L&D Best Practices: Strategies for Success (July-\/August 2018)

Training magazine taps 2018 Training Top 125 winners and Top 10 Hall of Famers to provide their learning and development best practices in each issue. Here, we look at how Avanade aligns L&D with business strategy and how new hire orientation pays off at Dow DuPont Agricultural.


By Toni Handler, Corporate Vice President, Organizational, Learning and Leadership Development, Avanade

Globalization and continued strong markets create vast opportunities for organizations willing to invest in their most valuable assets—their people. A 2016 study by Oxford University predicts that nearly 50 percent of all jobs will be transformed in the next 20 years, which presents both challenges and opportunities. While it’s difficult to predict the next big disruption, we can look to the past and analyze current trends to prepare ourselves for it once it occurs. That said, I contend that the future of organizational excellence lies in innovative learning and development (L&D) seamlessly integrated into the overall business strategy.

Learning and development also should be a selling point for recruitment, retention, and even client acquisition. As such, it ought to be embedded throughout the company culture and not perceived as a burden on our people or a distraction from client work. Excellent companies and organizations know this.

As the corporate vice president of Organizational, Learning and Leadership Development of a global IT consultancy, I’ve learned what works, and what doesn’t, over the course of my career. Here are three best practices that have helped us strengthen our L&D strategy and programs while supporting a strong learning culture that’s helping us build a future-focused people ecosystem that contributes to the company’s bottom line.

1. Make a strong business case. You might think this point is obvious, but too often business alignment is overlooked when designing and curating L&D programs. It’s important to consider L&D as a strategic vehicle that supports the overall business strategy. This means designing and implementing programs that are driven by measurable outcomes that positively impact the business. The business case for L&D programs should be outcome based, and can deliver a real return on learning investments.

Last fiscal year, we launched a Learning Governance Group (LGG) with a cross-section of business leaders to ensure we were making the right learning investments at the right time. The LGG meets quarterly to review learning requests from global, area, and regional leads, as well as executive leadership.

We share this information with our learning business partners (LBPs), who, in turn, conduct a learning needs analysis and create a business case. These cases then are submitted to the LGG for consideration. Upon approval, which is a rigorous evaluative process, the program or initiative is forwarded to our Learning and Development Design team for implementation. I strongly recommend this approach as it’s a great way to ensure that all demands of the business are fully considered, as well as aligned with your overarching business strategy. The results of implementing this process have proven especially positive for training at our company, with a 27 percent increase in new investment in our L&D budget for FY2018.

2. Focus on the “hot skills” in demand for your industry. At Avanade, we refer to these highly in-demand proficiencies as “priority skills.” Our learning management system (LMS) and skills databases have literally thousands of skills our employees can focus on. We offer a wide range of learning pathways that are designed to provide anywhere, anytime learning in a variety of formats—from formal classroom learning to crowd-sourced microlearning and video lessons offered in bite-sized modules that can be accessed via any mobile device. While this has proven effective, it was also important to prioritize the skills most relevant to the business based on current client demand, succession planning needs, and the career goals of the learner. In global companies, it’s important to take cultural realities into account.

Last year, we designed and successfully launched our Priority Skills Learning Guide, a tool that helps our employees quickly find training that aligns with our most in-demand skills. Early insight and upskilling within our own population allows us to better serve our clients through accelerated skill rotation, which ultimately drives growth by ensuring our business is ready to tackle our clients’ business needs as they evolve. Since its launch just five months ago, we have seen a 43 percent growth in our overall learning consumption and a 19 percent increase in new certifications supporting our designated priority skills. The Priority Skills Learning Guide has been well received by employees, career advisors, leadership, and clients alike.

3. Develop a strong pipeline of diverse, future-focused leaders. One of the most important—and measurable—responsibilities given to L&D is the development of a robust leadership pipeline and participation in succession planning. So it’s critical that you have the right workforce planning tools in place to accomplish your goals. At our company, we rely heavily on reciprocal relationships with learning business partners (LBPs) that work closely with our Organizational and Leadership Development (O&LD) team to align strategy with broader business goals.

