There is much to be said about strength in numbers. By powering learning through strategic partnerships, organizations can improve training for employees and increase performance for the business. In a challenging market, leveraging partnerships creates a competitive advantage. It’s a smart business practice.

Hilton Worldwide is a global leader in hospitality with 10 brands at roughly 3,800 properties in 88 countries. As with any global business, creating a unified training program is no easy task. After Hilton Hotels Corporation and Hilton International reunited as one company in 2007, a need to transform the learning function began to emerge. Until the company became Hilton Worldwide in 2009, learning was dispersed around the corporation, with many departments performing their own training.

To help form a more unified approach to talent management, Dottie Brienza was hired as the first senior vice president of global talent management at Hilton Worldwide to oversee diversity, recruitment, performance management, executive and leadership development and learning. During this transition, Hilton Worldwide restructured its HR strategy and all enterprise learning began to move to one virtual platform: Hilton Worldwide University (HWU).

One of Hilton Worldwide’s key strategic priorities is to maximize performance across the enterprise. To generate this performance improvement, Hilton Worldwide University was created to educate its team members, as well as employees and owners at its franchise properties. HWU houses five colleges: the hotel college, the owner’s college, the commercial college, the leadership college and the college of general studies.

“Part of our philosophy around learning is to deliver the best quality at a competitive price with easy access to our organization,” said Brienza. “It’s a best-in-breed approach.”

A portion of Hilton Worldwide’s training content is developed in-house, especially in areas that are considered proprietary, such as brand training, as well as other areas that would offer a competitive advantage, such as revenue management, sales and some leadership development. In addition to internally developing curriculum, HWU also utilizes partnerships with suppliers to develop and tailor programs for general studies courses, and for some management and leadership training. Hilton Worldwide blends internal content with externally distinguished providers and universities like eCornell, Harvard Business Publishing, The Economist, Wharton Business School and IMD.

“It’s a best practice for us to blend external partnerships with internal development and design of programs,” said Brienza. “When it comes to general management training or broader leadership training we really like to partner with top universities known to deliver excellent programs with speakers who are well known subject matter experts, and who provide top quality content. Harvard Business Publishing, eCornell, Wharton and IMD are all well-renowned universities globally, that offer well-respected content.”

With over 300,000 employees to reach worldwide, having a variety of training methods is critical to business development. Hilton Worldwide is taking a blended approach, offering everything from week-long classroom programs to one-hour, independent virtual learning, and everything in-between. The company embraces the use of technology and virtual learning, but doesn’t discount the need for face-to-face training when relevant.

“Technology is becoming really important for us and trying to weave that into what we do takes balance,” said Brienza. “We need to provide training for our team members in a variety of ways to make it easily accessible. It’s just the nature of our industry where a lot of people travel and we need to deliver training to them that is easily downloadable. We’re trying to do more with that. There are also capabilities that are best learned in a live classroom or conference setting where face-to-face interaction supports skill building. So although we are moving more of our learning curriculum to virtual delivered methods, there will still be the need for some to be delivered in person.”

Learning at Hilton Worldwide has always had positive impacts on the business. At the property level, Hilton Worldwide is able to measure direct ROI improvement in both customer satisfaction scores and revenue following training delivery. And learning is also a means by which Hilton continuously improves employee engagement scores.

The future of training looks promising at Hilton Worldwide, but there will be ongoing room to innovate and improve. In the future, Hilton Worldwide wants to provide even more offerings to its franchises. While they already offer a lot of support, brand training and advice, HWU plans to do more.

“From a business standpoint, it would be great when we develop new franchise properties to offer broader Hilton Worldwide University curriculum as an additional optional service for our franchisees. I think that would make Hilton Worldwide an even more attractive investment opportunity for current and potential franchisees.”

In the span of a few short years, Hilton Worldwide has restructured its HR strategy, centralized learning in a virtual university and leveraged partnerships to create a stronger, more profitable brand. Talent management and learning is helping to further align team members with the business and maximize performance across the enterprise, one course at a time.

“We want to continually stay relevant and deliver topics that are fresh, meaningful, and add value to our team members and business, and are supportive of our business strategies,” said Brienza. “It’s all about competitive advantage for us and striving to be the first choice for team members and owners alike.”