Comcast University: Using Training to Become a "Top Place to Work"

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Martha Soehren

Human Resources iQ Speaks with Martha Soehren, Chief Learning Officer for Comcast Cable about the learning and training strategies, trends and challenges at the United States' largest cable operator.

HRIQ: Comcast is consistently rated as a "top place to work." What role does learning and training play in employee engagement and continuous talent development and sustained employee engagement?

Martha Soehren: Comcast is indeed a great place to work – we have very strong and solid leadership at the top of the organization, and they drive and make smart decisions. They are trusted for not only doing what’s right for the business, but for our employees and our customers.

Senior leadership across the organization strongly believes that the learning organization (Comcast University) plays a huge role in employee engagement, improving the customer experience, and growing the business – quickly! In 2009, we gained tremendous support to centralize learning and standardize content so that we can better ensure a consistent learner experience to drive a consistent customer experience – one that pleases our customers. We executed on the new learning model in January of 2010. It is working extremely well. What’s most important here senior leadership’s appreciation for growing and developing employees while improving the business. We [trained] conducted about 4.5M hours of training in Comcast in 2010 and are tracking for a similar investment this year – a true testament that our leaders support getting employees the skills to do their jobs and to develop them for future roles. We published our first annual report in January. The data is compelling.

How does learning drive the corporate strategy and align the development of people with the business goals of your organization?

Learning doesn’t drive the corporate strategy, it aligns with the strategy. We established a National Executive Learning Council for Comcast last year, and it includes members of the C-suite and some of the most senior leaders at Headquarters and the field. When we meet, this body ensures alignment between the business and learning, sets new expectations and strategy, ensuring learning priorities are in alignment with both the business imperatives in the pipe line as well as key performance indicator (KPI) data across the business that is monitored on a minute-to-minute basis, in many cases. At the end of Q4, the Council implemented a requirement that all front-line leaders in Comcast get 24 hours of instructor-led training this year so that we can ensure we’re building their skills in alignment with job expectations. We want supervisors to spend the majority of their time coaching their team members. We want them in the field, in the homes, and in the call centers assisting, giving feedback, and driving a better customer experience with their team members. This important group of executive leaders on the Council sees this need and for the first time, implemented a goal that holds us all accountable for developing the leaders with the goal being to improve the employee and customer experience.

We feel so strongly about ensuring we’re in front of the pipeline of business imperative work, that we established a business imperative team in Comcast University to connect daily with our enterprise project management office to define what’s needed from a learning solution perspective and drive the learning components of product trials, betas, and pilots. It’s serving us extremely well. When we presented the business case for a centralized learning organization in 2009, the most pushback from the business was we wouldn’t stay in front of the pipeline and be as responsive as needed on business imperatives. That is now a myth.


How do you run your internal training like a business?

We have about 100K people in Comcast Cable, we have about 24 million customers, and we have about 500 L&D professionals. We now have a centralized budget. 100 percent of us have goals that cascade to the company goals and strategic business objectives. We have to run training like a business – we have to know where the pain points are in the business and build learning solutions that target them. An example might be where a call center is struggling with contact rate (the number of times a customer has to call us). We look at the key reasons the customers call and ensure our employees know how to handle those calls better and quicker. We have some good examples of KPI improvement as a result of the learning solutions.

What’s the role of your internal training in the knowledge management process within the organization, and how do you identify and leverage critical knowledge to maximum advantage?

Our knowledge management system is managed by National Customer Operations. They are doing a nice job cleaning and simplifying the data housed. In learning, we build activities around the information in the knowledge base for a few reasons – to ensure we’re teaching the learners to fish for the most current information in a single repository – and to ensure that L&D professionals are staying current on its content. We are extremely connected with our operations partners who write the methods and procedures that we build operational training from – and that is critical upfront knowledge.

What tools do you use to gather and analyze data to determine where there are areas in need of improvement, or opportunities for greater knowledge sharing across the organization?

We use many sources. We have the strategic key performance indicators defined for each functional group of employees and leaders in Comcast. Every learning solution we produce has connectivity to the applicable set of KPIs. We also conduct an annual Comcast University "voice of the customer" survey – a 180 – internal only. We do this to get a pulse on how well we’re serving. Depending on the business plan points/needs we administer skills-need surveys, conduct focus groups with applicable employee groups and review all KPI data for those groups. We’re currently doing surveys and focus groups in three of our markets wanting to improve their customer experience based on lower-than-preferred KPIs. This is something we’re getting really good at – and it’s paying off for Comcast a story at a time.

And for transactional learning data, we have SAP’s LSO – and we have a shared services team within the learning organization that manages all data input and extraction of data.

What trends are you observing this year within learning and training, and what challenges accompany these changes?

Currently, we’re experience a greater demand for our L&D consulting skills, particularly in the analysis work. This is keeping us busy in our operational colleges. We’re loving the fact we’re showing the impact of learning – and are extremely pleased to be so connected with our business partners and business leaders. I remember five years ago when we had to plead to get to a table with our business leaders – today, it’s almost always the norm. We have very engaged and smart business leaders. The challenges we have are keeping up with the pace and ensuring we continue to simplify and chunk learning without compromising the practical application for our employees. One other challenge that goes along with this is our goal of more blended learning solutions across functional groups that align technologies and learning activities with learning styles and generational groups. We’re getting better at this.

Recently, has there been any reinvention of your training programs through technology or eLearning? Has this resulted in improved processes throughout your company?

Absolutely – we redesigned our new hire training for our almost 26K call center employees and have rolled it across 14 markets and continue to roll across the enterprise. We’re seeing improvement with first call resolution, voice of the customer, and transitional sales rates that are higher than the average of the call center 30, 60, and 90 days post training. We’re seeing some uptick in trend data of the retention of employees trained using this complex blended learning solution. We’re doing the same for several of our functional groups of employees. We have a blended solution for our technicians and supervisors designed to teach better trouble shooting skills when in our customers’ homes that showed a 22 percent reduction in trucks rolling to the homes in the pilot alone – meaning we’re doing the job right the first time, more often. This content is almost completely rolled across the enterprise. We have a learning solution designed to help our network techs stabilize and maintain very high levels of node health and integrity (where our customers signals flow from to their homes/businesses), and in one market alone we saw node integrity go from 72 percent to 98 percent in 30 days and maintained at that level 90 days post training for those nodes isolated during the training activities. That trend is happening across the enterprise as we deliver the training.

In summary – Comcast is a terrific company. It’s innovative, has a family-like culture, is very fast-paced, and a place where we find immense employee passion. Learning is very aligned with the business – not perfectly, but certainly in a way that is positively impacting the business and the customer experience.