To fully appreciate how one company can dedicate its learning function entirely to the service of its business agenda, look no further than InterContinental Hotels Group. The Atlanta-based company reports that every single learning initiative is specifically designed to support its core purpose.
Consider brand loyalty, for example. Achieving this traditional sales and marketing objective is no mere slogan at IHG. It's an obsession that begins at home with employees who are committed to customer satisfaction, explains Lynne Zaponne, senior vice president, Americas HR and Global Learning. "How our people feel about our brands and how they deliver the guest experience is what sets us apart from the competition," she says.
That isn't hype. Personal dedication is instilled as part of the culture at the giant hospitality firm, which owns seven premier brands including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza, and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. It's a culture that emphasizes learning and personal development at every turn and even makes learning a full strategic partner with every other function in the company.
It is also part of a new era for IHG that began five years ago with the adoption of a strategic plan to redefine the company and its goals and to create a clear path to achieving them. "Great hotels guests love" became IHG's core purpose. Employees were taught a new way of working, one that stresses an appreciation by every individual of how her job relates to the company's business needs, clearly and measurably.
IHG's journey has followed a deliberate, planned approach. Their first step began with defining their core values and employment brand, or "IHG Commitment."
IHG's core values, called "Winning Ways," help guide and inspire employees to aim higher in their personal and professional lives, take ownership, work together, and behave responsibly. The company participates in an aggressive social responsibility agenda that includes community involvement, environmental stewardship, and other activities implemented around the globe.
The IHG Commitment "Room to Be Yourself" celebrates the talented people of IHG and emphasizes the importance of creating an environment in which everyone can give their best. The company is proud to use its very own people as role models and use employee images to promote the company and attract new talent.
The onboarding process includes the company's assurance that every new employee will be given "Room to be Yourself." To underscore the point, photos of workers pursuing their hobbies adorn the walls of the Atlanta office and are featured in internal communications venues.
To deliver on the commitment, the company makes four promises to all employees: room to have a great start, room to be involved, room to grow, and room for you. IHG is delivering on room to grow through its ongoing investment in learning, even in this tough environment.
To ensure that the work of every employee is directly and measurably tied to strategic goals, the Global Human Resources team helped create a tool called "The Wheel." The circular dashboard is divided into four quadrants representing distinct strategic priorities: "Financial Returns," "Guest Experience," "Our People," and "Being a Responsible Business." Corporate and unit-level managers and their teams regularly use the measurement tool to assess their performance in each area.
Launched globally in 2008-2009, the Wheel initiative currently involves more than 100,000 individuals within IHG worldwide.
To improve leadership training, IHG launched a virtual leadership development community last year called "Leaders Lounge." The corporate intranet-based portal is available by invitation to unit managers, corporate directors, and above.
It features short, bite-sized nuggets of information and insights on leadership, including shared practices within the organization. Also included are timely tools, tips, articles, and videos to reinforce company strategies. Readers are free to employ social media and other informal learning tools as they post tips and react to content.
Dedicated areas within the lounge include the "Leadership Gym," which features tools designed to give leaders' skills a workout. Another called "Problem Solver" solicits input on strategies and leadership issues. Added earlier this year is "The Academy," a section for users to access in-depth e-learning opportunities on key business topics including finance, branded customer experience, and coaching skills. The content is easily accessed from the global learning management system used by IHG.
"Our Leaders Lounge and virtual classrooms have been extremely popular and give us a consistent system across the globe so that we can push and pull learning," says Gary Whitney, vice president, Global Hotel Learning. "Our customers also appreciate that it's a cost-effective channel."
Indeed, synchronous and asynchronous virtual classroom training (VCT) accounts for a growing share of instruction within the company, including housekeeping, maintenance, sales, and other disciplines. To help increase its acceptance among global properties, the firm continues to expand the delivery of content in foreign languages.
In addition, the virtual classroom option enables IHG to double the number of learners in each sales workshop without losing effectiveness or adding trainers, says Whitney. Since the inception of VCT, the number of employees trained annually per instructor has increased from 577 to 720 learners - a 25 percent boost.
Yet another important learning initiative seeks to create a more robust sales culture within the organization. Called "The IHG Way of Sales," it is aimed at replacing the "order-taker mindset" with a more strategic approach to prospecting for and attracting clients.
Whitney says the successful partnership demonstrates "the deep level of trust" that the company's business functions have in their HR and learning colleagues "to help drive performance in a strategic way." t+d