JWT Wanted to Rebrand its Culture. Their First Move? Learning

May 10, 2018

See how JWT built out their learning culture to keep their employees engaged.

J. Walter Thompson (JWT) is one of the most iconic marketing agencies in the world. In their 150+ year history, JWT has worked with myriad clients from Rolex to Häagen-Dazs, and are behind notable campaigns and jingles such as Rice Krispies’ “Snap, Crackle and Pop,” and the United States Marine Corps slogan, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”

Their challenge, from an Talent/HR perspective? JWT has thousands of employees in offices around the globe, all of whom work closely with their respective clients which potentially makes creating a global employer brand difficult.

“When we did employee surveys in the past, the results showed that people felt connected to their local client, their local office and potentially even their local country,” JWT Chief Talent Officer Laura Agostini said. “But, they didn’t necessarily feel connected to the global network.”

So, JWT did what JWT does best – rebrand, as they hired Agostini to be their first ever Chief Talent Officer. Her first move? Prioritize learning.

“One thing I was trying to do was create value to the global network,” Agostini said. “And an obvious addition to our list of employee programs was Lynda.com. Many things are complex to do, globally, but this was simple and effective.”

How JWT used learning to build out a global culture

JWT was already a Lynda.com from LinkedIn Learning customer. But, the only team that used it was the IT team, as it was seen in the eyes of many as a tech tool – if they knew about it at all.

Agostini decided to change that. Working with both HR Project Manager Jessica Watson and Learning and Development Manager Gregory Bruno, they sought out ways to make Lynda.com more prominent.

The reason was two-fold: yes, they wanted their employees to use Lynda.com so they could upskill themselves. But they also wanted employees to use Lynda.com to build out their company culture, and reinforce that JWT was a place where professionals go from good to great.

“While want our employees to be here for a long time, the reality is that the workforce is increasingly more mobile; that’s just the reality of the workforce,” Agostini said. “But I want our employees to be able to reflect on their time here and say it was brilliant. And that it was brilliant not only because of the work, but because of the culture and what they were able to learn and do.”

So, the team constructed a Learning Path across many disciplines. For example, they focused on the fundamentals of digital marketing. The idea was simple: regardless of your discipline at JWT – not only client facing talent but also HR, finance or IT – you needed to understand the importance of digital marketing.

“We’re in an industry that is constantly evolving, so thinking ahead is key to our success,” Bruno said. “With a library as expansive as the one Lynda provides, we can give our people the tools they need to match and dictate current trends, whether they are cultural, digital or beyond. Clearly our people have adopted it as such, and we’re happy they can make it apart of their growth and development.”

In November of 2016, they assigned this digital marketing Learning Path to the 12,000 JWT employees with a Lynda.com license. Again, this was two-fold: to help the company become better marketers, but also for employees to understand that this resource is at their fingertips.

“After we assigned the Digital Marketing Learning Path, we saw a huge increase in usage,” Watson said. “And not just for that Learning Path but for all the content. People realized all the great courses that were in the Lynda library.”

How JWT is using a grassroots approach to keep the momentum going

After the success assigning the Learning Path, JWT is now sponsoring an annual Talent Month for global employees. During this month, there is a focus on all things talent, with a big push on Lynda.com and learning.  But this is not meant to be a strictly a tops-down approach. Instead, they want their many regions to test out new ideas, and identify the best ones to be cascaded to the entire company.

A perfect example of this is the “Open Book” program, JWT’s Middle Eastern team came up with. The HR team there selected a tailored list of Lynda.com courses employees should take, based on their role and seniority. So, for example, an entry-level marketer would focus on different courses than a mid-level creative person. But there is transparency. So, if an employee wants to look at other disciplines, and learn more, they can do so easily with Open Book.

That concept led to a huge spike in learning in those Middle Eastern offices. Now, JWT is building out the Open Book program for all of its employees globally.

What’s interesting, too, is how JWT is measuring the success of its learning program. Yes, it looks at usage. But equally important to Watson and the team is the average time a learner spends in Lynda.com – which has gone from 7 minutes to 28 minutes over the past two years.

“This means employees aren’t just watching one skill when they have an immediate need, they are investing in a larger skill they want to develop, which suggests more of a culture of learning,” Watson said.

The takeaway

In sync with JWT’s overall culture, the approach to Lynda.com from LinkedIn Learning and learning is basically this: we are here to support you, but success is ultimately up to you.

“Lynda.com is a really good articulation of our philosophy that ‘we’ll make it available,’” Agostini said. “We will help you, we will guide you, but ultimately, it’s up to you to engage. And like so many things, what you put in, you’ll get out.”

The result is a stronger culture, where employees are spending more time learning and improving themselves. It is part of driving to ensure current and prospective employees see the agency more of a destination employer.

The bottom line — there are so many areas an Talent/HR team can focus on when culture is a top priority. But as JWT proved, if a core value at your company is development and demanding excellence, there are few better areas to focus on than learning.