Partners in Learning

Partners In Learning

Collaborating with the right internal partners within your organization can make the difference between reaching learning goals and falling short.

When your company tasks its leaders to reach a corporate goal, such as moving products to market faster or reaching out more effectively to Millennial consumers, what is the Learning team’s role? Your goals are nearly always tied to that of the company’s other departments, with everyone working to serve the company-wide initiative. It only makes sense to look for internal partners to build support for the programs you create. Savvy Learning groups have a process in place to ensure they reach out to others across the company to build support for the work they do.

Stakeholder Support

At Training Top 125er Choice Hotels, after initiatives are identified, the Learning team gathers specific feedback from those who will be the target audience for the learning opportunities, explains Director of Learning & Development Karyn Edwards. As an example, she points to when the company’s Leadership Foundations Program, designed for new managers, along with two additional learning tracks, was launched in 2017. “To develop the curriculum, focus groups were held with managers to determine which needs they felt were most important to cover,” she says. “Talent review data also was analyzed to determine what themes existed in the competencies that needed to be developed. The courses and descriptions were shared with the stakeholders to ensure we were meeting the desired areas of development.”

Key stakeholders include the company’s executive team. For instance, Choice leaders are engaged in the review and approval of participants in the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), where high-potential employees are nominated by their leader or peers to participate. Once the initial vetting is complete, Choice’s Human Resources executive team reviews the nominees.

Noting an example of executive stakeholder involvement, Edwards points to the company’s Ascending Leaders Program (ALP), which is supported by direct participation of senior leaders and executives. A list of high-potential directors/senior directors is presented to the executive team with the request to identify 16 participants to go through the program. “Our executives take an active role, by teaching select portions of our Ascending Leadership Program; they participate on panels, and actively participate in the associated projects that are a core part of the program,” she says.

Sometimes the best way to get executive support is to make them sponsors of the programs. Training Top 125er Colorado Springs Utilities does just that. “As part of our corporate university model, we use sponsors and executive sponsors for our key programs,” says Workforce Development Manager Renee Adams. An example of this is the company’s Leader Connections five-track leader development program. “One of our company’s officers and two general managers serve as executive sponsors. One of the executive sponsors always kicks off the opening cohort for each program track,” Adams explains. “Executive sponsors assist with marketing the programs, provide the keynote speech at the annual leadership program graduation celebration, and promote the success of program participants.”

At Training Top 125er Carilion Clinic, there is always an effort to involve all those affected by the training that is created. “We often are working with departments that are affected by the initiative, as well as those who may participate in workflows or new processes as part of the initiative,” says Tara Wiedeman, senior director, Education and Organizational Development, who notes that the Learning team also works with the organization’s Communication department to help develop the communication plan around the new learning initiative. “We also may work with other departments based on the needs of the project/initiative, from the biggest to the smallest details,” she says. “The continuum can range from working with our senior executive team to working with our materials management team to help determine the logistics related to initiatives, such as supply, form name, and number.”

Formalize the Process

Some companies find that gaining internal support is easier if there is a set process in place. Training Top 125er BB&T University has developed a request process that leverages SharePoint and an InfoPath form. “Any associate can submit a request, but we partner with members of senior leadership to prioritize the request in order to align with strategic objectives,” says Learning Architecture Manager Debi Wayne. “In all cases, requests are analyzed (root cause and gap) and prioritized.”

A methodical process is used when a program is launched and created. For instance, a major strategic initiative for the company related to a new commercial lending platform, called AFSVision, recently was introduced. This was a multi-year project, and BB&T University was involved since inception.

This included the following functions:

  • Developing a high-level training plan to include expenditure
  • Presenting the plan to project stakeholders, including members of senior leadership and executive management
  • Serving on the change management committee and assisting with the awareness campaign communication plan

Leverage Expertise of Others

Training Top 125er CarMax relies heavily on the expertise and experiences of its associates to develop technical, competency, and leadership training. Chief Human Resources Officer Diane Cafritz shares, “At CarMax, we believe our associates are our best asset and differentiator for the company. When it comes to training, we leverage our associates for ideas and execution of new programs.”

CarMax Learning teams regularly seek out top-performing associates in the field to discover the exact behaviors that have led to their exceptional performance. Once identified, CarMax crafts programming around these behaviors so other associates can benefit from their peers’ success. CarMax even asks associates to write content, or be featured in training videos or articles, to share their keys to success. According to Cafritz, “not only does this process result in effective training, it also empowers our associates and provides unique development opportunities.”

Cafritz also remarks on how the Talent Management group works closely with business leaders and the HR strategy team to measure the effectiveness of its programs. “Prior to any new pilot, we work with the business to select the right way to test and measure any new program or training. This allows the Talent Management team a way to monitor the work and adjust based on the data and feedback before rolling it out to the entire organization.”

