Helping instill a bold, new corporate culture is a challenge for any learning organization. And that's before it transforms its own courseware catalog.

Any company that has competed for more than 160 years in the communications field can credit the adaptability of its past and present leadership. Or, as they modestly put it at Western Union (WU), the money transfer pioneer that still serves the robust field of global payment services, "Change is in our DNA."

Never has that pedigree been more relevant than in today's digital environment, where WU continues to evolve with mobile, online, and payment services for individuals and businesses. It's a dynamic global marketplace in which even the smallest customer issue can affect business by going viral. And WU conducts 31 customer transactions every second.

To better serve this market, the Colorado-based company is shifting the mindset of employees and developing a new operating model that drives a more customer-­centric, high-performing culture among every ­employee. Called the WU WAY, it is being ­introduced in stages with support from WU's learning and talent organization.

The WU WAY is about changing the way employees work, delivering a better customer experience, and driving growth—ideally setting a foundation to enable every WU colleague to achieve their greatest potential.

"We are empowering and equipping our people to perform at their best," says Josh Craver, WU's former vice president of talent management. He says the innovation pursues better ways to serve customers with new products, improved technology, and better connections throughout the 200 countries and provinces in which it operates.

Supporting the shift in culture and mindset is a revamped performance management system called Guide.Perform.Succeed (GPS). Its launch was accompanied by a vigorous orientation program for people managers—Leadership in Action (LIA)—that engages the organization's top leaders to embrace and model the culture with the people they lead.

LIA's initial rollout delivered more than 200 training sessions to 85 percent of the company's people managers. The company's top 100 leaders were asked to personally champion the change by facilitating informal learning circles with six to eight company leaders once a month, which helped create management buy-in and ensure cost-effective delivery. Participants in the leader-as-teacher initiative included President and CEO Hikmet Ersek, who endorses talent development as a competitive advantage.

LIA was expanded to provide experiential leadership development for 400 senior leaders from 46 countries. They met monthly within groups to present and discuss key leadership topics. The company's 2,000 people managers participated in the learning circles.

The internally designed content was delivered in informal, scenario-based conversations to maximize relevance to learners. The curriculum was divided into six topics:

  • empowerment
  • accelerating performance through feedback and accountability
  • accelerating potential through coaching
  • driving the WU WAY through engagement
  • making informed pay decisions
  • having effective pay conversations.

To enhance LIA as a vital development endeavor, the learning was augmented with additional content delivered in a variety of formats to meet individual preferences: live instructor-led training, on-demand e-learning, role play, social and collaborative learning, and gamification.

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An outside partner packaged some of that content into a dynamic e-learning scenario that includes interaction, videos, and opportunities for learners to conduct knowledge checks and apply their learning on the job.

Turning leaders into teachers is paying multiple dividends at WU. "LIA has played a starring role as a change management tool," Craver notes. "We are asking managers and employees to have a different type of conversation. And before they do so, we are teaching them how to take the training and apply the learning. It's experiential learning on the job, and we think it's a great way to help others understand that learning must be connected to an opportunity to be applied."

But Craver contends that the program's most compelling aspect is its effectiveness in empowering and equipping WU leaders to own the company's people-development agenda.

According to Laurie Shumake, the interim head of talent development, "LIA accelerated adoption of GPS across WU. As a result, the business takes accountability for development, and relationships are getting stronger between managers and employees, supported by ongoing conversations about higher-value work that result in clear expectations."

Currently the team is focused on expanding the WU WAY training's rollout to every employee in the 56 countries where the company maintains staff. A mandatory nine-month learning journey will lead to a foundational awareness on the new way of working—the WU WAY—now being modeled by senior leaders. It is being launched in multiple languages and with careful attention to specific cultures. Higher-level certifications will follow.

The talent department itself has transformed and aligned its strategy to the WU WAY.

Why? "This is an entirely new model for how we develop, train, assess, and measure," Craver says. Unlike typical competency models for which values and behaviors are siloed within organizations, the WU WAY model is a fully integrated development strategy that is aligned to the business, he insists.

It is not a typical business model, Craver adds. "It contains 'value streams' that allow us to figure out more efficient ways to solve customer problems, such as looking at an end-to-end process and finding ways to prove efficiency and effectiveness." The result, ideally, is greater retention and satisfaction of customers.

For Craver and his colleagues, these initiatives represent the natural state at WU as the learning and talent department pursues one of five venerable principles called "the relentless pursuit of better." It means not resting on any laurels after 166-plus years of business, but instead leveraging that history of change by "doing our jobs better than the day we did it before."

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