When you examine the BEST award-winning organizations during the past decade, several key characteristics emerge. These winning organizations have metrics that matter—inclusion of learning objectives as part of individual performance goals, a clear link between learning and performance, an appropriate blend of learning delivery methods, and visible support from senior leaders—but one dominant characteristic is a part of all of them: a culture of learning. (View entire list of 2012 BEST Award winners.)

#6 BB&T

"Creating a place where our associates can learn, grow, and be fulfilled in their work" is one of the tenets of the financial institution's mission statement. Chief Operating Officer Chris Henson says, "There is no single more important thing we can do to unleash the full capability of our workforce than to focus on building a culture that develops and empowers our employees."

BB&T's commitment to learning is evident by its executives' support. The learning function manager is a member of the senior leadership team and works with executive management to determine learning and development priorities, which are driven by annual strategic objectives. Executive leaders sponsor each training initiative and help to drive the role and scope of projects.

One recent initiative, a learning program for the problem loan department, aims to help the organization effectively manage through the credit cycle, which is one of the company's top five strategic goals. The learning function designed an advanced curriculum consisting of four programs: a blended systems acclimation course; an instructor-led, virtual sales and service course; an advanced industry course delivered by external legal counsel subject matter experts using videoconferencing technology; and a concluding capstone course. In this final program, employees role-play a mock bankruptcy trial, which takes place in an official court of law presided over by a judge.

Early feedback indicates that this innovative learning program has been successful, with participants reporting that the information learned is immediately applicable on the job. Senior leaders plan to expand the scope of the training to include regional credit personnel.

#17 Cognizant Technology Solutions

"We believe in demonstrating excellence at all levels of the organization, and we do it best through our in-house learning function that has played a significant role in the growth of our organization," says Cognizant CEO Francisco D'Souza. "Our learning is completely aligned to our business objectives through role-based learning solutions for our associates to learn, grow, and succeed."

As a Fortune 500 company on an accelerated growth path (about 140,000 employees as of March 31, 2012), Cognizant tapped the strengths of its learning and development (L&D) function to transform two key challenges into opportunities: staying ahead of exponential headcount expansion and keeping Millennial workers engaged.

Cognizant's L&D function advances the organization's business strategy by providing every employee with relevant learning solutions that enhance their work performance and career development. In collaboration with senior executives, this team sets strategic initiatives for talent management and drives change-management initiatives.

The L&D organization's custom-developed acculturation programs to up-skill culturally diverse employees ensure exceptionally high employee engagement while supporting the company's growth trajectory.

Since Millennials constitute 75 percent of Cognizant's workforce, the company has created social learning channels to complement formal learning programs. Choosing from an assortment of virtual-learning options, Millennials learn anywhere, anytime, in a style that suits them, and keep skills razor sharp. Informal learning avenues, such as knowledge management forums and video-based learning, deliver an enriched learning experience.

In 2011, Cognizant Academy created more than 14.1 million formal learning hours and onboarded 20,000 campus hires—and it plans to significantly increase that number in the coming years.

#30 Health Care Service Corporation (HCSC)

The health benefits firm develops its learning strategy to meet enterprise performance goals by helping the workforce to connect behaviors and skills with the company vision, as well as to better serve the diverse needs of its customers. Strategic alignment, internal employee data analysis, and external benchmarking drive organization-wide learning initiatives. According to Colleen Reitan, HCSC's chief operating officer, "We're proud of the way our learning organization supports the business by aligning to our needs, remaining flexible, and delivering innovative solutions and support."

External business pressures—such as increased legislative and regulatory changes—and unprecedented industry change make it vital for all employees to understand the business as a whole and how their departments and roles contribute to enterprise strategy. In 2011 the company's leaders set out to increase all employees' business literacy and charged the learning group with implementing role-based educational solutions.