At Training Top 125er Buckman Laboratories, associates from outside the Learning team become a key part of most of the programs that are created. “We are fortunate that Buckman associates are highly involved in their personal learning,” says Learning Effectiveness Analyst Lauren Warren. Buckman does not have full-time trainers; instead, its subject matter experts (SMEs) double as trainers and treat this as a complementary addition to their full-time roles. “The benefit of this is managers and leadership are intimately familiar with the current state of training, as well as a desired future state per market trends,” says Warren. For example, a sales manager in Europe noticed there was a need for up-skilling novice associates more than the current global training provided. This manager then worked with Buckman’s Human Resources team to identify a program that filled this gap. “When our team received the business case and budget, we set a schedule to review and potentially replicate the process globally if performance metrics indicated improvements in our new hires,” she says.

Use a Steering Committee to Get on Track

Training Top 125er Cartus recently used a steering committee to generate support from, and serve, learners. The steering committee comprised a group of employees who speak directly with customers of the Learning team. “We found that although we were delivering training for their new hires, we weren’t in communication with management after that,” says Vice President of Global Learning and Development Patricia Small. “The result was that management would approach Learning with an ‘emergency’ training need they felt was mandatory for all of their employees. Because of the perception of criticality, we didn’t have time to properly vet the need, and had to design and deliver based on their request.”

To avoid last-minute “emergency” requests, and make sure the best learning was always delivered, Cartus organized a committee that included various levels of the department the training was being developed for. Meeting monthly, the committee’s goal was to discuss:

  1. What business goals they were trying to accomplish
  2. What gaps they perceived in their ability to achieve their goals

“The conversations not only brought up training needs, but also surfaced process improvement needs (which then were submitted to a group that handles those) and management gaps,” says Small. “The conversations helped to educate the Learning group on actual training needs that then could be prioritized and planned for, as well as educated the business group on the difference between a training need and something their management group had to address.”

The use of the steering committee proved so effective that it set the stage for an ongoing dialogue. “The relationship with the group has strengthened, to the point where we don’t need to have the formal steering committee anymore,” Small notes. “Instead, we’ve included Learning representatives in existing key meetings where these conversations occur as part of everyday business.”

Another organization that found it useful to create a committee to help keep learning on track is Training Top 125er BayCare, a hospital system in Tampa Bay, FL. In 2016, the Learning team created the Talent Advisory Council (TAC), says Instructional Technologist, Organizational Development & Learning Nancy Sawayda. This council is a cross-section of all levels and roles within the leadership of the system, with approximately 30 representatives from both corporate and clinical environments. The charter of this group is to provide insight and oversight into any large-scale talent management initiative. It weighs in on the modality of the training, helps prioritize and/or identify the target audience, and helps determine how success will be measured and communicated.

“Many members of this council are also active in the roll-out and facilitation of the trainings, and are instrumental in our marketing and socialization of these efforts,” Sawayda says. “This council is co-chaired by the director of Organizational Development & Learning and the director of Talent Acquisition. Each member is asked to serve a one-year term, at which point they can re-up for the next year if they choose.”


By Kevin M. Reyes, Expert Instructional Designer, and Dave Curtis, Manager, Leadership and Employee Development, PG&E

To keep pace with the transformational change happening in industries like ours, employees need always-on access to information that accelerates their skills and expertise. At Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), we’ve found that new video technology is helping teams develop critical business knowledge, connecting disparate business units, and even deepening employees’ connection to our company’s mission.

As one of the largest combined natural gas and electric energy companies in the U.S., we have more than 20,000 employees working together to deliver some of the nation’s cleanest energy to nearly 16 million people in Northern and Central California. And because we’re part of the nation’s critical infrastructure, safety is paramount, so we set a high bar for knowledge on core topics across every job function, from power line worker to finance executive. Passive training videos or animated slides isn’t enough.

In late 2017, our PG&E Learning and Development team debuted the 2.0 version of Knowledge Connect, an online learning ecosystem hosting more than 65 e-learning videos and other performance support tools. With 80 percent of the content video based, the portal provides six learning channels categorized by company competencies and key business drivers, and curated in alignment with our company’s mission, vision, and culture.

By using an interactive video platform (HapYak,, which adds HTML overlays to online video, PG&E Knowledge Connect was able to make video content address the expectations, competency, and accountability of all employees, whether individual contributor or director level. Such shared, yet personally relevant, content further breaks down traditional silos where information trickles down.

Interactivity made it possible for our academy team to quantify knowledge, capture feedback, and tailor the dialogue at all levels. By adding quizzes at the end of e-learning courses, we obtained Level 1 data on whether learners gained knowledge, if they liked the content, and if they would recommend it to others. We insert surveys into videos asking what additional topics employees would like to see on Knowledge Connect.

Interactivity also enabled branching, or “choose your own adventure” features —where a viewer selects from among several content options—and hot spots, where the video links to outside content for those who want additional drill-down.

Across disparate business units and job roles, employees preferred the interactivity compared to passive video, and our team valued how using interactivity enabled viewers to guide their own depth of learning.


  • Have stakeholders share goals, concerns, and their own ideas for how the programs your team creates could be rolled out.
  • Formalize the process of creating learning, so your team knows who to contact within other departments and the executive group whenever programming is being planned, along with what each step of the process should be.
  • Leverage expertise outside of Learning by using subject matter experts, and having managers and executives help determine the program content.
  • Use steering committees that make it easy to involve the people you are rolling out the training to. When departments across the company feel like they are part of the process, they are more likely to champion your programs, improving the chances for success.

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