While the trend is to centralize learning to control quality, costs, and management, Johnson & Johnson launched a successful e-learning system using a different approach. Headquartered on a small campus in New Jersey, Johnson & Johnson is one of the world’s most globalizes firms, manufacturing health care and personal care products in 60-plus countries and selling them in virtually every country in the world. Known for its customer-based values, the highly decentralized corporation faces a major challenge managing its more than 230 diverse, independent business units.
Central to the Johnson & Johnson culture and a source of competitive advantage is its Credo, a set of values that for 70 years as created the cultural ties that bind the organization. But by design, the Johnson & Johnson family of companies is anything but tied together. Johnson & Johnson, which began to decentralized long before it became fashionable in corporate America, enables each business unit to operate as a separate entity, deciding whom to hire and what products to produce.
The organization gains a competitive advantage by letting the diverse companies create their own identities and pursue their own markets. In this environment, current knowledge management injects life into the organization and translates into future profits. Every year Johnson & Johnson invests millions of dollars in workforce training and development, a practice consistent with the Credo values. To eliminate redundancy and provide better training, the corporation tries to support learning while keeping the advantages of a decentralized company.
How do you maintain a decentralized structure while providing development for all employees? In 2002, Johnson & Johnson created a corporate university, an electronic platform that makes training and development opportunities available to more than 1 00,000 employees spread across the globe. Begun as a platform offering three Credo-based training programs, university evolved into a single system that consolidates disparate learning programs and technologies used by the various J companies.
Johnson & Johnson managers wanted the system to leverage existing functional, regional, and operating company-specific learning and development systems with full utilization of Internet technology. 2 Rather than simply implementing a new technology, however, the electiveness connects the separate business units with learning. “Success is less about engaging technologies and more bout engaging people,” Says electiveness director Eke Eng Ye. 3 The principle is to tap into the independence of each Johnson & Johnson group and capture the diverse¶y’ of thought, rather than trying to control all training from headquarters.
The decentralized approach helps managers feel a sense of ownership in the system and builds enthusiasm that spreads through the workforce. More than 75 Josh mason & Johnson companies have offered training programs to other companies through university. This cross-fertilization of knowledge gives employees an opportunity to learn and, many believe, a rarer competitive advantage. The university is a valuable resource both to employees in planning and completing training and to HER managers in coaching or counseling employees about career development.
The biggest challenge now in the corporation’s HER management, says Okay Foster-Cheek, vice president of human resources, is ensuring that their workforce has relevant skills to move forward. 4 The learning system and widespread employee participation in it can help meet that challenge. Johnson & Johnson has reaped several benefits from electiveness. One is improved use of resources. The corporation saved millions as it leveraged content from outside vendors across the entire system. The Web-based system partners well with the classroom environment.
To complete a Leadership Fundamentals course, for example, managers go through 26 lessons online, then meet with other managers for three days of discussion. The time together is spent in application and real-life problem solving instead of simply learning basic concepts. The learning system has reduced classroom training for sales representatives by as much as 40 percent, and thus reduced travel and accommodation costs and increased the number of ailing days for qualified salespeople. 5 Other benefits were unexpected.
Management had not anticipated how much employees would learn from peers in similar situations. Smaller J companies gained access to the best learning experiences from other companies and to offerings from contract learning providers. Finally, university provided a new opportunity to engage in dialogue about applying the Johnson & Johnson Credo. With The electiveness helps Johnson & Johnson provide learning opportunities critical to professional development and creates a competitive advantage for the corporation.
Discussion Questions Why is university a valuable human resource management tool for the Johnson & Johnson organization? Discuss the comment from the university director, who said, “Success is less about engaging technologies and more about engaging people. ” What has Johnson & Johnson done to make electiveness successful?