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October 2018
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TD Magazine

Secrets of the Winner's Circle

Analyzing the 2018 BEST Award winners.

When it comes to talent development programs, excellence is no accident. ATD Research crunched the data from the 2018 BEST Award-winning organizations and found that this elite group is remarkable in many ways, with two especially compelling stories. First, BEST Award winners stay ahead of the competition by leveraging a variety of technologies and tools at high rates to both deliver and evaluate learning. Second, senior executives across all the winning organizations are deeply involved in talent development—not just as advocates and planners but as instructors.

More than 90 percent of the winning group, which covers a wide range of company sizes and industries (see infographic), use virtual classrooms to deliver learning. Virtual classrooms enable learners to participate remotely in live instructor-led training through videoconferencing, Internet meeting rooms, or other tools. Adoption among nonwinners is lower; the ATD Research report Virtual Classrooms Now: Using Technology to Reach Today's Workforces indicates that less than two-thirds of all organizations use virtual classrooms.

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This year's BEST winners also use other technology-based tools in their learning programs. In fact, eight in 10 award winners give all employees access to social networking tools to support learning. These top companies have launched internal social networks, collaboration platforms, message boards, chat rooms, and wikis. Multiple winners also maintain thriving online communities of internal subject matter experts or gurus. Additionally, more than three-quarters of the winning group give workers the option of accessing learning from their smartphones via mobile learning applications.

BEST companies are clearly ahead of the curve. By comparison, only half of all companies use social media in learning and only one-third have experimented with mobile learning, even though both methods can expand learning to new audiences and quickly provide individuals with the specific knowledge they need when they need it.

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Given that BEST winners are recognized for using talent development programs to achieve organizational success, it's no surprise that they use a variety of tools to gather and evaluate learning data. The vast majority of winners (more than 80 percent) track individual employees' learning histories using their learning management system or other technology. Learning data from individuals doesn't just help companies evaluate programs; it can help ensure that learning content, development plans, and career paths are a match for individual employees. Furthermore, to demonstrate the impact of talent development on company performance, almost all BEST Award-winning teams analyze the learning data they collect alongside business data from other departments (such as income statements, sales reports, and customer satisfaction scores) using spreadsheets, statistical packages, and data visualization tools. This practice is rare among nonwinners. According to the ATD Research report Evaluating Learning: Getting to Measurements That Matter, a mere quarter of all companies do it.

Executive participation in developing employees also is a hallmark of BEST winners. At all the winning companies, executives go beyond publicly advocating for the importance of employee development—they participate in talent development programs as a speaker or instructor. ATD Research has found that employing leaders as teachers drives engagement, delivers company-specific knowledge, and exposes learners to executives. To realize these benefits, BEST winners were likely to feature senior leaders in new-hire onboarding and programs for future leaders and high potentials.

View the entire list of 2018 BEST Award winners.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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