Consulting has offices in 33 countries. The dotcom revolution of 1999 gave it
the impetus to revolutionise learning at the company. Sue Weekes follows its
I want to see 90 per cent of our practice e-educated within the next six months,"
said Doug McCracken, then-CEO of global consultancy Deloitte Consulting.
These words aren’t just the unrealistic ramblings of a chief executive
talking from his ivory tower, but rather the articulation of a vision born out
of business need back in 1999. Dotcom fever and the internet were impacting on
the world of commerce then, changing the way business worked. Anyone not versed
in the ways of the web was in danger of being left behind and McCracken knew he
had to mobilise his workforce to compete in such an environment.
And mobilise them he did, setting the organisation on the path of a
three-phase programme in e-learning, which in three years saw the consulting
organisation go from 95 per cent classroom-based training to 85 per cent
e-learning. It not only achieved its aims to train the workforce in vital new
skills, but also embedded a culture of continuous learning into the company.
"Learning is now multi-directional, actually surrounding the
employee," says Jeff Schwartz, Deloitte’s global head of change, learning
So how did the global consulting company make the shift – it has its
headquarters in New York in the US and offices in 33 countries around the
Brook Manville, chief learning officer at Saba, whose technology Deloitte
implemented in the third stage of its transition, says the company’s
"laser-like focus on specific business needs" stood it in good stead.
"The most successful companies which wade into this new way of working are
always distinguished by that kind of focus: not just learning for its own sake,
but learning for results-driven organisational capability," he says.
How they did it
Phase 1 aim: To certify 15,000 consultants across 33 countries in a range
The decision to take an e-learning approach came out of necessity. Using
traditional methods, a classroom-based training programme rolled out to 14,000
people in more than 30 countries would have taken more than two years and cost
nearly $150m (£91m). Traditional methods were not only cost prohibitive, but
time scales were unrealistic. The organisation needed to address the capability
gap quickly to meet market demand and avoid losing talent to competitors.
An e-business certification programme was developed which blended 28 hours
of asynchronous e-learning with 12 hours of classroom workshops. It was
delivered via a rudimentary ‘home-grown’ learning management system, which
provided access to content and basic tracking facilities. The course was
completed by partners and practitioners in 33 countries and compliance was tied
into annual performance reviews.
Overall, the programme was judged a success and the organisation was able to
expand its portfolio of projects based on emerging technologies. However, it
learned several lessons and realised the basic technology infrastructure it had
put in place for delivering training was inadequate to take the organisation
through the next phase of an enterprise learning strategy. While it had set up
a project team to drive the initiative, it lacked the standing of a more
dedicated group charged with responsibility for systematic and strategic change
in the company.
There were some cultural issues to address, including the fact that
consultants tended to be Type A achievers – well-educated and driven by the
challenge of complex problems – so any future e-learning would have to cater
Phase 2 aim: Centralising the learning function to provide innovative,
just-in-time, on-demand and integrated learning programmes
Deloitte Consulting had grown quickly over the previous 10 years which meant
a number of local training organisations had been spawned. This was also
consistent with the company’s historically decentralised HR function. With
market conditions worsening in 2000, it needed not only to cut costs and
consolidate, but also to build a platform for new growth. As a first step, it
created roles for a global managing director for HR and a chief learning
officer roles along with the CEO. These people supported the transformation to
an e-learning organisation. It also created a Global Learning Council composed
of senior managers who were able to direct learning initiatives to align with
the business. At the centre of its second phase, though, was the creation of its
LearningEdge group, an internal learning organisation.
