saving them in terms of getting the right information when they need it. This is where it got interesting: The response that came back aggregated out to 4.9 hours per month. We then did some very simple number-crunching. We looked at average costs of our development staff and average salaries around the world, and took very conservative estimates. What we worked out was that meant 45,500 hours saved a year. Then we put some financial numbers to that and basically, it came out to a figure of slightly more than 2,000 percent return on investment, which was quite frightening in a way. I went back to the head of our technology business, who’d given me the budget to roll this out, and said, ‘Look, I’ve gotten you savings of over 1,000 percent.’ I was too embarrassed to tell him 2,000 percent. It was very simple. The figures were absolutely stark, and I feel quite comfortable with those numbers.”
Taylor also reported successes with e-learning programs for Reuters journalists, which are designed by their colleagues and managed on Oracle’s learning management system. “We have not gone off and bought this stuff off the shelf,” he said. “I’ve developed a host of subject-matter experts, walked them through how to author e-learning, held their hands as they’ve done it, and helped them proofread it, get it developed on Flash and post it online. That adds a lot of credibility to what we’re doing in the journalism group. Of our staff of 2,300 journalists, we completed about 5,500 e-learning modules last year, which is just over two per person. This year, we’re aiming for three per person. These figures are more than the rest of the company combined.” The consumption numbers are especially significant because journalists generally are less receptive to it by nature, he added. “I think journalists are very hesitant—they don’t like new systems or technology. They just want to do their job. Journalists really can’t be bothered with going online and learning stuff when there’s breaking news.”
In the next five years, Taylor plans to improve assessment of employee education and enhance management and mid- to senior-level career development programs within Reuters’ content division. His most ambitious idea, though, might be the creation of an externally focused profit-and-loss learning center, based on current and future internal offerings, that issues Reuters diplomas to customers outside the organization. “I don’t know how we’d price this or what the market’s like, but I really think we have some unique training content,” he said. “If we could manage it better and make it into reusable learning objects, I think it would be pretty easy for us to do either an online or a blended Reuters University. I don’t know how much money there is to make there, but I’d like to find out.”
–Brian Summerfield, email@example.com
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