2021 Best Practices
Issue Map
2021 Best Practices
Blue lines run in different directions to form a mountain shape.
TD Magazine

Rising Strong After an Unprecedented Year

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Ten-plus-time BEST Award winners share insights and lessons learned from navigating unique and challenging conditions.

Best of the BEST companies are BEST Award winners that the Association for Talent Development has recognized at least 10 times for their premier practices in talent development. This year, five companies—IBM, Tata Consultancy Services, TELUS, University Health, and Wipro—earned the honor. After the upheaval of the year that was—the pandemic, racial inequity, changed (and changing) work practices, new and greater demands on leaders, and more—we reached out to the Best of the BEST for their insights.


Note: Responses have been lightly edited for clarity and space.


Zoom fatigue, a greater emphasis on well-being as employees and leaders struggle with caring for and schooling children and worrying about loved ones they couldn't visit, and suddenly shifting the ways people work and learn all became part of the new reality. The demands and pressures are enormous.

What key talent strategy have you learned in dealing with the pandemic that will be useful moving forward?

University Health: March 16 marked the date of our first admitted COVID-19 patient in 2020. Since then, there have been opportunities and spaces made available for reflection to honor the work of the past year and all of those affected. This effort was a direct result of what we learned as a healthcare organization: We need to take time to care for ourselves and each other.

The increased holistic offerings over the past year, like recharge rooms and daily huddle "recharge moments," have become more mainstream in our culture. An open dialogue on building resilience is occurring upward, downward, and laterally around self-care, resilience, and compassion, which has helped normalize and fight the stigma of asking for help.

Tata Consultancy Services: The dawn of the COVID-19 crisis redefined "normalcy" into "new normal." We had to ensure that associates did not disconnect from their learning journeys with the sudden changes in their professional as well as personal lives. Upskilling and cross-skilling were of utmost importance to TCS to prepare associates on pandemic or postpandemic business scenarios. We ran a very successful #LearnInLockdown campaign in the early portions of the pandemic that engaged learners globally.

Constant updating of skills is a must for survival in the IT service industry. We realized that learning campaigns, challenges, and hackathons are a great way to engage our learners across various sections, and we keep doing these every quarter now—which keeps our learners engaged and ensures they don't lose focus on their learning and career journeys.

Diversity, equity, and inclusion

In the US, the killing of George Floyd at the hands of police shocked the nation and brought about a larger conversation about race. Pain, anger, rage, and despair were some of the words used to describe the collective response. Dialogues occurred in workplaces and caused many individuals to wonder how they could make space for others' feelings and how to become allies to their colleagues.

In your organization, what has moved the needle to the greatest extent with respect to DEI and a culture of belonging?

TELUS: Strategies that we continue to build upon include embedding diversity and inclusion into all of our programs and practices and equipping our leaders with the tools and insights they need to build even more diverse and inclusive teams. Through an integrated approach, we position D&I as a foundational aspect of who we are and how we work, leveraging and valuing diversity to amplify our business.

Core to our leadership model is the belief that inclusive leadership is the leadership of the future—to be successful, leaders build trust by cultivating a psychologically safe work environment where team members have a strong sense of connection and belonging, feel valued for their contributions, have opportunities to learn and be part of meaningful work, and have the ability to challenge the status quo. Inclusive leaders hold space to listen deeply and foster open dialogue with their teams, learning from each other's experiences and perspectives and leveraging these insights to inform thoughtful action and allyship. And they address challenging and sometimes controversial D&I issues with sensitivity, fairness, conviction, and compassion.

IBM: IBM has a long history of investment in fostering a culture of belonging. Thinking with a growth mindset and recognizing the value of working inclusively is what generates innovative thinking. It's just good business. This thinking permeates across all aspects of HR, from hiring to employee development and beyond. This past year there has been significant focus on ensuring our hiring methods are both inclusive and comprehensive. The Select for IBM program seeks to ensure IBM managers are selecting the right people for the right roles and incorporates inclusive practices and tools as part of the practice. Everyone who is involved in interviewing must complete the training before being able to interview.

Other efforts include incorporating fairness throughout our artificial intelligence tools, using something created by our research team called AI 360. These approaches and tools have been developed to achieve fairness, robustness, explainability, accountability, and value alignment—and how to integrate them throughout the entire life cycle of an AI application.

New leadership requirements

As a result of the pandemic, senior leaders not only have had to revisit their work strategies and priorities, they've also had to deal with their own and their employees' mental health and well-being. Employees have needed their leaders to be transparent, communicative, and empathetic.

What one or two leadership lessons has your organization learned that have helped employee engagement, hiring and retention, and workplace culture?

Wipro: We believe that several fundamental business trends will converge to shape businesses in the postpandemic world. C-suite leaders embraced digital business transformation by redefining work models of the future for the rise of resilient and safe enterprises. The C-suite leaders reacted quickly by building a more agile and resilient tech foundation for business recovery.

