Westinghouse Electric Company has built an award-winning corporate university.
Jim Ice has drawn the line of a graph on a white board in a conference room at Westinghouse Electric Company’s global headquarters just north of Pittsburgh. It starts short and flat on the left before giving way to a long, steep, upward slope. It looks like a hockey stick. Five years ago, he explains, this was the shape of the age distribution of talent in the nuclear power industry.
“If you looked at our employee population, a very significant segment of our employees were near the end of their careers.” This presented a significant business challenge, says Ice, Westinghouse’s director of talent management, because “we are currently experiencing a resurgence of nuclear power to support the growing need for power across the globe.”
Nuclear power is again a growing industry. It produces a lower carbon footprint than coal and natural gas, and is a more reliable source for providing baseload electricity than other renew- able energy sources, such as solar and wind. And, Westinghouse is in a leading position. New plants, drawing on Westinghouse technology, are planned or being explored in several countries around the world. Of the more than two dozen nuclear reactors under construction in China, four are the revolutionary Generation III+ Westinghouse-designed AP1000 reactor. Also, earlier this year the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved the construction of four AP1000 reactors for plants in Georgia and South Carolina, the first new reactor construction approved in the U.S. since 1978.
The growing demand for power is only part of the story. Westinghouse, as the technology leader of the nuclear industry, is maintaining this position by aggressively focusing on flattening out the hockey stick, so to speak, by bringing new talent into the organization and changing the demographic make-up of its workforce. Maybe even more important is the approach Ice and his team have taken to developing that talent: building and implementing an award-winning corporate university that’s tightly linked with Westinghouse’s overall business strategy.
A Different Approach to Talent Management
From its founding in 1886, Westinghouse produced everything from kitchen appliances, to locomotives, jet engines, elevators, and light bulbs, and along the way the company built a reputation for innovation.
Today, nuclear power is Westinghouse’s sole focus: designing, servicing, and manufacturing fuel for operating plants across the globe. But the company’s innovation legacy shines on. The AP1000 reactor is an excellent example. Designed with passive safety systems that rely on natural forces— gravity, natural circulation, and convection—to cool the reactor without the need for external sources of power, the AP1000 nuclear plant design is safer than existing nuclear power plants. This is a welcome advancement in reactor safety, especially in the wake of events at the Fukushima plant following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan in March 2011.
While this leading technology positioned Westinghouse to dominate the market, it needed the right talent—and adopted an aggressive talent acquisition management strategy to get it.
“We were lucky in that Tony Greco, our senior vice president of human resources and corporate relations, had a vision for what we needed to do in terms of both hiring and developing our employees to meet the business demands,” says Ice. “As a result, we were able to get a head start on addressing these needs four to five years ago, ahead of most companies and competitors in the industry.”
From 2008 to 2011, Westinghouse hired 5,000 people around the world, culling the best candidates from among the more than 40,000 résumés it receives annually. It also ramped up campus recruiting and hosted more than 200 interns annually.
The hires increased Westinghouse’s headcount to just over 13,000 employees, while also providing an influx of young, talented, and motivated workers. To get the new hires up to speed and contributing at a high level, however, they needed development.
“You’ve got all these new employees, most of which are new to our industry,” says Ice. “And this is an industry that requires you to understand safety, quality, and human performance principles, meaning how to reduce errors.” In addition to industry and technical knowledge, Ice points out that those experienced individuals hired into leadership positions also needed targeted development to grow into their roles. And he also says that during the years when the company wasn’t in growth mode, the organization’s three business units—nuclear plant design, service, and fuel manufacturing—became segregated, tending to operate as three separate companies instead of as one unified Westinghouse.
“When we looked at both the hiring demand and the need to train people across very different businesses—that had created their own ways of doing things—we made a conscious choice to break down those artificial barriers. That’s when our corporate university, as a concept, was born.”
Substantial and Sophisticated
Westinghouse’s university is both substantial in its offerings and sophisticated in its design. Its formation started with careful planning that included researching best practices and bench-marking other corporate universities.
But rather than copy what worked elsewhere, Ice and his team designed the university to meet Westinghouse’s business strategy. Additionally, they developed a leadership model based on the unique leadership challenges within Westinghouse. The model includes four leadership levels, and targets the unique types of organizational leaders (technical, project, manufacturing, business) and main capability areas (interpersonal, leadership, management, functional) required for role success. Each level has a unique strategy for assessment and a guide for capability development.
