As vice president of training and development for GE Consumer Finance, Ginny Ertl is responsible for creating a global learning community. With her help, 32,000 employees help bring good things to light.
January 3, 2005
Name: Ginny Ertl
Title: Vice President, Training and Development
Company: GE Consumer Finance
- Realigned training to support GE’s growth charter and ensure that every employee has the skills to be in the growth game.
- Launched a global training organization spanning 41 countries and serving 32,000 employees.
- Established a common leadership development framework to identify and grow global talent and drive the GE culture around the world.
- Created global forums where the “instructors” are GE leaders, experts, customers and employees.
Learning Philosophy: “It is imperative to align the training organization to the goals of the business. GE is in transition to be the preeminent global growth company.
As a result, we are transitioning our training organization to support growth. In order to grow the business, we have to grow our people.”
General Electric (GE) is one of the oldest and most recognizable companies around. Who doesn’t recall their catchphrase, “We bring good things to light”? Now, the company’s reach extends into a wide range of products and services that includes jet engines, plastics, medical imaging and financial services. With earnings that exceed several billion dollars quarterly and a global presence in more than 40 countries worldwide, GE’s company-wide growth initiative centers on education as a key driver for success. As vice president of training and development for GE Consumer Finance, Ginny Ertl has a large, diversely sliced pie to cut and serve to learning leaders throughout an organization that spans five regions and has 32,000 employees.
Before joining GE, Ertl spent seven years as a certified public accountant at KPMG Peat Marwick. Currently in her 15th year as a GE employee, Ertl has taken charge of a newly created position in GE’s Consumer Finance division, one of 11 that make up the company. As global training leader, she is responsible for creating a global learning community that emulates the way GE runs its various businesses. Ertl is focused on creating a virtual global learning center, a one-stop-shopping spot for training courses worldwide. Plans for a brick-and-mortar equivalent will be determined this year.
“If I were to weave together why it makes sense, I certainly have an appreciation for the business, what it means to be a business partner and to align training to the business,” Ertl said. “I understand change and how you can use training to change a business. That’s why I’m very excited about this growth transition we’re going through now, because I can see the power, how training can help change a company. It’s all about people, changing behaviors, new skills. We really can’t change this business until we change the people.”
In order to change GE’s employee dynamic, Ertl focuses on several key areas of learning, including something called “growth leader traits.” Using the successful leaders currently at work in GE as models, Ertl and her team analyze what characteristics the existing leaders possess that would positively influence future leaders, then come up with new leadership traits that encourage growth. “From a training perspective, our job becomes, ‘How do we develop leaders to have these traits?’ It’s about looking externally, creating deep expertise, making things that are complex simple, having imagination, courage and those types of things,” Ertl said.
Educating potential leaders to exhibit courage and imagination sounds a little subjective, but using existing leaders as trainers who can demonstrate these traits using their own experiences works. A global sharing of best practices helps people from opposite ends of the world come together and realize that they have the same business issues. “We’ll take the experience of our leaders and actually share that with the leaders that we’re developing,” Ertl said. “Being a business with 41 countries, there’s a lot of power in bringing our global talent together. We have leadership forums and functional forums where we’ll have people from all over the world learning from experts and leaders. We’ll bring in customers who tell us, ‘Here’s what you’re doing well, here’s what you could do better.’”
Ertl said that senior-level executive sponsorship and a widespread belief that learning is a key facet of GE’s growth initiative have helped meet the challenge of educating people in the new skills to support growth. This fresh approach to training impacts skill development, leadership and career development. “We really maximize the power of being a global company,” Ertl said. “This business has grown through acquisition, and we’ve had training leaders in some of the regions, in most of the countries, but my position creates a central focus to bring it all together. It’s really the glue in creating a GE culture, because when we acquire a lot of businesses as we have in the past, our job as a training organization becomes really important to make sure that we develop the GE culture within those acquisitions. We are developing leaders with a mindset for growth, a new way of thinking.”
GE Consumer Finance hosts an annual Executive Leadership Development Symposium, which acts as its top leadership development program. Executives from around the world, the “best bets” for promotion to senior executive, are selected to attend. They go through 360-degree evaluation, Myers-Briggs testing, executive coaching and receive an action-learning project six weeks prior to the Symposium that requires them to work virtually in groups. During the Symposium, the coaches observe how the participants interact as teams. “We’re not doing anything in the training that we don’t do in the business. They’re working on projects that are key to our business growth agenda. These are things that the business has to do anyway, so they’re not additive. I am a firm believer in aligning training to the business goals,” Ertl said. “So, when we come together, the first thing we do is we talk about, ‘What are the business goals?’ In 41 countries, you find a lot in common. Some of the challenges we do find are how to level the resources to make sure that we have the right resource to support the activities of the particular country and business. Language becomes a focus as well. A lot of the solutions happen locally.”
Ertl described the Symposium leadership development process as eye-opening and credits the leaders’/trainers’ candidness with a large part of the program’s success. “They’ll talk about their business, but they’ll also talk about themselves and what they have learned as leaders. They make lessons seem very real to the group,” Ertl said. “Then a customer comes in, and they talk about how they see GE. That’s one of the things we’re driving in our new growth traits. Our leaders need to have an external focus and certainly a focus on our customers.”
This year’s Executive Leadership Development Symposium was held in Bangkok, Thailand, and coincided with another piece of the leadership pie, corporate citizenship. Leaders took part in a community service project at a kindergarten in a rough part of town. They painted desks, shelves and fences, and delivered donated equipment to the school. “Corporate citizenship is very important to GE,” Ertl said. “Being a corporate citizen is part of what we expect from our leaders. The feedback we got from the participants was wonderful. Because this is a global group, they saw a different country and were able to do something from the heart and really demonstrate what we’re talking about. It’s one thing to say we want everyone to be a good corporate citizen, but it’s another thing to actually do it. It’s a very multi-dimensional program, and it’s something that we’re probably going to do in all of our leadership programs going forward, have that element of community service.”
Ertl admits that because the global training program is so new, it has been tough to ensure that everyone is trained to GE’s high learning standard. Ensuring that learning is aligned with the company’s goals and that business leaders coalesce at the same table with the same kinds of ideas to encourage growth is key. “We’re in our infancy right now, and some of the countries are farther ahead than others, so we’re not quite homogeneous right now, but we’re trying to get there,” Ertl said. “What’s wonderful is that the training leaders know where they want to get to, and that’s very important to me. Unanimously, everyone understands that business alignment is important. Unanimously, everyone wants measurement, and they want the right measurement. They want to be able to measure business impact.”
Another important aspect of global growth at GE involves leadership orientation—making sure that as new people come on board, whether through an external talent search or internal advancement, they are thoroughly indoctrinated into GE’s culture. “We have to understand the new competencies that we have to focus on from a skills perspective. Once we understand those new competencies, then we work with HR to make sure they’re hiring for those new competencies as part of that whole talent management process,” Ertl said. “We have a very robust process around performance management, and every year, every employee goes through a review of accomplishments, strengths, weaknesses and development plans. We have to ensure that the process is working.”
GE’s global growth initiative is powered by a multi-tiered core curriculum that drives learning down to the business level, leadership development that encourages growth traits and plans for a virtual, and perhaps a brick-and-mortar, global training center that will take the concept of a corporate university, and stretch its boundaries to embrace the needs of 41 potentially separate businesses worldwide. “This is a big ship to steer,” Ertl said. “The fact that all the oars are going in the same direction is very important to me, and I think that is a very big win. I feel lucky to be leading an organization like this.”
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.