Grant Thornton LLP is one of the largest audit, tax, and advisory firms in the U.S. With 51 offices nationwide, Grant Thornton is a community of more than 8,000 problem solvers who value relationships and are ready to help organizations of all sizes and industries create more confident futures.
As a professional services firm, it’s important that all Grant Thornton professionals are on the leading edge in regards to their expertise, while all client-facing employees have the additional requirement of accruing Continuing Professional Education (CPE) hours each calendar year.
Amy Happ, the firm’s Director of Leadership Development and Learning Innovation, saw how digital badging could play a pivotal role in the learning organization’s strategy to move away from a CPE compliance culture and foster a true learning culture across the firm.
“It became clear that we needed to be more strategic about what we want our employees to learn and what skills we needed to compete in an increasingly-competitive business environment.”
The Colleague Learning & Effectiveness team at Grant Thornton set out to transition the company into a skills-based organization focused on building and maintaining expertise among its professionals.
Partnering with Credly to develop a new digital credentialing program for Grant Thornton proved crucial. Credly allows Happ and the learning team to design and issue badges across its learning and development curriculum, provide incentives for course completion and engagement, and gain valuable insights into how learners discover and consume course content.
The first step was identifying a set of professional skills that were applicable for employees in different roles and at all levels to master. The team referenced the firm’s Career Continuum of core responsibilities and expectations and matched skills to available content through the firm’s licensed content providers such as LinkedIn Learning, Becker, PSI, AICPA, and its own Grant Thornton generated content, and created an initial set of learning pathways that would result in digital badges.
Initially launched with just four badges, Grant Thornton’s digital badging program now offers over 40 Credly badges across four collections (Professional Skills; Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion; Growth; and Advisory Technical) and two levels (Foundational and Experienced)—providing learners across the organization with a clear learning path for gaining the skills they need in their current roles as well as for career advancement. At least ten more are in development, with the first Advanced level badge coming in 2022.
“Credly is clearly the premiere provider in the digital badging space, and we really needed to work with the experts to pull off transitioning to a skills-based learning organization,” Happ said. “As soon as the engagement started with the customer success team, we quickly realized that Credly and digital badging could be a critical kicking off point for so many things we wanted to do—like packaging courses together, creating learning paths based on skills, and allowing learners to share and showcase their verifiable skills.”
According to Happ, issuing badges that can be shared on social media has improved course completion rates and helped spread the word among employees about the firm’s digital badging program
And according to badge earners within Grant Thornton, the ability to complete the courses at their own pace makes it easy to incorporate learning into daily work, and gain CPE credit hours as they progress.
The culture of learning is reinforced when managers and more senior level employees complete a course and then recommend it to others, including new associates.
The digital badging program also allows Happ to put data behind Grant Thornton’s learning and development strategies. Metadata from each Credly badge provides valuable insights into who is completing each course and, combined with other sources of assessment data, Happ can see and share with managers how these learners’ productivity compares to employees who haven’t earned a badge.
The Success of the Manager Development Program
Grant Thornton’s Manager Development Program (MDP) is a testament to the transformation in learning and development enabled by digital credentialing.
All employees promoted to a manager role are enrolled in MDP to give them the tools they need to perform as a leader in the company. While the curriculum was well received, the program team wanted to boost learner engagement in the program.
The learning team worked to create an Experienced-level badge that could be earned if the manager completed a specific set of criteria over the course of a year. The incentive to earn the digital badge proved successful, and of the 232 new managers who finished MDP last year, 83 committed to and earned the Experienced-level MDP badge.
Happ then compared the productivity metrics of managers who achieved the badge with those who didn’t, and found the following:
- MDP badge earners managed an average of 18% more total monetary value in their engagements than non-badge earners.
- MDP badge earners exceeded their target number of “billable hours” by 0.9% while those who did not earn the badge fell short of their target by an average of 0.2%.
Happ acknowledges that it’s unclear whether the results were causation or correlation. But at the very least the data helps identify employees with a growth mindset who could be considered hi-potentials—information that will help with career pathing within Grant Thornton.
Forging the Future with a Skills-Based Organization
Happ is excited to dive further into the analytics provided by the digital badges to continue to optimize learning journeys for each employee. Program metrics provide insights into which programs are working, which have room for improvement, and how they foretell future performance.
One of the firm’s next steps is to launch a Skills Framework. Built by their Professional Skills Learning Leader, Adrianne Claybrooks, the Skills Framework distills job responsibilities and expectations into a set of core skills for each job level and bucketed into the categories of: leadership, inclusive collaboration, business and digital acumen, growth and industry, and operational savvy. Future initiatives and digital badges will be aligned to top skills in the framework.
However, Happ and the learning team understand that putting a framework in place is only the first step in this ongoing business transformation. Getting people to buy into the skills-based organization concept and new learning and development strategies will require additional incentives and better visibility into learners’ behavior. The learning team has several initiatives planned to continue this journey, and digital badging will continue to play a central role.
Digital Badging Program