At the outset, Westinghouse identified objectives for the university in multiple areas: leadership development, business impact, delivery excellence, learning technology, reinforcing a common culture, targeted curriculum development, managing the return on the training investment, and developing qualified talent.
Further influencing the university’s design, Westinghouse moved to a corporate-center design for its HR functions, including both talent acquisition and development.
“We brought together training leaders from across the organization, and they designed the university with the intent of breaking down the silos between the individual businesses,” says Ice. “This makes sense when you consider that many of the defined education and training needs revolved around similar learning objectives across all employees, regardless of their business unit.”
This realization helped inform the creation of seven distinct colleges within the university: Project Management, Technical, Leadership, Business, Behavioral (i.e., human performance and continuous improvement), Manufacturing, and Commercial (i.e., content for customers/suppliers).
“The idea is that an employee, in consultation with his or her manager, can create a custom development plan leveraging content across these seven colleges based on that employee’s specific role and performance expectations,” says Ice. He also points out that the university helps the organization improve training efficiency, eliminate redundancies, and realize cost savings.
Each college has a dean—a subject matter expert from the business to help define, structure, and deliver the curriculum—so that learners get the training they need when they need it. Associate deans may support specific content areas within each college.
In addition, the university includes a team of learning consultants that have their fingers on the pulse of the business and the organization’s development needs.
“Our learning consultants are out there helping the business leaders determine the learning strategies that need to be in place and how the university can help provide the right design and development services,” says Mike Naughton, manager of Westinghouse’s university operations.
The real meat of the university is its broad array of assessment and development resources, many of which come from DDI, including the Leadership Mirror® multirater assessment tool and Manager Ready®, an online frontline leader assessment (see "Targeting the Development Needs of New Leaders" below). The university also draws on DDI’s Interaction Management® system to develop leaders.
Curt Lawhead serves as dean
of the university’s Leadership College.
Curt Lawhead, manager, organizational development, and dean of the university’s Leadership College, says that Westinghouse believes strongly in the strategic importance of connecting assessment and development.
“There’s a direct correlation between assessment and development at all three levels because, from a developmental perspective, we can make sure we’re hitting the mark based on what the specific identified needs are. For instance, at the business level where we use an assessment like Leadership Mirror, we have also created a talent audit process—surveying the workforce to find out the skills or knowledge areas that people already have, to assess how they map against current and future needs and workforce plans.”
Another defining characteristic of Westinghouse’s university is the combination of approaches and modalities employed to deliver high-quality, impactful learning.
In his design services role, Mike Corrigan
strives to leverage technology to its fullest
“For one course, we might have a web-based-training pre-work that goes out to give participants a primer on the course content,” explains Mike Corrigan, team lead for the design services group within the university. “Then there might be a two-hour live or recorded webinar where the facilitator walks through the content at greater depth. Then the third component of this development program might be a one-hour online Q&A session during which the facilitator is live on the phone to answer questions and provide feedback. It’s an opportunity to leverage all these technologies to their fullest potential.”
“I Can't Wait to Get More Development”
All of the hard work that went into visioning, planning, and launching Westinghouse’s university has paid off in direct business impact of integrated development offerings, reduced overall spending, and coordinated development of employees and leaders. The training and development community has noticed. The Corporate University Xchange honored Westinghouse with the Alliances Award for how it has aligned the university with the overall objectives of the business and leadership development programming. The university was awarded the 2011 Corporate University Best-in-Class award runner-up in the “Best New Corporate University” category. And earlier this year Westinghouse was named a Top Learning Organization and featured in Elearning! magazine.
“When Westinghouse decided to implement the university in 2010, we began with best practices,” says Christof Paulischta, a Paris-based learning and development manager for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. “So, our goal is to build a state-of-the-art corporate university designed to meet the unique need of our business and, quite frankly speaking, we’ve got a great start.”
Paulischta says that while the outside accolades are nice, what has most impressed him is the reaction from Westinghouse employees. “The employees are excited about this wonderful opportunity to learn and develop and to grow. When we started to roll out the university it amazed me how individuals said, ‘I can’t wait to get more development.’”