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Jill Vitiello (Computerworld) -- Only two days into her new job as director of finance for the enterprise technology services unit at The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc. in Hartford, Conn., Mary Tiberti was already tackling the critical task of developing leadership skills.

Tiberti was invited to attend the company's first IT leadership forum. Although she had prior management experience, she says, she was interested in hearing The Hartford's perspective on how to "grow" or groom IT leaders.

The forum gave IT managers tools to attract and retain top talent based on motivating people rather than trying to make them happy. Although Tiberti says she considered the forum valuable, she never expected it to be the catalyst for The Hartford's virtual corporate university, which has helped her and her 30 staff members increase their knowledge base and advance their careers.

"The leadership forums are a great way to network with peers, hear about Hartford's strategic concepts and fit our individual responsibilities into the framework of the organization's goals," says Tiberti.

During the past 20 years, corporate universities have migrated away from the ivy-covered academic institutions they emulated. Today, they more often consist of a partnership formed between an IT department and a local college to offer online training and distance learning companywide.

"A corporate university is the strategic management of a company's learning function, generally led by a chief learning officer," says Jeanne Meister, president of Corporate University Xchange Inc., a consulting firm in New York that specializes in corporate university management.

Traditionally, most corporate universities have concentrated their curricula on training junior and midlevel employees. However, a recent trend toward in-house executive education has led some companies to include a new emphasis on leadership development in their programs.

At The Hartford, "we noticed a need to beef up leadership development within IT," says John Madigan, vice president of IT human resources. "Studies show that managers have an important role in people leaving or staying with a company."

In 1999, the insurance firm held a one-day conference for its 350-member IT leadership team to teach the skills for improving retention. It was so successful that The Hartford now runs the IT leadership forums every quarter.

Learning Leadership

At The Boeing Co. in Seattle, leadership education is delivered in a variety of ways, according to Jan Wilmott, director of executive learning programs at Boeing's 2-year-old Leadership Center in St. Louis.

Employees who are promoted to their first supervisory position must complete a Web-based curriculum within 30 days. The training provides a basic instruction to company policies and procedures, finding and using resources, and understanding fiduciary responsibilities. Then entry-level managers are required to spend one week at a local training site studying performance management, reviewing organizational structure and learning state and regional laws and regulations that govern the IT industry.

Finally, the managers must attend an introductory session at the Leadership Center, where for two weeks, they meet with Boeing managers from around the world to develop leadership skills.

Boeing's 2,000 executives and 24,000 managers keep the center booked solid. They're required to take core leadership courses at the center at five specific turning points in their careers: when they receive their first management assignments, become managers of managers, prepare for executive responsibilities, begin their first days as executives and assume the challenges of global leadership.

"There is a place in our world for distance learning and online sessions, but the essence of leadership has to do with interpersonal skills and behaviors," Wilmott says. "The Leadership Center is about bringing people together and creating a common vision and language and direction for the company.

"We want our managers to understand what our economic profit model is, how we create value and what a topperforming, global organization is all about," he adds. "You can't get that from reading an e-mail. We use the center to roll out those messages."

Return on Investment

Measuring the return on investment of a corporate university or leadership development program is tricky. "Employers with online courses have more information on the exact skills and capabilities that employees bring to the job," says Meister.

It's one thing to measure how well a programmer did on a Java certification exam, but it's another to figure the value of training IT executives.

Boeing uses several metrics to evaluate the effectiveness of the programs delivered at its Leadership Center, including its annual employee survey. The survey has shown that executives and managers who have attended programs at the Leadership Center are more satisfied in their jobs than those who haven't yet attended the programs. Even more important, says Wilmott, is that employee satisfaction scores are higher for groups whose leaders have been to the center.

"People report they see a difference in their managers' behaviors and abilities as a result of attending programs at the learning center," he says.

Two other general indicators are critical, too, according to Wilmott.

"The first measurement is, do the managers come back to the center willingly for more training? And the second is, do headhunters come to Boeing to recruit executives for other companies?" he says. "Of course, companies are only as good as their leaders, and Boeing's stock price [has] doubled in the last 18 months."

(c) 2001 Computerworld

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