October 2014
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TD Magazine

Commitment to Talent Development Excellence

Wednesday, October 8, 2014
Commitment to Talent Development Excellence

For the second consecutive year, Cognizant earns top honors in the BEST rankings.

Talent development is very personal at Cognizant, a global technology solutions company with more than 170,000 employees. Every one of Cognizant's employees, from new hires to mid-level managers, has an individualized development plan that supports his long-term career goals. For senior leadership, development comes through customized initiatives. "Our business is a knowledge enterprise," says Hariraj Vijayakumar, global head of Cognizant Academy. "The execution of our strategy is fully dependent on our workforce talent and capabilities."

Cognizant, headquartered in Teaneck, New Jersey, is so committed to the idea of talent development as a strategic driver in achieving business goals that one of the pillars in its five-pillar 2015 strategy is "Organization and People." This pillar supports the other four, which focus on the growth and transformation of the business.

Each pillar has a clear definition of the talent implications associated with its execution. That means the learning function is highly engaged with strategic teams in every aspect of the business.

"Our learning and development organization ensures that we develop a talent base that has both the technical skill and the leadership mindset to deliver new ideas to help our clients build stronger businesses," says CEO Francisco D'Souza.

Cognizant's learning strategy is to respond to the organization's growth needs by developing business-aligned capabilities organization-wide, according to Vijayakumar. An integrated talent development platform enables career planning through its role-based learning solutions. Learning goals are aligned to performance goals that aim to produce higher job impact.

An example is the Cognizant Career Architecture program. Established for select business units more than a year ago, CCA is a well-defined, multidimensional career framework that helps employees choose a career track best suited to their interests and capabilities. It includes structured training and job rotation.

The hallmark of the model is an individual development plan that is in tandem with performance and learning goals. CCA addresses domain, functional, and behavioral skills of employees with integrated programs that ensure business readiness. With CCA, Cognizant is able to monetize knowledge value and identify employees with business-optimal skills, thus running efficient operations with an engaged workforce, and with a lower delivery cost.

Last year Cognizant's global workforce clocked more than 18 million learning hours. So how does an organization ensure the effectiveness of its talent development initiatives?

By measuring. Lots of measuring.

In 2012, the company started using the Center for Talent Reporting's TDRp (Talent Development Reporting Principles), which provided a clear framework for assessing, measuring, and reporting the outcomes of Cognizant's robust learning efforts. The effectiveness of leadership and talent development is evaluated every quarter on four parameters: business impact, employee satisfaction, business stakeholder satisfaction, and solution effectiveness. User-connect sessions, program impact studies, project feedback, change management drivers, and surveys are conducted periodically to evaluate the reach and absorption of every strategic talent development program.

Cognizant Academy aims to strike a balance between the immediate needs of the business and sustainable learning and development practices required to ensure the health of enterprise talent. L&D planning is fed both by the immediate business requirements funneled through the performance consulting engagements, and by the long-term requirements stemming from talent planning discussions. In 2013, one such long-term requirement centered on developing a pipeline of client-facing leaders.


The rapid growth of the company dictated a need for frontline leaders who could manage multimillion-dollar portfolios. Cognizant's Emerging Partners initiative develops senior account managers, senior delivery managers, and capability leaders into client-facing leaders. But these emerging leaders are globally dispersed, so the initiative needed to be a virtual program.

Developed in conjunction with a leading business school and offered over six months, content for the program includes case studies, role plays, and simulations. More than 100 participants have completed the program and 45 percent have fast-tracked into client-facing leadership roles within six months. Further, the majority of participants note an increase in client satisfaction and an increase in sales post-training. Supervisors note that all participants who completed the program are on track to fill more senior roles in the future.

To effectively solve the talent development challenges faced by the enterprise, the L&D function must innovate and come up with disruptive yet effective solutions. This innovation is driven with a two-pronged approach. First, the L&D team employs a "lean startup" model that supports the ideation, funneling, and creation of 10 to 15 "L&D innovation projects" funded by Cognizant Academy every year. Second, a grassroots movement of "tiny changes" encourages all L&D practitioners to use an innovation toolkit to improve their practices incrementally for efficiency, effectiveness, or impact.

In 2013, the Mindful Managers initiative was chosen as that year's L&D innovation project. By focusing on mindfulness, Cognizant aimed to raise the emotional quotient of managers. Company leaders believe mindfulness can help people live better, and in the workplace it can help them build teamwork, enhance creativity, improve communication, and resolve conflict.

To date more than 50 managers have been through the program. The company believes the program has helped participants to "come off of autopilot," improve their cognitive function and ability to focus, and improve their capacity to interact productively with colleagues and clients.

"Our Mindful Managers initiative is aimed at making sure that the leadership talent in the organization is healthy and effective in rising to the needs of today's complex business environment," Vijayakumar says.

View the entire list of 2014 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Kristen Fyfe-Mills is the director of employee development and engagement at Farmer Focus, an innovative organization with the fastest-growing poultry brand in the US. In her role, she supports nearly 900 team members, from front-line hourly associates to the executive team. Before joining Farmer Focus, Kristen served in many roles at the Association for Talent Development, culminating in her position as director of marketing and strategic communications.

Kristen holds two master’s degrees, one in pastoral and spiritual care from Marymount University and the other in journalism from Northwestern University. She serves on the advisory board for Shenandoah University’s Transformative Leadership program. She is the mom of two exceptional humans, and she and her husband Doug live in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

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