Learning and development is at the heart of a dramatic transformation that is leading to significant business results at Capgemini, an IT services, management consulting, professional services and outsourcing company based in Paris that operates in more than 35 countries. For Steven Smith, vice president and director of Capgemini Group University, leading that learning effort is part of a career transformation as well.
Smith is spearheading the university’s role in i3, the Paris-based company’s strategy to implement change in three key areas — innovation, industrialization and intimacy — with the goal to develop more economic resiliency and better engage and retain qualified talent for competitive advantage.
To accomplish this, Smith and the Capgemini University team partner with business leaders to create learning programs that combine education with business practice. That’s no small challenge for a company of Capgemini’s size. The university reaches 100,000 employees through central locations in Chicago, France and India, as well as local centers in 20 countries and more than 30,000 virtual classrooms.
“It’s about building and making sure the common methodologies, the tools, the knowledge gets to people irrespective of where they are based,” Smith said. “It’s about creating the common work language so when a software engineer uses a term, irrespective of what his or her native language is, that term means the same thing and makes sense to all of his or her colleagues.”
From Strategy to Learning
Smith doesn’t have a traditional educator’s background. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan before moving to France in 1988 to work on his MBA. Prior to joining Capgemini, Smith spent time at L’Oreal working in marketing and at telecommunications company Alcatel developing strategy. That strategy work first triggered his interest in corporate learning.
“The biggest struggle that we had at that time was saying, OK, we’ve got this great strategy, and we’ve got different strategic directions that the company wants to take, and different strategic initiatives, but the big question was, how do we rally people and get people motivated behind them and get everyone on board,” Smith said. “I thought it seem[ed] like the education group would be a really good way to get people on board into what the company wanted to do, to see the bigger picture, to help them understand how they within their roles could contribute to this.”
Smith’s supervisor at the time encouraged him to implement his learning and development ideas, and he eventually made the move to Capgemini as program director at Capgemini University in 1997. The company was growing through mergers and acquisitions and experiencing what Smith called a “convergence stage,” bringing in four disciplines — consulting, technology, outsourcing and local professional services — under the same brand.
“They brought me in to put programs into place within the corporate university to help move the merging forward,” Smith said. “I think it was my background in strategy, economics and marketing that really made this possible and allowed me to look at all of the assets of the process.”
Weaving all those communities and businesses within Capgemini into an inclusive educational program has been one of Smith’s greatest challenges as well as successes.
“It’s about bringing in the business and working with them to understand what they are trying to achieve and what they’re driving both strategically and tactically,” Smith said. “I consider it a success that when I originally joined the company, I started with a little area and a little idea, which was really nestled in the executive education area, that’s now been extended and pushed out over all of the different roles that we have within the company with over 100,000 Capgemini employees.”
A Transformational Journey
Smith’s eagerness to implement new ideas was welcomed enthusiastically, especially his assistance with the i3 transformation, which the company started implementing in 2008. This plan aimed to establish new ways of working seamlessly across organizational borders. In 2008, Lan O’Connor, group transformation director at the corporate office of Capgemini Group, approached Smith to lead the university and develop programs to support the transformation.
“As we are a people business, whenever we do execute major change or initiate some new development in the group, we need to think about how we rescale our people,” O’Connor said. “We try to establish new processes or new ways of thinking. To do that, we need to have the support of HR and the business leaders, but we also use the university to establish a training environment and a discussion environment for any changes that are happening.”
Along with business leaders, Smith went through the university curriculum to modify existing courses, eliminate others and create new ones that would drive the i3 transformation.
“It’s extremely important and useful for the transformation for any part of our business to engage with the university so we can deliver some of those changes through new training, new skill development and also as a discussion environment for people to comment on what they think,” O’Connor said. “Steven has done this so successfully by opening the online doors of the university as well as the physical doors.”
The corporate university offers a variety of learning methods, such as books online, e-learning from catalogues, Capgemini-specific e-learning, and virtual, local and central delivery classrooms. The technique used depends on the career goals of the employee.
“We’re really focusing on creating a learning journey,” Smith said. “The way we define that is: What is the journey we can take people on between two significant events within their professional career? Acquiring new skills will give them flexibility on a day-to-day basis, and the learning will give them the opportunity to actively demonstrate and receive feedback from practitioners in the field on the new capabilities they’ve been working on developing.”
Do, Learn, Do: Practitioners as Instructors
In March 2009, Capgemini University was awarded the Corporate Learning Improvement Process accreditation from the European Foundation for Management Development. The accreditation, awarded to companies with quality benchmarking, mutual learning and sharing of best practices, cited Capgemini for “engagement of non-learning professionals in the learning value chain.”
“The No. 1 feedback we get from participants when they go through our classroom is the value of having worked with an actual practitioner that can relate the things they say back to the day to day,” Smith said. “This is also a way of controlling the cost of learning because although we do pay them, it’s money that circulates within the company.”
Each practitioner who serves as a facilitator goes through a comprehensive training program before beginning as a local facilitator. There are additional qualification levels at the country and global levels.
“They’re the guarantee that the content in those classroom sessions is delivered with those consistent messages and consistent quality and experience to ensure that what is done is of quality,” Smith said. “At the very strategic level, behind each one of these curriculums and facilitators, there’s an executive sponsor, which is someone that is from the top 100 people in our company, and they are the ones that ensure that everything that was within that curriculum is tied back to the business.”
Whether it’s a virtual or physical classroom, facilitators conduct checks after each event with participants to see where they are in their development. Facilitators then discuss how participants are doing and which ones might need more assistance.
“Because of the way our programs are delivered, they’re very interactive, and it’s based on making people participate and bring their own experiences to the table and talk about what they’re doing in their day-to-day jobs,” Smith said. “The participants have to engage. One of our principles within the company is ‘do, learn, do.’ We’re not going to spend a lot of time on theory; we’re going to talk about what you do.”
A Global Future
Smith’s future goals are to expand efforts to learn through doing, as well as boost the company’s efforts to connect employees with one another and use technology to facilitate development.
“In a market that’s changing very, very quickly, we want to help people develop their skills and capabilities as quickly, in a very flexible and efficient manner,” Smith said. “We’re looking at how you engage people so that they actually do things and learn through the doing — ‘do, learn, do;’ how to create value in the learning experience through true connections with each other — connect to learn; and how to make technology something that’s integrated into the experience and learning solution so that it’s just a natural reflex to want and use it — techno-fluency.”
All of these efforts are aimed at capitalizing on new areas of business, including cloud-based virtualization services, delivering software as a service and creating scalable, client-facing solutions. It’s a global mission.
“We’ve been in China for a long time and India also, but we’ve made an acquisition this year of a major part of a Brazilian IT services group,” O’Connor said. “That marks our expansion into Latin America as well. The extent and the spread of the university will continue. There’s plenty to learn from our colleagues and our new colleagues in these environments. I don’t think Steven’s job is going to get any easier.”
Ladan Nikravan is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.