Four years ago, PepsiCo found it needed an advanced skill development program for its global finance team of 2,700+ mid-level finance associates. The need was especially acute given the challenge of a workforce growing rapidly in emerging markets and the mission-critical demand to grow advanced finance and analytical skills across the enterprise. The opportunity was to create a challenging and robust learning program to enable these associates to develop the advanced, analytical skill sets necessary for their and the corporation’s success in the 21st Century global economy.  

As finance is viewed as one of the corporation’s critical functions, PepsiCo has provided capability development for its finance associates for quite some time. However, given the emerging global focus, consistent skill development on a global scale had become a significant challenge. Traditionally, development had taken the form of classroom training followed by job shadowing and coaching. Although this approach delivered many successes, management became increasingly aware that training was being executed inconsistently across businesses and geographic markets.

At the outset of Finance University’s definition process, the finance and HR team went on a listening tour, visiting banks, consumer packaged goods companies, and chemical companies that had similar programs up and running. The team gained insights ranging from logical curriculum structures to challenges with international deployment. For example, the team was able to compare and contrast delivery mode options, including analysis of information learning technology and virtual synchronous programs. Both options were rejected as the primary delivery vehicle because the team learned about the challenges these options posed to rapid deployment of content and challenges because of the size of the internal team that would be required to deliver the content globally.

The Offering  

Consequently, this program was developed to enable a consistent, high-quality, in-depth set of skills regardless of the location of the finance associate. An electronic, self-paced, learning platform coupled with live, mentored, action learning programs, live reinforcement initiatives, and a community-led “hot topic” learning series are the centerpieces of Finance University. The program also has the goal of fostering best practice and knowledge sharing across diverse businesses.  

Finance University was launched in early 2009 with five custom-built, online, web-based courses available to all associates globally in the 200+ countries in which PepsiCo operates. Development of any single course typically involved 15 or more experts from across the globe; project management in New York; finance leaders based in the U.S. as well as either Europe or Asia; and a development team based in India or Ireland. Additionally, it contained a community of practice and access to hundreds of online, CPE-accredited learning tools. Its purpose was to build consistent depth in skills across the organization’s global finance workforce during a time of substantial international growth, emerging business challenges, and development of new, unproven business models.

The courses are made available to all internal associates globally and are targeted specifically to about 2,700 mid-level finance associates. Finance as a function represents about five to ten percent of the company’s total employees, and 100 percent of mid-level finance associates participate in the program. In addition, Finance University is designed to target all finance associates with at least six to eight years of experience. All finance roles, including planners, auditors, controllers, financial strategists, and corporate specialists (e.g. tax, Treasury) are targeted.

At the core of Finance University programs are 120+ hours of custom-built, web-based content organized into 15 courses. Courses average eight to nine hours in length, and each course mixes custom and off-the-shelf content. The custom content is designed with many interactive features, including: audio, animation, simulations, review questions, and case studies. The courses span several key areas of finance, which have been organized into ten “colleges”. All mid-level finance associates are required to complete two courses each year, adding up to over 16,500 completions to-date.

A full-time team of three learning professionals is responsible for strategy definition, program management, and communications. In the needs analysis and course outline phase, a senior-level instructional designer partners with executives who serve as college deans. During the design and development phases, a consulting team of three to seven designers and developers creates up to five full-scale courses in conjunction with each dean and subject matter expert (SME) team. Typically, up to 15 internal SMEs supply the content, experiences, and insights for each course.

This curriculum roadmap has been updated and modified each year based on business and skill priorities. A full-time project manager and analyst maintain existing courses and collaborate with finance leaders to identify additional programs that would support emerging skill needs which, in this fast-paced environment, might not be as critical as when the roadmap was first conceptualized. Reinforcement and action learning sessions are held in local offices, and three times per year, the Finance University team travels to support kick-off or graduation sessions for these local reinforcement and application programs.

Reinforcement Tools

PepsiCo’s Finance University offers a set of leading-edge reinforcement tools, including a launch page featuring current news, hot-topic webcasts, and a community of experts ready to answer questions. On-demand reinforcement tools are also available to make online course content available at the touch of a button. A best-practice, live reinforcement program (called “T.EA.M.--Transfer, Educate, Apply, Measure) provides associates a formal opportunity to apply course concepts to business issues with the guidance of senior-level mentors/coaches and the Finance University team.  

Participants use course lessons to brainstorm new solutions to real business problems and then present recommendations to finance and business leaders. In addition, courses include recorded “war stories” and videos from senior-level associates sharing their relevant and candid experiences and lessons learned.

Evaluation

The Finance University evaluation framework covers satisfaction, utilization, and business impact. Satisfaction is measured so that PepsiCo can assess the quality of its courses, as perceived by the associates who complete them, and take action to improve them. Learning utilization is measured to track and manage the investment in learning.  

The company has developed a robust, flexible database that allows it to organize and report learning activity in a style and structure that resonates with company leaders. Mastery of priority skills is measured to assess whether associates are demonstrating required knowledge and performance around the skills that matter most (e.g., cash management).  As the courses are aligned to skill gaps, this evaluation is not focused on the courses per se; rather it looks at associates’ ability to execute the skills in a tangible way.

As Finance University’s mission is to support development of skills aligned directly with the corporation’s long-term growth objectives, participants are expected to participate throughout their tenure with the organization, completing about 20 hours of content per year. The program also enables short-term behavior change; for example, the ability to financially plan the appropriate mix of product to be sold in a given region in the coming fiscal year.

Results

In its third year, Finance University has made an impact in top-line growth as well as in employee engagement with 16,500+ course completions, a 96 percent satisfaction rating, and proven skills transfer in the areas of cash flow, sales finance, and strategic thinking skills. Success, in large part, has been measured by how the organization helps associates acquire skills that enable personal development and at the same time help the corporation deliver sustainable growth.  

The team has broken new ground in capability development with a scalable learning model, a strategically defined curriculum, and advanced learning approaches. This learning model enables PepsiCo to deliver best-in-class learning cost-effectively to the organization’s global finance team.

Finance University ignited a big change in the corporation as executives and managers realized the value of the system and began to replicate it. Functional universities are now a major part of the Talent Management and Development architecture. In fact, the success of the Finance University model has directly influenced senior leaders to conceptualize and launch functional universities for R&D, Marketing, and HR. All three were influenced in strategy and content by Finance University. Best practices and experiences are shared openly across these programs and content is also shared freely across the universities. This model has fundamentally changed the way learning is conceptualized and delivered to associates across the PepsiCo.

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PepsiCo’s Finance University won an ASTD Excellence in Practice Award in 2011. To apply for the 2012 awards, go to http://www.astd.org/About/ASTD-Awards/Excellence-in-Practice-Awards.aspx