Our Leadership in Action (LIA) program is one example of how we address leadership development as part of our A.G.I.L.E. leadership strategy, which stands for:

  • Align through client centricity
  • Grow our pipeline of talent
  • Inspire leadership
  • Leverage innovation (via design thinking)
  • Engage high-performing teams

The LIA program provides a good example of how we tie learning directly to business priorities, resulting in the full support of leadership and clients. Designed for up to 30 highpotential directors, the program entails an intensive four-day event with an action-oriented focus on “learning by doing” that includes:

  • 360-degree assessments
  • One-on-one individual coaching
  • An on-site business simulation
  • Team presentations accompanied by executive feedback

To measure this program, we rely on immediate qualitative assessments to gain participant feedback and glean insights on how well the program fits the attendee’s professional development needs and expectations. We also survey the participants’ career advisors (CAs) to gain their feedback on the program and the expected impact on participants’ client work and career progression.

In this year’s LIA program, 58 percent of participants completed surveys and gave the program an overall 4.9 rating on a 5-point satisfaction scale, saying they would recommend it to peers, and for overall value. In the previous year (2017), 62 percent of participants’ career advisors also completed the survey. Of those, 92 percent of the responding CAs confirmed their discussions about benchmarking manager competency ratings with advisees in the LIA program. Similarly, 92 percent of those same respondents confirmed developing action plans with advisees based on those competencies.

LIA program participants generally receive better performance reviews, with 42 percent of attendees receiving an “Exceeds Expectations” performance rating, whereas only 24 percent of non-attendees from a similar cohort received “Exceeds Expectations” ratings. Additionally, 98 percent of LIA attendees are still employees, while 85 percent of those who did not attend have since left the company—which speaks to stronger retention.

In summary, every organization has unique challenges and opportunities, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution to L&D program design or implementation. Hopefully, these best practices can provide some ideas that can be customized for your organization’s training and knowledge programs and initiatives.


By Drew Ratterman, Sales Effectiveness & Development Leader, Agricultural Division, Dow DuPont

A commitment to responsibly and sustainably discovering, developing, and bringing to market crop protection, food production, and plant biotechnology solutions for a world whose population continues to expand is the mission of the Agricultural Division of Dow DuPont. The company provides a variety of innovative products and services that include hybrids and seed varieties, crop-enhancing traits, crop protection products, pasture and land management, residential pest control, turf and ornament, and healthy oils.

The Agricultural Division of Dow DuPont also has a commitment to employee development. A business environment characterized by innovation, increasing competition, and more demanding customers sets the stage for employee development to find its way onto executive agendas and become a top strategic priority. With the help of training partners Tero International, Inc., and Purdue University, the division created an intensive five-week development program targeted to new sales hires. Some 65 percent are new college graduates, and the remaining 35 percent are experienced sales reps.

The training integrates new hires into the organizational culture and provides foundational skills, tools, and knowledge, plus an essential network for sales trainees to grow quickly. This ensures a successful transition to the role of Sales Territory manager entrusted with the care of a sales territory and customers. Five years of customization, refinement, and improvement resulted in a best practice that is experienced by all new Dow DuPont Agricultural sales hires.

The Need

A strong focus on business growth and desire for a culture of long-term, trust-based customer relationships were business drivers. Commercial leaders agree that the key to growth is having a fully engaged, knowledgeable, and skilled workforce.

An unprecedented number of newly hired salespeople and the requirement to grow quickly in their roles added urgency to the need. In the 25-year period from 1984 to 2008, 206 new sales representatives were hired. In the following five-year period, 203 new hires joined the team.

Needs assessments pinpointed skill gaps and underlying objectives to be addressed with a new hire orientation program. The program covers a wide range of technical, safety, selling, and interpersonal skills. It is supplemented by essential performance support and learning management tools in the field.

