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Kristi Nelson
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Wachovia Gets Hooked On E-Learning

The merger of First Union and Wachovia was the catalyst for building a world-class training and e-learning organization.

The 2001 merger of rivals First Union and Wachovia not only created the largest consumer banking presence on the East Coast, but also provided the catalyst for a world-class training and e-learning organization.

After capturing best practices within each organization, Wachovia is set on providing employees with the best set of tools and knowledge to enable them to better serve customers.

"There is a strong focus on training at Wachovia that is different than other companies in the financial services industry," said Ron Garrow, director of learning strategy and senior vice president at Wachovia. "Wachovia is doing a much better job looking at things systematically across the organization. With the focus and support of leadership and the value that's being placed on it, that puts us in a unique strategic position."

Just recently, the $342 billion institution introduced My Learning Connection, a learning management system from Docent, Mountain View, Calif. Accessible from the company's intranet or any Internet connection, it centralizes Wachovia's training and development programs onto a single platform, allowing employees to access nearly 1,000 courses whether at work or home.

About half of Wachovia's training takes place in some type of distributed manner, with a large percentage of it in the form of e-learning. In the past two years, about 80 percent of Wachovia's 84,000 employees have taken e-learning courses. "Because we are geographically dispersed, virtual classroom and e-learning gives us flexibility," Garrow said. "We do have key learning centers throughout our footprint, but in this day and time, people need bite-sized chunks of training. They need it when they can get to it."

A portion of that training comes from e-learning provider Ninth House, San Francisco, which has been used by the legacy First Union organization since the late 1990s. The courseware offers research and presentations from business gurus such as Ken Blanchard, Tom Peters, Peter Senge, and William Bridges. Wachovia employees can access 12 courses plus almost 500 Instant Advice modules, which address day-to-day business issues.

Courseware from Element K, Rochester, N.Y., is used by Wachovia for IT and technical training. SkillSoft, Nashua, N.H., provides an additional suite of courses to supplement and complement the Ninth House courseware.

Wachovia has built a strong, centralized design team to develop its own internal Web-based training. It has produced 75 e-learning courses in-house, much of them to aid in the merger transition. "We do have the capability, so we are developing a lot of other training programs in the Web-based e-learning format," said Garrow. "It's not as great as Ninth House, but it's getting up there."

Wachovia even has its own employee television network. Called V-net, the network features video-based programs produced by a dedicated team using their own trainer studio, and distributed via satellite. The bank has also invested in a classroom virtual campus product, developed in partnership with Centra, Lexington, Mass.

The result is a blended approach o e-learning. Rather than use courseware from Ninth House or SkillSoft as standalone training modules, Wachovia incorporates them into other types of learning activities, such as workbook, video, V-net, virtual campus, and classroom training. Each training initiative is analyzed to determine the most effective delivery method.

Many of the courses have been about ways to cushion the impact of the merger on customers. As transition-related activities wind down, however, demand for other e-learning products is expected to perk up, according to Garrow. Tracks are being developed for managers at all levels. Many divisions in the company have already established individual learning plans for employees, devised by employees in conjunction with business unit leaders, front-line managers, and learning managers.

The company is also developing methods to measure the effectiveness of its training programs. "What we don't do today is pull it up on an overall corporate level, and that is something that we are putting ourselves on the hook for by third quarter of this year," said Garrow. "We'll just continue to look at different metrics while we're building this assessment measurement and evaluation strategy so we're using data to make good decisions."

While employee retention has improved, Garrow is reluctant to attribute it entirely to training. "We've been having huge success over the past couple of years with our learning model, but also economic conditions have changed. People are not moving in their job, so while turnover and attrition is down, I don't know if we can give full credit to learning or other types of interventions."

Meanwhile, employee feedback has been positive and the bank's service scores have improved consistently over the last 15 quarters, even during the merger. "We do seem to get a lot of recognition externally," said Garrow. "It is clear we're doing something right."

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FAST FACTS

INSTITUTION: Wachovia

ASSETS: $342 billion

BUSINESS CHALLENGE: Develop training methods in conjunction with merged First Union organization

SOLUTIONS: Docent, Ninth House, Element K, SkillSoft, Centra

KEY QUOTE: "Because we are geographically dispersed, virtual classroom and e-learning gives us flexibility."

- Ron Garrow, Director Of Learning Strategy

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