Learning Conversation with Liz Griffin, Director, Global People Team, Ernst & Young – Part 2

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.

This is part 2 of the interview. Part 1 is here.

Jeevan: Liz, “keeping up” learning must be tough. What is the challenge for the learning function within a profession services for, like Ernst & Young?

Liz: As we all know, the world is so dynamic, ever changing, and unpredictable. In addition,  we have to deal with a lot of adversity at the moment. We need to make sure our services are dynamic and meet the current needs of the clients.

From a learning point of view, providing  our people with “just in time” learning whether it’s coaching, experiences, or learning programs, to ensure we are developing the latest business knowledge and skills is key.

With our focus on global mindset, it’s also about how people learn about other markets. A recent global study shows that 44% of companies across the world in the next 3 years are looking at expanding into other geographies, so it’s also about keeping ahead of what’s happening. We also focus on industry specific learning for consultants.

The other challenge is the perception that learning has an opportunity cost. There is a cost to us, when we take people away from our clients. We strive to build a culture where learning  is thought about as an investment to build the skills in our people so that they can help our clients and build their careers. As a result, we  have to pinpoint what is needed and when, be flexible in getting leadership sponsorship. We all know that development is why people often join  or leave organizations.  So, the learning needs to develop skills and knowledge around clients issues and opportunities, be congruent with the organisation’s strategy, develop potential and build people’s careers.

Jeevan: Is the total time that consultants have to spend a long time in learning increasing? And if it is, does it conflict with the need to spend more time on client facing activities?

Liz: There is always a need to increase utilisation of consultants while providing them enough time to learn and grow. We focus on helping people learn in a variety of different ways, in addition to formal  face to face learning.

There is an increasing component of web-based learning for compliance learning and coaching on the job or project. The key is in how we link it all together.  The other opportunity is how we are using different types of technology to deliver knowledge and keeping people up to date. We’ve just launched an application, that’s for ipods, iphones and other devices that provide to the user Ernst & Young thought leadership  produced all around the world and is applicable in a range of different markets. The idea is, it’s not just available for our clients but it is also available for people to keep up to date and then be able to talk to a client about this information.

Jeevan: That brings us to an interesting point.  A lot of formal learning  is tracked but informal learning is difficult to track. Should this lack of tracking bother a learning professional?

Liz: Metrics are important  where we can have  useful and meaningful data to report back to our business but I think sometimes we have metrics for the sake of having metrics.  For me, it’s about building a culture of lifelong learning. While it is important to track formal learning, particularly from a CPA point of view for our professionals, the key is to build a culture of providing  coaching,  life experiences and developing the potential of our people.

How is learning actually supporting that type of culture, what are the leaders saying and doing? It doesn’t matter what industry that you’re in, whether you’re in a big or small company, not for profit or government.  I think, it’s actually around what’s the culture you’ve built and how important do people  see this for the sustainability of the organization, including the attraction and retention and engagement of people. The culture impacts the success of an organisation and the return on an investment. If you have a positive approach to lifelong learning starting from the top and that’s embedded in all the different process and systems you have in your organisation, you find that you’re getting more return, in terms of people feeling there is a good value proposition in investing in learning from an organisational and individual career building perspective. Building a lifelong learning culture takes time but is vital. This is one of the ways we survive in times of rapid change. How many times do organisations go back and revisit the strategy because something’s happening in the world and it’s impacting the organisation. Being able to adapt and grow through innovates and collaboration is the key to survival and success stories.

Jeevan: Lastly, tell us your views about building the global mindset, which is your current project.

Liz: One of the things we are focused on is building a global  mindset where you have inclusive leaders that can advise global clients about current and futures challenges and opportunities. Let’s take leadership, for example. An aspect of leadership is influencing people. Many of us have learned how to influence very well through learning, experiences or coaching but often these has been done within one market.  So, the challenge now for a lot of all organisations is that, when you are influencing, you are not just influencing your clients, your supply chain, government bodies, your communities, your teams within one market, now they’re coming from different cultural, social, political and institutional backgrounds so it’s about how you start flexing your style. It’s also important about how you develop global mindset.

There’s been a lot of research done in terms of psychological capital (have got the passion for diversity), intellectual capital (learning about the business issues in many markets on the global stage) and social capital (how do you demonstrate intraculture empathy). What is key is how you develop inclusive leadership  using the diversity of your team to come up with innovative solutions. We all know that homogenous  teams don’t always perform as well as diverse teams and we know diverse teams sometimes have a few challenges, coming together but once they do come together, they always perform much better. So it’s about how you also use your teams to be able to leverage the skills, knowledge and experiences to drive innovation.

Ernst & Young has produced a lot of thought leadership around this for the last couple of years and this is often being presented in the World Economic Forums. Leveraging a global mindset is key for how we move into the next global phase and we need to be nimble to deal with the complexities of this very interconnected world, where we all know that something that happens in one part of the world does have a huge impact on other parts of the world.  We also know that our clients aren’t just looking for markets within their home country, many are wanting to expand into other cross border markets through their operations or supply chains. While the world is becoming smaller and smaller, we are far more complex and sophisticated and as the result, we need to have people that are able to manage this complexity. People, generally, have really good intentions when working with people from different backgrounds, but unless you do a lot of supporting and learning around the global mindset, you have good people with good intentions but often there is miscommunications and that leads to relationship breakdowns. So, being an inclusive leader with a global mindset is key to doing business and working cross border and leading in a dynamic, complex and ever changing world.

Jeevan: This one’s about devices, and how it’s changing learning in Ernst & Young?

Liz: I think, people have welcomed the latest use of technology (e.g. iphones and ipods).   We now receive requests for learning to be available on mobile devices and tablets.  Our people are telling us, particularly the younger generations that we need to get very creative and innovative. It is about how you make learning timely and relevant but fun, as well.

Jeevan: Liz, thank you so much for your time. It has been a pleasure to talk to you.