Lessons From the Leaders

Bersin by Deloitte's 2015 competition recognizes leading practices across all spectrums of HR.

Monday, June 8, 2015
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The economy has been improving, unemployment is low, and the U.S. stock market has been at or near record highs. Yet companies continue to complain that their talent challenges are tougher than ever.

What seems to have happened, experts say, is that the world of work has shifted from under our feet, and the discipline of HR is struggling to catch up.

Leading efforts to solve such tough human resource, talent and learning challenges are many hard-working, dedicated and passionate HR professionals.

"These human resource, talent and learning leaders continually surprise and amaze us with their dedication, effort and the positive impact they drive in their organizations each and every day," says David Mallon, head of research for Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting. "Their commitment inspires us to take very seriously our role highlighting their great work."

This is the 10th year that Bersin by Deloitte, Deloitte Consulting is presenting its annual Bersin by Deloitte WhatWorks ® Award program, recognizing innovation and excellence in critical areas across all spectrums of HR, including learning, leadership and talent. (This is also the third year results of the program are appearing in Human Resource Executive ®'s print publication.)

Each year, the WhatWorks program has grown increasingly competitive. This year's expanded pool of judges includes Bersin by Deloitte's "internal consultants and specialists, external experts and members of the HR community at large," says Mallon. "Each category has only one identified finalist and the attendees at our 2015 IMPACT: Bold HR conference heard presentations from all the finalists and chose the ultimate award recipient -- Marriott International -- directly by vote."

Each submitting company was asked three basic questions: What was the problem? What was the solution? What were the results? The benchmark criterion used to separate the best from many great submissions was, "A demonstrated proof of positive business impact based on the change, initiative, program or process improvement described in the submission." Judges scored each submission based on degree of difficulty, innovation in solution and results demonstrated.

The WhatWorks categories cover the gamut of HR and talent-related functions. What follows is a description of each category's finalist, including the ultimate award recipient.

Acquiring Top Talent

Not all talent can be developed from within, and the market for talent has never been more competitive and complex. How do the best organizations find and attract the best and brightest individuals?

Marriott International is a global leading lodging company based in Bethesda, Md., with more than 4,100 properties in 79 countries and territories. Marriott International reported revenues of nearly $14 billion in fiscal year 2014. The company operates and franchises hotels and licenses vacation ownership resorts under 19 brands.

Talent-acquisition executives at Marriott are facing a serious threat. To lead its existing portfolio of brands and manage an additional 195,000 hotel rooms currently under development, the company's future success is dependent on attracting an enormous pool of entry-level leaders from universities around the world. Yet, Marriott's traditional post-collegiate management-training programs were reflective of a previous era and not compelling to millennials (born between the early 1980s and early 2000s). Focus groups with students and program participants confirmed what Marriott's talent-acquisition team suspected: The company's training would have to evolve -- rapidly -- to compete for top talent.

Millennials wanted training experiences that were hands-on, and included more dynamic learning experiences, plus social collaboration, innovative technology and global connectivity. Importantly, these high-quality recruits also sought access and interaction with the company's senior leadership. They wanted to be part of something prestigious and unique and, finally, they wanted to be part of something that would be a springboard for their career journeys. When asked to rank management-training programs, focus-group participants admitted that Marriott's program was not recognized globally as being in the top tier.

The talent-acquisition team realized it needed a completely new way to engage and train its entry-level talent. Based on research and feedback from its student focus groups, the group brainstormed an entirely new global leadership and development program. Called Voyage, the program is designed to achieve global brand recognition and solidify the company's position as one of the premier employer brands for millennials. The program is designed to attract top talent through three key strategic areas: continent-specific partnerships and targeted recruiting from top universities, a comprehensive and unique program curriculum, and innovative virtual technologies.

