Similarly, Tiffany & Co. holds quarterly meetings to go over earnings with employees who have previously completed a business-simulation exercise, to reiterate some of the concepts from that training. The simulation itself, run once or twice a year with help from BTS, introduces people to such concepts as the trade-offs inherent in the annual business-planning process, and the need to consider the returns of various investments. But “if that training were a one-time event, most people would end up forgetting the majority of it over time,” says Pat McGuiness, Tiffany’s senior vice president of finance, since few (even within finance) work with those concepts every day.
So Tiffany’s finance leaders and BTS augment that training by explaining the business strategy behind various numbers in the 10-Q. “If you’re going to do something quarterly, you need to leverage what’s already there, or it won’t be very cost-effective,” McGuiness says. In addition to covering key elements from the quarterly financial results, they might highlight why the company decided to make certain investments and pull back on others, or analyze the current competitive landscape in the luxury-goods market. Hundreds of employees, even those who haven’t previously attended the simulation training, join the Webcast each quarter, McGuiness says, which entails little additional cost.
Ultimately, finance chiefs are likely to find the best success with a blend of structure and flexibility. But more important than the mix may be the explicit endorsement of the very idea of training. Not only should CFOs encourage their staffs to expand their knowledge bases, but they should also lead by example.
That’s why, in part, Autodesk’s Hawkins recently completed a three-day Directors’ College course at Stanford Law School for board members (he is on the board of BMC Software). Besides helping Hawkins professionally, the venture makes it easier to convince his staff to find the time to enhance their own learning: “I tell them, ‘If I can go, you can go.’”
Alix Stuart is senior editor for human capital and careers at CFO.
Searching for the Right Blend
Customized executive-education programs don’t always earn high grades from companies.
While the training budget is typically one of the first to face the ax when times get tough, officials at schools that offer custom executive-education programs say companies have continued to show strong interest in such offerings over the past two years.
Stephen Burnett, associate dean of education at Northwestern University, says that although
open-enrollment executive-education programs saw a plunge in enrollment in 2009, the 75 or so custom programs that the school has tailored for individual companies have held up “fairly well” throughout the recession. Burnett says companies continue to invest in these programs because the focus is on equipping high-level executives to become more efficient or more effective in a specific area. That leaves even floundering companies “hard-pressed to stop offering them,” he says.