Alcon Labs: Developing Customized Global Learning Strategies

Global pharmaceutical company Alcon Labs, which specializes in eye care products, has about 13,000 employees in more than 70 countries. Until about a year ago, the company’s learning and development […]

Global pharmaceutical company Alcon Labs, which specializes in eye care products, has about 13,000 employees in more than 70 countries. Until about a year ago, the company’s learning and development efforts were decentralized. In order to initiate an enterprisewide push that would drive management, employee development and leadership strategies in the same direction, Alcon switched to a centralized learning model. Some challenges, however, required a more customized approach.

For instance, after a request came in for more development offerings in Brazil, the company built a weeklong solution for high-level management training. Alcon initially performed a needs assessment to determine what changes or additions might be required for its core Global Management Development (GMD) curriculum, and then it deliberately varied the language of content delivery.

“We started out the first part of the week with English-speaking trainers and toward the middle of the week, we went to a Brazilian-Portuguese trainer,” said Dr. Jerri Liszewski, director of human resources, global learning and development. “The reason for that was we really felt at the beginning of the week people wouldn’t be tired, and they would be more open and go with English, which is their second language, even though they speak English very, very well. We ended the week with English, and it actually worked really well.”

Liszewski said cultural and language differences are top considerations when the company’s core GMD curriculum is identified as a learning solution.

“Even though we at Alcon desire to have core learning that goes out to all of our employees worldwide, we realize that the delivery mechanism — be it because of their culture or because of the language — certain things have to be kept in mind with regard to customization for those specific countries with the content being kept intact,” Liszewski said. “There had not been training in Brazil like there had been in other parts of the company, and a manager raised his hand and said, ‘We’d love to see what you’re capable of doing here.’ That was really successful, and as a result that same manager flew to Moscow to do a similar type of needs assessment.”

GMD 1 has proven to be so successful, Liszewski said the Alcon Labs has begun to develop a higher-level strategic complement, or GMD 2 program.

While the company implemented a centralized learning approach and developed core management and employee development curricula to deliver consistent global messaging, Alcon simultaneously installed a performance management system. Within that system, the company identified success factors or competencies necessary for employees, leaders and managers to be as effective as possible in their respective roles.

This served a dual purpose: It provided a foundation on which to build individual employee development plans, and it acted as a link between performance and strategic global learning initiatives.

“We have the values of the company and the expectations of how you live out the different responsibilities on the job in value terms,” Liszewski said. “If you take the success factors, the job skills, knowledge and the values, we formulate those, and that whole piece is the foundation or the driver for all of the curricula that we develop. The GMD 1 program — every element, every teaching element within that program ties back specifically to a success factor. Any given manager of an employee that goes to this program would be able to identify upfront what are the success factors, the values, or the job skills and knowledge, and then we will do a 30-, 60- and 90-day follow-up.

“Again, it’s directly tied back to the success factors that were identified for the participants, and there were written objectives for the program. Over the course of the year, there should be a correlation or a linkage between the development plan and the attendance of very specialized, specifically identified programs that will, hopefully over time, change the current behavior to the desired behavior. Eventually, you come full circle on the review process. Within the next six months, we should have a better take as to how we’re impacting the productivity and the environment holistically, which is really what we’re aiming for.”

– Kellye Whitney,