Specifically, each continent has its own specific university sourcing and recruiting strategy. Strategies include extensive school visits, in-person final-interview events, and leveraging a novel digital interviewing platform to engage and identify candidates. The program's curriculum, once delivered on paper, now attracts talent by offering a unique combination of on-the-job experience, structured learning and leadership training. The program also provides a coveted social component with the opportunity to network and learn from other management trainees around the world. Assigned mentors are also actively available to guide voyagers in their careers.

This balance between online courses and hands-on learning is designed to train participants to be successful leaders within a relevant and modern framework. The curriculum covers 12 unique disciplines but allows voyagers to build cross-discipline skills through rotations in other departments -- satisfying participants' desires to cross-train and expand their opportunities. Throughout the program, participants have access to a virtual portal where they collaborate with other voyagers, access program content and interact with senior leaders via live webcast sessions.

The Voyage program satisfies the company's talent-acquisition strategy in two core ways. It is developing a highly trained pipeline of entry-level leadership talent while providing a globally consistent and enriching experience for the company's next generation of leaders.

Since its inception in 2013, a total of 902 Voyagers have been hired into the program in more than 37 countries worldwide.  Of the Voyage graduates, 99 percent have been placed into roles within the company.

Marriott now receives more than 20,000 applications for Voyage positions each year, and participant feedback is used to develop and launch new technologies each year. One of these recent innovations is a virtual hotel simulator that program participants can use to test their skills across a wide range of unique and everyday workplace scenarios.

Enabling High-Impact Learning

Building talent from within and learning both involve so much more than training. How do the best organizations develop talent and support learning in all of its forms?

Autotrader, a finalist, bills itself as the Internet's ultimate automotive marketplace. There, buyers can find new, used and certified pre-owned cars from auto-dealers and private sellers from around the country -- as well as a wide range of news, information and reviews.

Historically, when Autotrader would undertake a national training program to support a new product launch, learning executives would use a range of traditional classroom training and extensive train-the-trainer sessions. Employees would either travel to the Atlanta headquarters or regional locations for one to three days of training. This approach cost more than $1 million per launch in program development, as well as added costs in lost revenue from time spent away from clients and the business.

Employees were required to memorize vast amounts of information including: product features, value propositions, business rules, pricing rubrics, dealer-conversation scripts and role-plays. The challenge was to enable an effective learning strategy for a national product launch that would support business goals and revenue targets, while reducing time away from the field. A key goal was to promote a sales-mobility initiative, and enable anytime, anywhere, any-device learning, as well as just-in-time performance.

Autotrader's sales-training team, in partnership with its learning-technologies team, designed a completely new training initiative. Its goals were to support the sales-mobility initiative and increase adoption of mobile devices, shift the learning methodology from memorization to performance support, enforce manager accountability and coaching in the learning process, ensure knowledge transfer and provide consistency in product knowledge, and drive operational efficiencies.

The program was designed in five levels to support increased product knowledge and demonstration of the knowledge transfer. The levels would also provide access to tools and resources designed to support dealer conversations and promote sales. The program's gamification framework included skill profiles to frame the learning, badging to demonstrate learning milestones, points for completion to promote recognition and rewards, leader boards to promote competition and individual challenges, user-generated video content to demonstrate learning, and performance manager functionality and manager dashboards.

As opposed to previous training that took one to three days, Autotrader's new blended framework took approximately five to seven hours. The average time for a product launch was reduced by 70 percent to 80 percent, and time away from market was reduced by two to four days per learner. Furthermore, the total cost of training -- including content creation, salaries, and vendor and technology support -- was just under $200,000, representing a savings of more than $1 million compared to previous launches.

In addition, sales figures for the first two months following the launch demonstrated a return in revenue of just over $500,000. Other intangible benefits included greater employee engagement on mobile devices and a perception of innovation within the sales department.

Optimizing Talent Management

Integrating the various talent-related process pillars within the organization is essential in order to meet today's talent challenges -- this is now a mainstream concept. How do the best organizations achieve real integration and, with it, a resulting business value that is greater than just the sum of the parts?