We needed to realign cultural aspects to ensure consistency across the organization. We embarked on a cultural transformation journey this year. We came up with "Five Habits," an initiative of simple behaviors that resonate essentially our values in action: being respectful, being responsive, always communicating, demonstrating stewardship, and building trust. As leaders began exhibiting habits in action, change began permeating. A core group of passionate ambassadors actively engages employees through conversations and activities.

IBM: Our CEO, Arvind Krishna, is deeply committed to taking the actions required to strengthen IBM's culture that will foster curiosity, continuous learning, and speed. A new transformation and culture organization was established to be more responsive to this mission and brought talent, change management, and learning together to be more effective in solutioning and the employee experience. As mentioned in our response to the DEI question, we started by improving the way we hire. We are also working on refreshing learning offerings to incorporate the building of these entrepreneurial skills at a leadership and employee level. Our engagement scores in 2020 were strong. That is because our leadership teams help each other in addressing employee needs and meet regularly with their teams to work on employee development.


The digital transformation has accelerated due to the pandemic. Many employees have had to learn the tools to be able to work from home, and learning also has largely moved online.

Regardless of your technology budget, what are some best practices or tips for organizations when it comes to using technology for employee development?

University Health: Today when you think about the healthcare industry, technology is a given. Patients now have access to their health information in real time, their physicians via messaging systems, and cutting-edge treatments, just to name a few. There isn't a facet of our work that isn't touched by technology. Employee development is no different.

Use all the tools available to you—whether that's your LMS, video software, or even a PowerPoint that's brought to life with a voice-over—and continue to invest the time in developing your online offerings. Since time is the biggest investment with online modules, consider building a two-for-one out of one module: one that can stand alone and another that complements live facilitator-led learning.

For years, our organization has focused on the "Right Care in the Right Place at the Right Time" for our patients, and this clear set of objectives has improved our delivery of patient care. These objectives also parallel how we approach our employees' development. By taking the time to develop and design learning that is the right solution at the right time utilizing the right vehicle, we are better positioned to ensure high-quality solutions that meet our organization's goals.

TELUS: Our learning approach has four tenets:

Relevant. Learning that is provocative, purposeful, and forward thinking—it is based on neuroscience and includes feedback and coaching support to build proficiency.


Accessible. Learning that is easy to find, easy to absorb, available in the moment of need, and designed from the customer's point of view.

Personalized. Learning that is individualized and self-directed for each team member—we offer many forms of informal, formal, and social learning to support each team member's individual learning style.

Agile. Learning that can quickly adapt as the needs of the organization evolve—it leverages technology to enhance the ideal learner experience.

TELUS has been on a journey for years to integrate technology solutions that enable seamless collaboration anytime, anywhere. During COVID-19, that has meant reassessing our learning solutions to ensure that we continue to use the best modalities we have available to each learning outcome we are aiming to achieve. Our approach continues to focus on using technology to enhance, but not detract from, the learning experience.

Upskilling/reskilling for the future of work

Just as with the hastening of the digital transformation this past year, so too the future of work has been fast-tracked.

What recommendations would you give to fellow talent development professionals about how to build and retain a future-ready workforce?

Tata Consultancy Services: The reinvention of employee reskilling starts with making the talent development function purpose-centric; servicing purposes like linking learning with career; fueling business growth through right talent at the right time; building agility and hunger to learn and unlearn from wherever, whenever; and building growth and transformation leaders rather than cross-skilling employees or building learning programs.

At TCS, our strategy and investments on talent development have been business-outcome focused and pioneering in the industry. Our upskilling and reskilling of associates in various technologies have always had a tight linkage with business, where almost 80 percent of our staffing needs are directly met by internal upskilling on a regular basis now. That has been further tightened by our linking learning to a careers framework termed Elevate—a merit-based, democratized, transparent talent framework designed to establish a tighter linkage between learning, career, and rewards. This is leading to a direct impact on associate career and retention, account growth, customer satisfaction, and market brand.

Wipro: With the changing technology landscape and engagement models, it is important for organizations to upgrade the skill profile of employees on a continuous basis in tune with changing demands.

A challenge often faced is lack of a cross-skilled/multiskilled workforce. Our learning framework allows employees to cross-skill and upskill on multiple technical skills through various competency frameworks. Trend. Nxt is a gamified competency framework for employees to acquire skills with hands-on exposure. Each year, employees need to acquire two to three skills based on business demands and their career aspiration.

We also run a weekly 90-minute webinar series called "Future Ready," where leading experts are invited to talk on emerging technologies. Through our wiLearn platform, a one-stop solution for all training essentials of the organization, we have ensured our workforce is enabled for upskilling regularly. Those initiatives are creating a digital mindset in employees across roles, functions, and business units.

Organizations must future-proof their workforce by investing in and enhancing their learning ecosystem. Investments could be in the area of frameworks development, remote enablement, cloud-based ecosystems, self-paced learnings, virtual instructor-led training, gamified learning, developing partner channels, and adopting best practices.

View the entire list of 2021 BEST Award winners.

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.