For executives, the learning group established Executive Strategy Cohorts, groups of 20 to 25 vice presidents across the organization. Through the four-week program, participants explored a strategic business topic during 90-minute virtual meetings each week, supplemented by independent assignments and message board discussions. An internal expert facilitated the training through a "leaders teaching leaders" model. Mobile tablets delivered course content, allowing flexibility for the busy executives. Additionally, the virtual meetings and online forum supported collaboration, engagement, and participation.

Ninety-three percent of vice presidents participated in a cohort last year and reported a knowledge increase of 47 percent. Sixty days post-training, 88 percent of respondents said they had used the knowledge gained to support business activities.

#25 Infosys Limited

Learning and development is viewed as a core competency at Infosys, a global consulting and business solutions firm. The learning function plays an integral role in executing the business strategy by aligning its competency development programs directly to enterprise goals.

The Competency Development Program (CDP), a 22-week residential program for fresh engineers, offers continuous education geared toward meeting business goals. The CDP is one of the firm's most innovative learning initiatives. It has been a hallmark of employee development since Infosys was established 30 years ago. Currently in its third iteration, CDP 3.0 has adapted to the changing competency needs of individual contributors and the organization as a whole.

Another recent initiative, the Harvard Manage Mentor, is a behavioral skills development program based on the "learn, practice, and apply" framework. This blended solution includes e-learning, customized discussion "cafés," case scenarios, and teaching opportunities. Launched in July 2011, it is the most-used enterprise learning program, with 56,000 employees accessing the platform through March 2012.

Infosys seeks to reduce the engineering talent supply and demand gap through its Campus Connect initiative, which shares the learning function's training curriculums with engineering colleges and conducts faculty enablement programs. It has reached nearly 500 engineering institutions, 7,000 faculty members, and 150,000 students by using IT industry best practices and institutions' infrastructures to implement training in a consistent, scalable, effective, and sustainable manner.

#22 Ryan, LLC

Since 2010, Ryan has been the fastest growing corporate tax services firm in the United States. To keep pace and ensure that customer service quality was not compromised, the learning and development group was called to help by customizing a client relationship management system (CRM), building training for a smooth transition to the system, and contributing to the strategic planning process.

Materials for the CRM included a comprehensive user guide, Internet-based courses for seven training modules, and a CRM learning plan for future employees. The comprehensive training and assessments helped the company transition to the new platform, contributing to the improvement of client satisfaction, from an already high 96 percent in 2010 to 97 percent in 2011.

Among the learning and development team's most innovative initiatives was its involvement in the strategic planning process. The CEO asked the team to facilitate a dialogue with the entire organization about what Ryan could do to make employees "stay for life" and how the firm could be more successful and effective.

In this special session, employees were organized into groups of 10 to discuss thoughts and offer ideas on what would make them choose to stay at Ryan for life. Ideas were prioritized and presented on stage alongside the CEO, who gave his immediate opinion and reaction. Afterward, the CEO took this information into consideration and subsequently announced policy changes to support many of the suggestions.

Based on the success of organizing this session, almost 1,000 people shared their input. According to the company, this very well may be one of the ways Ryan performs strategic planning in the future.

#11 Shell Oil Company — Jiffy Lube International

A careful business review identified training as one of the four core competencies upon which the automotive preventive maintenance company can build for the future. According to Jiffy Lube management, marketing research also indicates that customers consider well-trained employees to be a key factor that influences their buying decisions.

The learning function partners with the business to target the most critical issues that the enterprise is facing, which include implementing new services to offset declining preventive maintenance, launching a new customer value proposition (CVP) to attract and keep customers, and reducing employee turnover in franchises.

Jiffy Lube requires technicians to be certified before offering services, so standardized training is crucial. During the past three years, the learning team has deployed more than 40 courses supporting new services through web-based, on-demand training. Average sales per customer have increased annually to 18 percent above industry average, and customer service scores have increased annually to their current average of 91 percent.

To communicate the new CVP, the learning team launched a video series in the company's learning management system and updated relevant e-learning and coaching materials. After this implementation, 96 percent of franchise employees surveyed reported that they understood the need for the CVP and knew the tag line.