Kettering Health Network, a finalist, is a not-for-profit network of eight hospitals, nine emergency departments and 120 outpatient facilities. More than 11,000 employees and 2,100 physicians work across the network providing care across southwest Ohio.

Kettering's learning-and-development efforts had become bogged down and ineffective due, in large part, to being narrowly focused on compliance and regulatory training requirements. Its HR team wanted to move toward a comprehensive system-wide program that would ensure the entire staff was confident, capable and competent.

More specifically, the HR team wanted to transform employees' education and training programs from "must-do" compliance-related activities to advanced learning opportunities with clear developmental paths. Secondly, the group wanted to implement a talent-management program that could measure and develop core competencies at the individual, departmental and organizational levels.

Based on Kettering's HR department's previous experience with implementing an online learning system, the team felt strongly that technology alone was not enough to help build a fully optimized talent-management framework. The group wanted an approach that integrated people, process and technology. With that in mind, the group sought to answer five core questions to guide a new solution: Is our staff qualified? Is our staff competent? Is our staff engaged? Is our staff performing? Is our staff developing?

To answer these questions, the HR team interviewed a wide range of leaders and employees, examined different internal processes and assessed existing technology. As a result of this research, it became apparent that the second question -- Is our staff competent? -- represented the area needing the most improvement.

The group saw that the staff competency was an essential factor in employee retention and engagement, leadership development and patient-care excellence. Armed with this information, the HR team made a strategic decision to have staff competency drive talent management.

Transforming HR

It is, undoubtedly, an extraordinary time to be involved in HR. The best organizations understand that people, or talent, are the only truly appreciating assets. But how can HR reinvent itself as a source of agility and competitive differentiation?

Rite Solutions, a finalist, is an IT-services, system-engineering and software-engineering firm, based in Middletown, R.I. Its HR department has long recognized the critical importance of innovation to its business. One of its core beliefs is that innovation has the power to open up new opportunities and contribute to the company's success. While innovation is part of the culture, the HR team wanted to build on this. How could the company better engage its employees and harness their collective genius?

The challenge is that, while Rite Solutions employs a diverse staff of engineers, designers, developers, scientists and other highly skilled employees, many of them are introverted and reluctant to share their ideas, regardless of generation, and prefer working alone, keeping their ideas to themselves, and avoiding collaboration and socialization opportunities.

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This tendency restricts innovation, creates organizational silos and works against one of Rite Solutions' top HR priorities -- to maximize employee engagement. The company's HR team wanted to find a way to get millennial employees and introverts to voice more ideas and opinions. One of the company's well-known mantras is that nobody is as smart as everybody, and the challenge was to ensure that everybody participates. The fear was that great ideas were not being heard.

The HR department lacked a structured, repeatable and engaging way to capture innovative ideas from the company's talent. It needed a better way to help the company's people think about, engage and solve its most challenging problems.

Its solution was to create an online game through which employees can introduce ideas on new products, improved processes and technological change. The strategy was carefully selected to appeal to millennials, but employs a conservative design to avoid losing the baby boomers who may not embrace gaming. The game includes a "net worth" profile and scoring algorithm designed to reward individuals and, at the same time, provide the company a clear view of new and innovative ideas.

Based on a stock exchange, every employee is invited to participate and play the market. Ideas generated by employees rise and fall in value just like stocks. Employees are given seed money when entering the game and they effectively invest in the ideas they believe will best serve the company, employees and stakeholders.

Employees can participate "actively" as inventors or co-inventors, or passively as investors in other ideas. Ideas become listed stocks in the game, complete with an IPO, ticker symbols, discussion forums and email alerts. Employees buy into ideas, assist in their promotion and collaborate with others to advance them. Their values change based on investments, assists and the collective mind-set of the broad employee population. Some employees passively participate by simply commenting on another employee's ideas or by volunteering to assist with one. Rewards and recognition are offered for the top ideas/players. Ideas that drop in value may be de-listed from the market.

