Learning Conversation with Liz Griffin, Director, Global People Team, Ernst & Young – Part 1

We  had an opportunity to talk to Liz Griffin about learning and the challenges it faces in a leading professional services company – Ernst & Young. With a career in organisational development, learning and development, HR, line management and operations spanning 27 years, Liz’s experiences have encompassed the education, hospitality, airline and professional services sectors. Since 2003, she has worked closely with Ernst & Young practices in 20 countries across Asia Pacific and was based in Hong Kong working across Asia from 2006 – 2010. More recently, Liz was the Asia Pacific Learning and Development leader, overseeing a team of 140 learning and development professionals across 13 countries in supporting the delivery of a global people development strategy. Currently, Liz is in a global organisational development internal consulting role based in Sydney.

Jeevan: Liz, welcome to Learning Conversations.

Liz: Thank you.

Jeevan: Liz, let’s talk about how you got into learning ? Did you choose it as a profession?

Liz: I asked two of my nieces in their final year in school  what they wanted to do and in both cases they had no idea. It made me reflect where I was at that stage of my life.  I always remember as a young teenager I was really clear that I wanted to be a teacher. I had been a Sunday school teacher at the age of 12, and a ballet teacher by the age of 16. I qualified to be a teacher and taught for four year in a primary school. That then led to an opportunity to move into organizations and adult  learning.  What  is really interesting is that I found the core skills I used in schools helped me as an organizational development professional.

Jeevan: So you are still dealing with kids in corporates?

Liz: That is right. Lot of similarities.

Jeevan: That is quite an interesting move. I know that many teachers  tend to remain in teaching. So made you change from teaching kids to teaching adults?

Liz: I like learning and taking opportunities.  I was given an opportunity to become an international flight attendant with Qantas.  I thought I would fly around the world for three years and then go back to teaching. Within Qantas I moved in to learning and development within cabin services, gained line management experience and then came back to cabin services to lead the learning and development department.

Jeevan: Liz, let us now about the some of the challenges in your current role. Ernst & Young has  over 27 000 people across Asia Pacific in different practices and industries. How do you get the whole picture of what learning is required?

Liz: For several years Ernst & Young has had a real focus on globalization. It is one of our core pillars of our strategy. Clients in Beijing, or New York, Sydney or Mumbai  expect the same type of service from Ernst & Young. Providing a consistent  experience means we need to demonstrate  common values, and consistent service delivery through our expert skills and knowledge. Over the last couple of years we have put in place a global learning framework for all levels of the organisation which also has the flexibility to cater for local needs. That is a mixture of the specialized training such as the latest tax updates or quality and risk management and essential training such as communications skills, business strategy and leadership development. The framework is based on our global strategy what our  clients need in these complex times, and  what are the skills and knowledge and experiences that people actually need to deliver consistently quality service and build their careers? It also defines how we deliver quality programs that ensures the transfer of learning linked to coaching and on the job experiences.

Jeevan: How do you ensure that the framework is kept up to date with changing and local requirements? 

Liz: It’s a good question because I remember talking to one of my colleagues in Hong Kong about this. The good thing about our global approach is in order for it to work in different markets, considering economic, cultural, social and political needs you have to actually understand how to build that and you build that collaboratively. So, if we identify a particular need and we say this is really important, for example our new manager program, we get representatives from the key areas and sub-areas to actually come together  on a regular basis, more virtually than face to face to actually work together, in addition to other key functional groups such as quality and risk management. What we’ve trying to do is to ensure the consistency of content, key messages and the learning we want but also, to ensure it is flexible enough to be delivered to people from a range of cultural backgrounds. Another key element of our strategy is inclusive leadership. Our global learning framework of learning, coaching and experiences is focused on a consistent approach with local flexibility and building inclusive leaders with a global mindset.
Jeevan: Let’s talk about assisting consultant’s transition into a new position that requires a different skill set. Does E&Y have some learning accelerators to get them  productive in the least amount of time?

Liz: We’re trying to take a very systematic approach to learning. So our global learning framework  is not just about learning programs, as we all know key learning happens on the job, so the focus is also on experiences, coaching and mentoring .. We have a global high potential program  for senior managers where it’s very focused on gaining those business experiences, Being mentored and coached, being able to network not only with their peers but also with the leadership, as well as building their brand and reputation.  This initiative, facilitated over 2 years, prepares them to become partners and ensures the transition is as smooth and effective as possible considering this is one of the most challenging transitions. One key aspect is how we bring people together, not only from different business specialities but also across borders. As a result, the program for Asia Pacific this year will be launched in Malaysia, bringing together over 100 participants from many countries across the region. The purpose is to bring together a  diverse range of leaders who can learn from each other about different  markets, economies, expertise and cultural experiences.

Part 2 of the interview will be published next week. Sign up for a summary blog newsletter on our home page (top right).