Each year, the new hire training cycle begins in January, with a second program launched in June. This allows new spring and fall college graduates to participate in orientation training and develop a peer group within seven to 14 days of joining the company.

The program is championed and led by Dow DuPont professionals and supported with expert facilitation from external training partners.

Program Details

New hires travel from around the U.S. to Dow DuPont headquarters for their first week of orientation training. The week includes several components led by Tero International, a partner specializing in the research, design, and facilitation of interpersonal skills training. Participants grow their skills in a wide range of areas, from business etiquette to professional image to networking to business dining and entertaining. Week one also features presentation skills, successful selling skills, driver safety training, and a variety of internal company presentations and panel discussions designed to increase knowledge of the company.

Week two occurs every June and focuses on the fundamentals of agricultural selling. This program was developed with Agricultural Sales professors from Purdue University. It provides a framework for customer-focused field sales and is supported with role-playing with business leaders and Market Development specialists working in the field.

The third week takes place at the Purdue University Agronomy Farm and covers an array of agricultural technology and agronomic topics. This hands-on field-based agronomy training includes self-paced modules, lectures from company and university experts, a rotation of field labs, role-plays, a teach-back, and assessments.

During the fourth week, which happens six to nine months into the new hire’s tenure, participants receive training in building customer relationships, time management, goal setting, personality assessments, presentation skills follow-up, and internal panel discussions and presentations to heighten company, industry, and product knowledge.

The fifth and final week includes advanced sales training once the new hire has assumed the Territory manager position. The capstone of this final week of new hire training is a comprehensive Territory analysis and plan. Territory presentations are an opportunity for new sales professionals to showcase their learning to a panel of peers and business leaders. These presentations involve defending their territory plan and receiving formal feedback on presentation style, content, and business plans.

This phased approach to learning has delivered long-lasting qualitative and quantitative results.

A Significant Investment

It is not difficult to find leaders who talk about the importance of investing in employee development. It is rarer to find that talk translated into meaningful long-term action.

An intensive training experience such as the Commercial New Hire Training Program represents a significant company investment in both time and resources. Careful resource management produced lower average cost per learning hour when compared with the industry ($741 for Dow DuPont compared to $1,752).

What about the investment of time? Participants in the program experience 188 hours of formal training during their first 18 to 24 months on the job. This compares to an industry average of only 32.4 hours per employee per year, providing more evidence that leaders put their money where their mouths are.


Is it worth it? Individuals who participate in this program work on projects for an average of eight-and-a-half months before being assigned to a sales territory. During this time, Kirkpatrick Level 4 measures show that each trainee contributes $450,000 to the district results, which translates to an annualized ROI of 323 percent. The calculation considered salary, expenses, training and education costs, and time in trainee role.

Once assigned to a territory, data analysis shows it takes two to two-and-a-half years for new college grads to contribute at a level that meets or exceeds the district sales average. For experienced reps, the time was one year. Some 60 percent of all reps who participate in the training became above-average performers. The new college graduates hired in 2016 and assigned a Territory manager position contributed 122 percent performance above their expected sales plan.

AgCareers, an industry organization that surveys agricultural companies and reports results, provides data around employee retention and turnover annually. Historical Dow DuPont retention is 6 to 10 percent better than industry average. Senior leaders credit the new hire training initiatives as an important contributor to these results.

Competitors and customers are noticing. These employees are actively recruited in the industry once they are established. Those same employees are choosing to stay with Dow DuPont as evidenced by the impressive retention numbers, proving that the company’s investment in their development is reciprocated by both high performance and loyalty.

With five years of data, it is clear the company enjoys long-term business results due to this elite training program. With the intended spin of the Agricultural Division as a standalone company, Corteva Agriscience, business leaders are optimistic this program will be a key to successfully establishing a positive culture and brand.




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