Additionally, the learning team helps reduce turnover by providing employees with career paths and accompanying training, most courses of which are accredited by the American Council on Education. Jiffy Lube's turnover rates have decreased within the past few years, to a level well below the industry average.

Additional T+D articles about Jiffy Lube:

Learning Investment Helps Engines Run Smoothly at Jiffy Lube
Strategies for Implementing a Successful Training Program

#24 SSM Health Care

A major business issue for this Midwestern-based organization has been changing the focus from number of patients treated or services provided to the value and outcomes of those services. Other critical issues include continuing to more efficiently and effectively deliver quality healthcare, reducing and controlling costs, and retaining the workforce—particularly leaders at all levels.

Leadership training links to a special competency model designed to address these challenges. In addition to training and certifying employees (including physicians) to lead continuous quality improvement projects, the learning function helps leaders transfer learning from other parts of the organization by forming and leading a series of learning councils or communities of practice and functional quality teams. It also helps facilitate the best practice sharing through systemwide sharing events and SharePoint websites.

To help retain employees and leaders, the learning function designed and implemented two leadership development programs for high-potential employees—one at the hourly and frontline level, and one at the manager/director level. The Emerging Leaders program comprises 10 employees from each location who have been recognized as having leadership potential, totaling about 150 employees in the program at any one time. Over the course of one year, participants attend training and group-coaching sessions, and complete application exercises. The culmination is an action learning project they complete and present to their local executive management. For managers/directors, the Leadership Pathways program uses a similar approach, plus individualized coaching, to prepare participants for the executive level.

#10 Summit Credit Union

With the help of the learning function, Summit Credit Union is undertaking a core system conversion that will continue through June 2013. The learning department is training more than 300 employees in 24 locations to prepare for the conversion.

Once the scope of training has been defined for conversion, and processes and procedures have been outlined, the learning team will evaluate the current training curriculums and redesign them to match new system functionality and to support the new processes. The redesigned curriculums will need to be in place at the time of the conversion to ensure a seamless transition between systems and to support ongoing
hiring efforts.

Summit also has undergone a significant internal and external rebranding. Representatives of the learning team sat on the strategic teams to help define, cultivate, communicate, and educate the organization's employees and members. Learning professionals also worked with individual business units to identify specific behaviors and skills needed to demonstrate the brand to the company members.

The learning function plays a vital role in strategic initiatives, often launching and rolling out new initiatives and partnering with in-house process consultants to identify issues with processes or procedures.

"Learning is one of our core values, and we're strongly committed to employee growth and development," says Kim Sponem, president and CEO of Summit. "The learning function has a strategic consultative role in supporting our organizational initiatives, and in preparing our employees to skillfully and knowledgeably guide our members toward better financial decisions that inspire positive change."

#26 SunTrust Banks, Inc.

Building great leaders, aligning to a rapidly changing regulatory environment, and deepening client relationships are the three most critical business issues that SunTrust is facing in 2012.

The financial institution's leaders rely on and invest in the learning function to meet these goals.

"Our investment in training has continued through arguably the worst time in banking since the Great Depression," says Bill Rogers, chairman and CEO. "We've increased our training budget every year over the past several years. … We are just fundamental believers that, ultimately, training builds sustainability not only for our workforce, but for our clients."

At the onset of the financial crisis four years ago, SunTrust committed to developing leaders who lead change, fostering operational excellence, engaging teammates, increasing personal accountability, and creating a compelling future vision. Senior executives, including Rogers, teach portions of the firm's leadership programs for senior and mid-level leaders.

SunTrust recently overhauled its mortgage business due to the domestic housing market collapse and a host of new government regulations. The firm has invested in new process and procedure training; new-hire curriculums for the mortgage, consumer, and commercial businesses; and a new learning management system to improve compliance practices.

Its mission, "helping people and institutions prosper," drives SunTrust's new frontline sales training program, Building Solid Relationships, and its customer experience initiative, the Service Excellence Program.

