October 2013
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TD Magazine

Going the Distance

Sunday, September 8, 2013
Going the Distance

Cognizant Academy develops learning initiatives with an eye toward the future.

The word "horizons" has a new meaning at Cognizant, a global provider of information technology, consulting, and business process outsourcing services. "Horizons" refer to the company's growth opportunities and where it is focusing investments. To help Cognizant reach its strategic objectives, the learning function is building organizational capability around three horizons that the company believes illustrate the complexion of market demand.

Cognizant's three-horizon framework is the company's response to a fundamental long-term shift in its clients' business imperatives, and focuses on helping clients meet the dual mandate to "run better and run different." Horizon 1 (services around application development and application maintenance) and Horizon 2 (new services such as consulting, business process outsourcing, and IT infrastructure services) focus on helping clients enhance performance in their current businesses. Horizon 3 (emerging capabilities based on new technology architectures such as social, mobile, analytics, and cloud) is about helping clients drive innovation and transformation for future success. Cognizant Academy, the in-house learning and development center of Cognizant, ensures the organization's workforce possesses the capabilities required to execute successfully across all three horizons simultaneously.

A Fortune 500 company headquartered in Teaneck, New Jersey, Cognizant has experienced explosive growth since its founding in 1994. The company, which grew revenue by 20 percent to $7.4 billion in 2012, employs more than 164,000 people worldwide. The company is aggressive in its hiring of new graduates and experienced professionals, sometimes hiring up to 20 people every business hour. Such growth presents both an opportunity and a challenge.

Planned career development and role enablement, aligned with the company's corporate vision and objectives, is a strategic imperative. These demands are addressed by the expanded role of the Cognizant Academy, which has grown well beyond its original function of providing training to new hires.

The learning function adopts a customer-centric approach and provides a roadmap: From the campus associate training program to the capability assurance stage, Cognizant Academy engages with business units to deliver learning that positively affects on-the-job performance and business results. Using a performance consulting process of "define, design, and deliver," the academy's consultants resolve business needs through learning initiatives. In 2012, the learning organization delivered more than 17 million hours of learning globally. Its four major arms are

  • global learning delivery
  • foundations (systems, tools, learning management system, third-party products)
  • academies (aligned to business units)
  • business process services.

"The greatest strength of a company such as Cognizant is its people and their expertise and ability to consistently deliver outstanding work. As the company grows, needs increase across all dimensions," says Hariraj Vijayakumar, global head of Cognizant Academy. "The key is to improve customer satisfaction by right-skilling employees and optimizing operational metrics through the right role pyramid."
The company has adopted a learning platform to sustain its people development. The need to invest heavily in client-facing leaders—to continuously enable their growth and thus company revenues—has driven a new emphasis on individual development plans. These plans are now in place for 80 percent of the enterprise, but it was challenging to get employees to complete the recommended learning requirements.

In response, Cognizant Academy introduced gamification of structured learning. "The question was, 'How do we get employees to learn, in an enjoyable, self-driven manner, without mandating learning?'" says Vijayakumar.


The program is built on Cognizant 2.0, the company's global program management and knowledge-sharing platform, which is overlaid on its learning management system and accessed through a portal called "MyLearning."

With the Millennial generation comprising most of its workforce, Cognizant is a user of social media and social learning, which is considered a developmental mode alongside formal and informal learning. Monthly collaborative learning initiatives carry themes that leverage various social platforms to develop a common topic such as program management, domain knowledge, and process improvement. The company also uses communities of practice, program-based forums, a MyBooks app, blogs (with more than 44,000 unique bloggers), and games.

The use of technology has resulted in significant cost savings. Virtual sessions and webinar events grew by 120 percent from 2011 to 2012, while Cognizant Academy decreased classroom delivery by 15 percent.

Learning has enormous value in the company culture. "We achieve business outcomes via our learning culture," says Vijayakumar. Executives walk the talk: 100 percent of senior executives participate in at least eight hours of learning annually as instructors or speakers, and bear responsibility for developing employees in their performance goals. As Vijayakumar notes, "A strong development framework for its rapidly growing workforce has been the key to helping Cognizant maintain its status as one of the fastest growing Fortune 500 companies in the world."

About the Author

Jennifer J. Salopek is a freelance writer in McLean, Virginia.

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