Our conversation about change and alignment started in June 2017, shortly after Dina became head of corporate training and development at Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), one of the world’s largest oil refiners. Oil refining is low-return, log-growth, capital-intensive and environmentally uncertain, and the training budgets at several oil refiners had shrunk sizably in recent years. We wanted to take the training function from being “on the table” to being “at the table” — to make it a value-driver and partner in achieving business objectives, not the cost center it has been, vulnerable to deep budget cuts in lean times.

But how?

We distilled our deliberations into one question: If the corporate training function were an independent business unit, would it survive on its own? The answer was no, which led us to crystallize our vision for change into another question: What should we do to make corporate training a self-sustaining, independent business unit — a value-driver that supports the bottom-line?

A value-driver needs a customer focus and a menu of solid learning solutions that meet their needs, underpinned by a commitment to continually learn together. We developed four broad themes to guide ideation and execution: cost optimization, customer focus, budgeting and accounting, and aligning corporate training with the business.

Cost Optimization

To gain a bigger bang for our buck, we had to limit travel to only the learning events that brought significant value in terms of knowledge and networking opportunities, such as global industry and professional association conferences. We have also taken steps toward building an e-learning content library and increasing the share of e-learning in the overall learning solution mix.

Customer Focus

Learning is stronger when it matters — when the abstract is made concrete and personal. That’s why we launched a new experiential learning model called the custom learning experience (CLE). CLE converts business pain points into profitable experiential learning opportunities by encouraging young engineers to formulate optimization problems and come up with options to reconcile contradictions, bringing systems closer to their ideal operational states.

CLE creates a context for KNPC engineers to work with subject matter experts from the company’s base of technology licensors and partners to present their ideas, profit from the insights of their industry colleagues, and, most importantly, learn more about themselves and what they need to learn.

Budgeting and Accounting

We made a case for changing how we budget and deploy learning resources to close the learning gaps underlying performance gaps, which lead to financial gaps on both sides of the ledger. We also grouped learning solutions by competencies and assigned a unique accounting code to every competency. Now, we check business performance against spending on associated competencies and make the necessary adjustments accordingly.

Aligning Corporate Training With the Business

Alignment requires engagement, up close and personal. To that end, we launched a learning partner model of engagement, in which a learning analyst is embedded into a key business unit for a period of 20 to 24 months. The learning partner becomes part of the host organization, taking direction from the unit manager. He or she develops a broad understanding of key processes and outcomes, identifies opportunities for improvement, and provides input to the discussion around challenges facing the unit and the corporation as a whole.

To date, we have four learning partners in the field and plan to create a knowledge management division made up of those learning partners within the next five years. We envision learning partners to become problem-finding and -solving catalysts across the corporation, adding value to cross-functional team investigations by sharing practical insights that can be adapted across a variety of domains.

The learning function of the future must be ambitious about crafting content, capturing and channeling wisdom, and collaborating for results. The only way to leap forward, we discovered, is to continually learn how to learn together.