Writing this column for the June issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine is always fun for me. It’s my chance each year to congratulate the organizations whose exemplary workforce development initiatives earned them the prestigious LearningElite designation. It’s also a bit challenging.
Each year, I strive to find a new way to articulate my admiration, as well as acknowledge the impact and accomplishments of these enterprises that make learning a key factor in their organizations’ formula for success. While looking for fresh inspiration this time, I came across the perfect quote from Albert Einstein:
“Example isn’t another way to teach, it is the only way to teach.”
First of all, I couldn’t think of a better human example than Einstein to cite in this case. Talk about someone who understood the focus and determination needed to meet and master challenges and reach full potential.
Einstein began his professional life facing some of the same challenges many 21st century job seekers and employers do today, like underemployment. He trained as a teacher in physics and mathematics, but after receiving his diploma, he was unable to find a teaching post. Needing to work, he accepted a position as a technical assistant in the Swiss patent office.
It was during his time at the patent office, and in his spare time, that he produced much of his groundbreaking work. Eventually he earned his doctorate, becoming a professor at several European universities. In 1921, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics. Twelve years later, he came to the U.S. to become professor of theoretical physics at Princeton University.
According to his official biography published in “Nobel Lectures, Physics 1901-1921,” “Einstein always appeared to have a clear view of the problems of physics and the determination to solve them. He had a strategy of his own and was able to visualize the main stages on the way to his goal. He regarded his major achievements as mere stepping-stones for the next advance.”
Simply shift the emphasis from physics to delivering effective workforce development, and it’s easy to see how Einstein’s approach to his work was characterized by many of the same attributes that LearningElite organizations possess: focus, determination, strategy, vision and a commitment to continuous improvement. True innovators, they meet the changing needs of their organizations by repeatedly developing and deploying elite learning and development practices that deliver measurable business value.
For 2014, we received a record-breaking number of applications — clear evidence of the LearningElite’s growing stature. In just four years, it has become the industry’s most valuable benchmarking tool and a widely acknowledged mark of distinction.
Fifty-eight enterprises emerged as LearningElite finalists by demonstrating excellence in learning strategy, learning execution, learning impact, business performance results and leadership commitment. Two additional companies in the vanguard of enterprise education — AT&T and General Mills — were named to the LearningElite Winner’s Circle, a special designation separate from the annual rankings reserved for returning elite organizations that previously were ranked No. 1.
One of the main goals of this benchmarking effort is to make examples of the companies that achieve LearningElite status. Rather than just recognizing top-notch learning and development organizations, it seeks to spread best practices so every enterprise can leverage learning as a business driver and competitive differentiator. And when it comes to teaching by example, there’s certainly a great deal we can learn from the 2014 LearningElite companies profiled in this issue.
Another famous Albert, also a Nobel Prize winner and Einstein contemporary, expressed similar thoughts on being an example, equating it with leadership. Philosopher, physician and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said, “Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing.”
It is our hope that the inspiring stories inside from the 2014 LearningElite will serve as examples that not only teach you a thing or two about high-impact workforce development but also influence you to aspire to join them.