The company—an industry frontrunner in client loyalty—abides by four guiding principles when making enterprise decisions: Put the client first, operate as one team, execute excellence, and focus on profitable growth.

Additional T+D articles about SunTrust Banks:

A Banker's Trust in Training
Success at SunTrust Begins and Ends With Talent

#21 Tech Mahindra Limited

During the global recession, the India-based IT services and telecom solutions company has been working to meet customer demand for more services for less money. One way it has addressed this issue is by hiring new recruits from college campuses and getting them up to speed quickly through its special orientation initiative—the Initial Training Program.

The intense 10-week program trains new hires in essential technical and behavioral skills using several new initiatives, including peer learning, short case studies, mentoring from business leaders, and business-specific classes.

A second critical undertaking was ensuring business units keep lights on and stay ahead of customer demand for rapidly evolving technologies. To put focus on building skills to meet future business demand, the learning function reorganized to include relationship managers, who partner with business unit heads and project managers to understand current and future needs, and then provide input for developing training. More than 200 new programs were delivered through special programs and boot camps.

To address the development needs of IT professionals who often become leaders at a young age, Tech Mahindra Limited also has developed its Young Leaders Program. The program is designed to develop team members into team leaders. It includes training in behavioral and business skills and uses case studies, role play, discussions, classroom sessions, assessments, and other assignments.

Other leadership development programs include an excellence in leadership program for current managers to move from project managers to business leader role, training for employees at customer locations, and "power capsule" sessions on the latest business trends and technology for senior managers.

#7 TELUS

The learning function at TELUS is integrated into the corporate fabric, offering a wide variety of formal, informal, and social learning opportunities aligned with the company's business strategy, and individual business unit priorities and objectives.

"We fervently believe that our people are our most important asset and we strive to support their personal and professional goals because doing so will best advance their development and our corporate priorities," says CEO Darren Entwistle.

Supporting the evolution of a high-performance "customers first" culture is a key part of the TELUS learning and collaboration team's mandate. This includes assisting nearly 40,000 employees to gain the knowledge and skills they need to apply the company's core values and cohesive behavioral norms in their decision making, as well as all interactions with customers and one another.

Fostering innovation, leadership, and effective risk taking also is central to TELUS's learning strategy. For example, TELUS has developed a team leader toolkit that builds trust and empowerment, while increasing collaboration and communication. An employee tool kit helps to develop skills in self-leadership, taking initiative, and collaboration. The company also has implemented a new learning solution called Leading Change, a one-day workshop designed to equip team leaders to champion and implement change. In 2011 evaluations, 85 percent of participants indicated the workshop would improve their job performance.

TELUS's most recent annual employee engagement survey revealed a 1,100 basis point increase, to 70 percent, regarding team members feeling supported in their learning and development. "We will maintain our steadfast commitment to learning and fostering innovation for the benefit of our organization, our customers, and our team," Entwistle says.

Additional T+D articles about TELUS:

TELUS Reveals Its Secret to Success
Culture as a Competitive Advantage

#19 Terumo BCT

For Terumo BCT (formerly known as CaridianBCT), the most critical business driver in 2011 was the acquisition of its company (a medical device firm), which involved the merging of the two companies and becoming the global headquarters of one of the parent company's existing businesses. Learning and development (L&D) played a major role in the company's Project UNITE initiative, being directly involved by owning or influencing the cultural integration, onboarding, name change and branding, global training requirements, change readiness, and performance management.

One of L&D's major focuses during the past year was meeting the company's strategic business goal of "achieving performance targets in under-penetrated markets." This required translating English content into the local languages of the company's various global markets.

To do this, L&D created a custom solution that provides quality translations at minimal expense and time. The team developed a template built in Adobe Flash to import external text and graphics into a video (without audio) that illustrated the simulated process of operating a medical device.

Most of the external text was derived from previously translated copy. Screen shots, already created by a product software simulator, were used for the graphics. Since the video has no recorded audio, the template enables the footage to be adapted to all languages by using the translated text to explain the procedure.