"While we knew what had to be done to our learning organisation, it was
difficult to make the decision to commit to a rigorous transformation from
classroom learning to e-learning," says Nick van Dam, chief learning
officer at Deloitte. "Like most other firms, a majority of our learning
organisation was composed of classroom teachers. Clearly we would no longer
require as many people with that particular skillset. We had to make tough
decisions and move quickly to replace nearly 50 per cent of our staff to allow
for the newly required skills in instructional design, e-learning and
Today LearningEdge employs 60 people globally in its markets and services,
design and learning technologies and infrastructure’s groups. It works along
similar lines as an agency, with account managers and designers who design
courses, then choose the best delivery method for them. At the heart of the
learning strategy is a self-directed learning culture which encourages
employees to have learning pathways to map a learning journey through to a
Phase 3 aim: Implementing the right technical infrastructure
During this phase of development, a content inventory revealed a degree of
overlap when it came to courses – a product of the decentralisation. There
were, for example, 70 different courses on project management being offered
across the organisation. This not only confused the learners choosing the
courses, but also led to inconsistency and high costs.
With the e-business initiative completed and process, organisation and
content development under control, Deloitte was able to focus on implementing a
technical infrastructure that would allow it to grow into a learning
organisation. This meant installing a robust platform that could deliver and
track the progress of thousands of learners around the world. It decided on
Saba as a technology partner and also struck up a partnership to offer its
clients the Saba LMS system, recognising that clients would probably have
The date for the Saba LMS going live for was October 2001, just one month
after the September 11 terrorist attacks forced Deloitte out of its New York
office space. The full-scale switch to e-learning was essential to support
uninterrupted learning, given the moratorium on travel and classroom training
after the attacks.
"Without the Saba system to support our e-learning efforts, we might
have become just another firm to reduce training altogether," says Van
Dam. "Instead, we have been able to offer more training to more
practitioners throughout the downturn."
The LMS lets Deloitte know how many unique users are participating in a
learning programme by region, the number of courses offered in each region, and
usage ratio per office. Saba has also helped with content quality says
Deloitte, with LearningEdge now able to review usage and feedback reports to
see which courses are most effective.
Return on investment
The effectiveness of the e-learning programme overall is measured in terms
of usage, and more than 90 per cent of all consultants now participate in
e-learning. Deloitte believes it has made 50 per cent savings on training,
while tripling the number of learning hours per practitioner. But equally
significant is that e-learning enables Deloitte’s employees to keep up to speed
with current business issues and technologies, which is how it delivers value
to clients. The only alternative to continuously improving its people would be
to hire ‘pre-fabricated’ experts, which of course isn’t realistic.
"What we knew yesterday was extremely valuable to our clients
yesterday," says Jeffery Schwartz. "Continuous learning is central to
what Deloitte Consulting is all about.
"Effectiveness is found in our ability to be flexible, and quickly
redeploy practitioners with the right skills. With e-learning, we found a way
to train people without knowing if the client business was signed on yet. And,
once it is signed on, we have so little time to ramp up that we need fast
access – there’s just no time to plan training trips any more.
Not so long ago we had the luxury of putting people in two to four-week boot
camps and then assigning them to the same work for two to three years. That’s
just not the business reality today. Today we work with 100 technology
companies – that’s a lot of information to keep up with for our
Nick Van Dam, chief learning officer at Deloitte Consulting, is the
author of a new book on e-learning featuring implementation lessons and case
studies from companies making e-learning work. All royalties from e-Learning
Fieldbook, published in August by McGraw-Hill, will be donated toe-Learning for
Kids (www.e-learningforkids.org), a non-profit foundation for children which
provides schools in need with internet-based learning solutions.
Deloitte’s top tips to leading the field
Nick Van Dam, chief learning officer at Deloitte Consulting,
says e-learning offers employees a great value proposition because they can
enhance their skills set without any approval for classroom training from their
management. His top tips are:
– Start with development of a new vision of learning and a
business case for e-learning
– Launch e-learning initiatives which are aligned with specific
– Gain support from people that matter including the board, IT
department the training staff and the learner
– Leverage the core e-learning expertise of successful
e-learning providers to jump start your learning strategy
– Link learning to performance
– Design learning courseware that is relevant for the learner
and which is engaging and interactive.
– Remember marketing and communication of e-learning is a
critical component of learning implementation