Boeing's Bethany Tate Cornell on balancing agility and efficiency in L&D
Bethany Tate Cornell, Vice President of Leadership, Learning & Organizational Capability for The Boeing Company is responsible for implementing the enterprise learning, cultural transformation, and workforce development initiatives to support Boeing’s business strategies and goals.
Cornell is the co-executive sponsor of two business resource groups: Boeing Generation 2 Generation and Boeing Employee Pride Alliance. She is also the executive sponsor of the Leadership NeXt program, championing leadership development for all employees across the company. Additionally, she also serves on the Chief Learning & Talent Officer Board for the Institute for Corporate Productivity focusing on critical global issues for learning and talent.
She has spent more than 25 years leading talent development and learning innovations at five companies, including GE, Gap, Ethan Allen, IBM and Interlock Group.
At GE, Cornell held several roles, including leading the culture and learning strategy for a $9 billion renewable energy startup, launching the company’s first Crotonville Learning shared service for design and technology and leading culture and engagement for the company’s largest industrial acquisition.
In an interaction with People Matters, Bethany shares her insights on:
Behaviors, systems, policies, and processes are all important aspects of driving values. How can one ensure that the leadership is aligned with all these different aspects?
While Boeing remains an industry leader, we have a great opportunity to adapt how we work to build a culture that allows us to continue attracting top talent, growing the best team and reaching even higher levels of performance. So we’re changing how we structure our work, our interactions and our norms -- which all sum up to our culture -- to speed up innovation and unlock top performance. To ensure all employees – including leaders – are aligned and supporting this effort, the “Boeing Behaviors” are now incorporated in the Boeing Vision. They define the approach we will take to our work as we strive to achieve our goals. It’s all about seeking better ways of working together and to create the culture we need to accelerate performance.
What is Boeing’s approach to reinforcing organizational culture as part of leadership development?
The Boeing Behaviors are a big part of our continued commitment to improve how we work by investing in the development and growth of our people and teams to accelerate our performance. The Boeing Behaviors act as a “simple framework” that employees can demonstrate in their day-to-day interactions and use in their professional development plans.
Being a role model is critical to drive the right organizational culture. How do you support leaders in their journey?
In addition to the above, we have started integrating awareness building and practice of the Boeing Behaviors in our formal leadership courses, by weaving them into course materials. Most importantly, the Boeing Behaviors are being used as “design principles” to guide our systems for managing performance, rewarding and recognizing people, acquiring talent and considering changes to our decision-making and approval methods. We are also steering our learning program in a direction that offers unique learning experiences customized to individual needs and mapped to professional development stages versus a ‘one size fits all’ approach. We’re providing possibilities so our employees can effectively prepare themselves with the skills needed today and in the future. Additionally, our Boeing Leadership Center facility and courses bring employees throughout the world together to learn best practices, network and learn skills that they can bring back to their home organizations.
A survey by Innosight found that the biggest obstacle to transforming culture was “day-to-day decisions that essentially pay the bill, but undermine our stated strategy to change” – How do you reflect on this challenge as a business leader? How can one balance strategy and day-to-day work?
Boeing has committed to a set of core values that not only define who we are but also serve as guideposts to help us become the company we would like to be: integrity, quality, safety, diversity and inclusion, trust and respect, corporate citizenship and stakeholder success. The aforementioned Boeing Behaviors are grounded in our Enduring Values and serve a roadmap that give all employees a simple, unifying set of expectations for how to work together as we strive to achieve our strategy and goals. This approach ensures that day-to-day tactical actions align with our values and support our strategy and goals.
You’ve had a long career in learning and talent management, enabling companies to align their global learning strategy to the business. What are things that companies get right and what do they get wrong in the process?
I’ve undergone three different transformations at three unique companies and in “getting it right” it’s communicating the clear path forward, how the team will get there and making sure to bring people along in the process. That includes both the internal HR team as well as the customers and partners the organization serves. When the North Star isn’t clear, when people aren’t open to iterating on a plan, there is danger in that. Transformation isn’t set in stone on day one, it’s a process that continues to be tweaked and refined as it’s implemented. And always making sure that the voice of the employee and customer or partner is paramount.