Based on the success of implementing three of the 23 total modules, Terumo BCT anticipates saving more than 90 percent in costs for translating text and graphics for the remaining 20 modules, and 80 percent or greater savings in translation time.

#13 U.S. Security Associates, Inc.

The most innovative learning initiative created by U.S. Security Associates in 2011 was the Success Profile Initiative (SPI)—a program that helps select and develop branch and district managers who are influential in the success of people management, sales, and retention.

The learning department is led by the vice president of human resources and administration, who is a member of the senior management team and reports to the CEO.

The department used in-depth research to create the profile's structure, which takes into account the organization's mission and purpose by translating those components into measurable criteria. The initiative uses the measurable core competencies to identify weaknesses in current branch managers, as well as potential success for applicants in that position.

From the profile, the learning function has created a comprehensive leadership development program. The 2.5-day, instructor-led training focuses on the development of the core competencies. In post-training, individual development plans are customized to address the unique needs of every participant.

The first SPI-based leadership development program hosted 10 branch managers. Post-program, the participants sold 9,693 hours per week (HPW) of work, adding up to $12 million of revenue in one quarter.

In contrast, the equivalent company average is approximately 6,000 HPW, or $7.5 million in revenue. This leadership development program helped to enable the 60 percent improvement in sales growth.

"We feel that a well-trained workforce plays a significant role in enabling our business," says company CEO Chuck Schneider. "From protecting people, property, and assets of our customers to management and leadership development, learning is an integral part of our culture."

#20 UPS

Succession planning and the global economy's effect on fuel costs are two pressing issues for this global leader in package delivery. For succession planning, the company is committed to growing its leaders from within and has a formal process that tracks and captures job history, performance evaluations, development plans, assessment results, and target positions. To help future leaders gain the necessary experience and skills, efforts include lateral rotations, promotions, executive education, and career development meetings at least once a year.

As for the rising global fuel costs, learning and development has had a hand in helping to reduce them through training drivers—particularly on behavioral changes they can make to be more efficient. Data are gathered to determine driver behavior behind the wheel, including seatbelt use, stops per mile, and idling time. These data are used to inform job training and formal driving training, both of which are credited with saving 14.5 million minutes of engine idling time in 2010.

One of learning and development's most innovative programs is the Strategic Leadership Conference. The instructor-led training was designed for district, senior staff, and country managers. The company's culture, its nine identified leadership competencies, and its strategic focus form the program's foundation.

The program includes follow-up group action learning projects—known as "criteria for success challenges"—from various senior leaders throughout the company. Each group has three months to devise a solution. The head of the division, on whose problem they are working, evaluates the quality of the solutions and participants are measured on their ability to apply what they learned.

Additional T+D articles about UPS:

Delivering ‘On-Time, Every Time’ Knowledge and Skills to a World of Employees
Driving Future Leaders Toward Excellence

#5 WakeMed Health & Hospitals

The healthcare industry has historically not discussed errors or patient safety issues in the hopes they would go unnoticed. By not discussing mistakes, the industry was missing opportunities to prevent these errors from occurring again. To help create an atmosphere in which errors can be shared in the spirit of learning, WakeMed Health & Hospitals' education department created an internal blog specific to medication administration. The stories, written by nurses who had made medication errors, discussed how the error occurred and identified solutions.

The education department developed the blog, promoted it, highlighted stories, and used the data to develop job aids. Performance improvement teams, which included members of the learning function, were formed to develop processes from the issues identified in the blog.

The education department also played a key role in transitioning patient records to an electronic records system. To help in this conversion, instructor-led, self-paced, and train-the-trainer training initiatives were created. All data entry employees needed training and competency validation on the system and process. When the conversion went live, only staff who had completed the training were scheduled to work.

Along with these key initiatives, WakeMed's education department offers a full continuum of learning programs. The value of the training department at WakeMed is evident by the words of the company executives: "We are committed to helping employees at all levels develop successful healthcare careers. We also know the workforce development efforts are helping to prepare the workforce of tomorrow."