Rite Solutions' innovation-market game resides on every employee's desktop. It provides a convenient, intuitive and fun way for all employees to engage -- at any time, day or night -- in the process of ideation and innovation. As ideas make sufficient progress through interest and support by their inventors and investors, they rise to the top of the charts and become visible to management.

Senior management has put corporate resources behind several employee-generated ideas -- most in the areas of cost savings, new products or services and new technologies. One idea that sprang from the innovation exchange was the development of a software bridge to enable different software systems to integrate and run smoothly. Having started as an idea in 2013, this bridge concept was the basis for the company winning a multimillion-dollar contract with a government agency in 2014.

Developing Tomorrow's Leaders

A consistent, vexing challenge for all organizations revolves around developing the best leaders for tomorrow. How do the best organizations ensure that the right leadership is in place now and in the future to execute and innovate?

T-Mobile, a finalist, is a wireless telecommunications company based in Bellevue, Wash. Over the last few years, it has made significant changes to its corporate structure, strategy and operations in an effort to revitalize its business and shake up the wireless industry. Such changes include new executive leaders, changes in executive-leadership responsibilities and new governance structures.

T-Mobile has always relied on highly-skilled personnel throughout all levels of its business, but the company believes that its future success now depends on its ability to recruit, hire, motivate, develop and retain talented and highly-skilled people.

Disruptive forces in the mobile-communications industry, such as relentless technological change, high customer expectations, a complex regulatory environment and the company's own radical moves to capitalize its business have dramatically altered the demands on T-Mobile's leadership pipeline. Many inside the company felt they needed a mechanism to identify and accelerate next-generation leaders who were executive-ready, able to work across different parts of the business and capable of driving change.

To develop its next generation of leaders, the company created a customized program of so-called crucible roles. These roles were designed to build knowledge of the business, retain and develop customers in a new hyper-competitive business environment, and rapidly increase their impact through targeted experiences, support and exposure to senior leadership.

The organization sourced candidates both internally and externally. External MBA graduates were recruited to bring fresh outlooks, executive mind-sets and a high degree of intellect, but the company also searched internally for high-potential, mid-level leaders who had demonstrated operational expertise and a passion for T-Mobile's customers and culture.

Over the course of 27 months, participants must complete three crucible roles. These assignments expose leaders to all facets of a business unit, helping them build in-depth knowledge of T-Mobile's unique customer touch points, day-to-day operations, strategy and leadership challenges.

Assignments take place across a range of different locations, including call centers, regional offices, retail stores and corporate headquarters. In addition to assignments, participants must attend workshops and discussions, travel to leadership-sponsored events alongside senior vice presidents, and take part in cross-functional strategic task forces. Participants are also connected to a vast support network that includes their peers, assignment managers, senior-level mentors, executive coaches and a dedicated program team.

Within just four months of the program's inception, participants are already exceeding assignment metrics and leading widespread, innovative change. Participants have embraced the customer-driven spirit and are actively applying it to novel business solutions.

The program has led to the adoption of wide-reaching practices, including a consistent leadership-onboarding program across all call centers, an enterprise-wide mentoring approach and re-analysis of other talent-review processes.

There has also been a range of qualitative benefits. These include increased engagement and development among rotation assignment managers, mentors and other participants, as well as a return to a campus-recruiting presence. In addition, there has been willingness across the organization to view rotation as an active form of development.

There is also a tangible bottom-line impact to the new program. At current enrollment rates, the program will increase T-Mobile's succession pool by 24 so-called "ready now" executives within three years. These truly mobile general managers will have the skills and ability to apply knowledge of T-Mobile's customers and their needs across any business segment. The potential savings in talent-acquisition costs for just these executives could exceed $7 million when factoring in compensation, acquisition and other related costs.

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