In the past, Boeing has advocated the need to crowdsource ideas on learning from your employees. For a company the size of Boeing, it must have been a challenging exercise to make sense of the ideas that are worth trying and those that don’t. How did you do it?
Our people are our greatest source of innovation and key to our success. So we wanted to hear directly from them about areas that matter to them. Their input is very important as we chart the future of learning and development. So that’s why we crowdsourced employees for ideas about future learning and development. That effort generated more than 40,000 responses from employees around the globe. Employees told us that improving technical development programs and reskilling for jobs being affected by technology disruption were of the highest importance. Following that response, we launched a learning portal that provides access to books, videos, online lessons and certification courses. We also launched several new virtual learning options to help employees enhance their technical skills and understand the newest industry trends, tools and technologies. Initially we’re focusing on big data, analytics and digital literacy, which are key enablers to Boeing’s growth strategies. This is just the beginning of what’s to come as plans are underway for other programs in areas like systems engineering, software engineering and cyber security.
Boeing has adopted a “Federated L&D approach.” Could you talk about what it means? And how do you deal with the challenge of ensuring that there is alignment with business goals?
Our federated approach to learning is designed to strike a balance between agility (being agile at point of business need) and efficient (centralizing and standardizing what makes sense to drive down cost while ensuring a consistent learning experience across the enterprise). At Boeing, the learning function has lead on strategy and solutions, but in some cases, there are learning groups within key functions that align with us, use our tools and methodologies, leverage our supply chain, but work autonomously to meet the needs of that business unit. We jointly govern this ecosystem with a board made up with senior executives across Boeing, chaired and sponsored by the learning function. This Enterprise Learning Board sets the people development strategy for the company, and all learning teams across the enterprise work together to execute. This helps ensure that we are staying very close to the business goals and priorities, because the business drives and shapes what we support.
What are the key skills that will be critical to navigate the future, especially when large swathes of manufacturing processes are being automated?
We want individuals that are prepared with technical knowledge, skills and abilities to meet our expectations. Equally important are leadership, communications and teaming skills that are essential to our collaborative work environment. We place a high value on engineering and science fundamentals; management, business and financial acumen; the ability to think critically and creatively; a capacity to collaborate and adapt to change; and curiosity and desire to learn.
You’ve spoken about how curiosity and innovation are at the core of the company. How are you nurturing these traits through learning?
Boeing has a longstanding commitment to the development of its people and building a culture of continuous learning. We offer employees mentoring, training, rotational assignments, communities of practice and collaboration tools that help them learn from one another. We’ve invested more than $1.5 billion in tuition assistance for employees’ higher-education coursework and current and aspiring leaders attend classes through the Boeing Leadership Center.
Speaking of learning and building capabilities, we would like to know your views on what is it that organizations should do to empower their diverse workforce. Could you please share one idea/step you will take to empower your women employees at work in 2019?
We know that diverse teams deliver better business results. And we are proud of the intense and sustained focus we put on the value of diversity and inclusion. It’s one of our Enduring Values and an area where we have made a lot of progress and will continue working at in the years to come.
Boeing’s Enterprise Women’s Strategy includes five focus areas: executive engagement, workplace support, a culture of inclusion, best team and talent, and marketplace engagement. Everything we do to recruit, develop and retain female talent rolls into this strategy. This encompasses many activities and includes a business resource group dedicated to elevating women in the company. Boeing Women in Leadership (BWIL) is one of the most popular employee-led business resource groups in the company, with 27 chapters worldwide, including eight in non – US region. BWIL has played a key role in supporting 16 Empowering Women Forums we’ve held over the past two years. The resource groups provide women and men with an opportunity to continue conversations and explore themes surfaced at the forums.
At the end of the day, everyone must acknowledge that a gap exists. Industry studies have shown that right now 50 percent of men believe women are well represented in leadership when only 1 in 10 senior leaders are women. If we look at the very top, of the CEOs leading Fortune 500 companies, only 32 are led by women. Second, I also would encourage more mentoring and sponsorship. We talk extensively about the importance of mentorship and sponsorship for career success, but sometimes see that these relationships do not cross gender lines. Men can play a big role here. While it’s important for women to have female role models, it’s equally important for them to be exposed to those in top positions, and those individuals are often men. Encourage men to be sponsors and advocates.