For Northrop Grumman, a diverse set of business units - each with
its own L&D organization - work together to create an
enterprise-wide brand of leadership development, as well as more
innovative and cost-effective ways of shaping and executing
learning processes. Northrop Grumman is a global security company
whose 120,000 employees provide innovative systems, products, and
solutions in aerospace, electronics,
information systems, shipbuilding, and technical services to
government and commercial customers worldwide. In January the
company announced several structural actions to strengthen
alignment with its customers, improve the company's program
performance and growth potential, and enhance its cost
competitiveness. These actions, effective immediately, include
streamlining its organizational structure by reducing the number of
sectors from seven to five: aerospace systems, electronic systems,
information systems, shipbuilding, and technical services. Vice
President of Learning and Development Kathy Thomas spoke with
Learning Executives Briefing about the changes ahead for Northrop
Learning Executives Briefing: What are some of
your immediate challenges?
Kathy Thomas: Although Northrop Grumman is very
well aligned with the direction the new administration has
proposed, we still are in an era of change, both in our company and
as a nation. At Northrop Grumman the most immediate challenge for
the learning and development function is ensuring that we remain
aligned with the very dynamic and diverse strategies of our
businesses. This is no small feat when you consider that the
company today is the result of a series of acquisitions that
occurred over the past 15 years. Each of our five businesses has a
sector president who reports to our chief operating officer. Each
one of those businesses has its own embedded learning and
development organization, so ensuring that Northrop Grumman's
learning and development strategy, governance, value proposition,
and brand is relevant across the enterprise and within each of
those businesses is high on my list.
So how are we addressing these challenges? We have a small staff at
the corporate office that is responsible for enterprisewide
learning processes, programs, and systems. We also have an
enterprise learning and development council that comprises the
heads of the learning and development organizations within each of
our five businesses and the corporate office staff. The council
model and approach allows us to shape strategy and governance
around the programs and processes we execute in common. The model
also positions the senior leaders in learning and development to
have insights into the differences and similarities of those things
we don't do in common and to identify best practices that are
exportable and customizable to meet a specific sector's business
Key areas of focus for learning and development on an enterprise
scale are developing leaders, managing leadership talent or
pipeline, leveraging learning technology, and leading change.
Additionally, to meet our goal of staying operationally relevant,
we deploy a talent segmentation strategy. Members of the corporate
learning and development staff serve on one or more of our
enterprise functional councils such as program management, quality,
or business management. This allows us to bring learning solutions
to the table early in the shaping of the functions in people
LXB: When you develop talent within any of those
businesses, is your aim to keep the talent in that business unit or
to look at the larger needs of the organization?
Thomas: We are committed to having a strong
leadership brand across the enterprise. And to do that, we have to
know who the talent is, where it is, and how we best deploy it in a
way that makes sense for the business today as well as tomorrow.
We have an enterprise-wide succession-management process for our
top leaders because they are considered to be corporate assets.
Below that top tier, each of the businesses creates its own
succession management plan that reaches much further down into the
organization; this is really our leadership pipeline. Doing this
deeper dive into our talent pools provides us with early insights
into the strength and diversity of our pipeline.
LXB: Are the people who are being developed told
they are under consideration?
Thomas: That's an age-old question. They have, in
many cases, been told they are held in high regard and they have
had conversations about their career aspirations. These people have
excellent track records and are demonstrating the Northrop Grumman
leadership competencies and behaviors that we have communicated are
important to the company.
LXB: Are these people put through stretch
Thomas: That is part of the
development-and-deployment conversation. Individuals are provided
with opportunities for the types of assignments and exposures
required to round out their portfolio of skills and experiences.
This could include stretch assignments but could also include
taking on roles and responsibilities that broaden perspective and
exposure to other areas of the company or a different customer
LXB: What is number one on your challenge list?
Thomas: Again, the challenge for me is alignment
with what matters most for our business. The only way to keep
Northrop Grumman's learning and development function both strategic
and relevant in a value proposition is to stay in tune with what
matters most to the businesses. The learning and development seat
is one that gets hot when times are tough. We have to take the
precious resources and properly focus them on critical business
priorities. Our learning and development council serves as a
grounding force to help each of the businesses work on what's
important to them while at the same time continuing to invest in
learning and development processes, programs, and infrastructure
that are strategic to their business. It's a tremendous 02.09 / /
View from the Learning Executive continued balancing act and it's
the part of the job that is most challenging and the most exciting.
LXB: How does the learning function at Northrop
Grumman help set the tone for creating an ethical organization?
Thomas: For many of our products, if you don't get
it right, there's a warfighter out there for whom the consequences
could be life or death. We have to set and adhere to the highest
code of ethical conduct in everything we do; that's everyone,
everywhere, every day.
Our learning and development function partners very closely with
our ethics office and a very robust business conduct program to
ensure that our training programs meet the mark to provide our
employees with the information and training they need to stay on
the high road.
We also believe that in the ethics arena, the tone is set at the
top of the organization; ethics is a leadership issue. Leaders are
responsible for creating the environment required to have an
ethical culture. There are frequent and consistent messages from
our CEO and other senior leaders; we also include the topic in our
leadership development programs.
LXB: There seems to be several angles to the
economic environment and its impact on learning. How are events in
the greater economy affecting learning and development at Northrop
Thomas: Like other companies, we have to take a
hard look at the value, efficiencies, and effectiveness of what we
deliver and how we deliver. We are exploring, and in many
instances, finding different ways to set the conditions for
learning to occur, such as coaching, mentoring, and communities of
practice. We are also creating and leveraging 'preferred partner'
agreements with external learning and development solution
providers. Interestingly, this shift in our economy has actually
presented compelling reasoning for the learning and development
function and our business partners to engage in more innovative and
cost-effective ways of shaping and executing learning processes.