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Tobacco firm finds the right learning 'blend'.

Tobacco firm finds the right learning 'blend'

If you need an example of why marketers need to be properly trained, look no further than British American Tobacco.

The company operates in 180 countries around the world, many of which closely regulate exactly how its products may and may not be marketed. In the most extreme cases, governments ban tobacco products from being displayed on the shelf.

One mistake by a brand manager which gives the impression of irresponsible marketing can spread across the world at the click of a mouse, damaging everyone from BAT investors to retailers to farmers to governments.

The company needed a training programme for its 35,000 marketing employees that would balance the need for brand consistency around the globe with sensitivity to the laws and cultures of individual markets. In the December 2010 Issue of Marketing Week, Barnett explains that the solution was to move its marketing-training programme to an online portal, where modules have been designed with e-learning at the core.

The idea behind the programme, designed in partnership with Infinity Learning, is that employees go through 35 modules across five levels of learning as they progress through their careers. All the modules are available as interactive multimedia e-learning, or as workshops with full facilitator notes and localization guidance for local managers. These are used where learners may otherwise be prevented from gaining access to the modules by technology or language barriers.

Each module has a global component common across all markets, and a local component where line managers provide short workshops or one-to-one sessions to ensure a direct link between organization practice and competencies and local needs, market conditions and consumers.

Learners can rate and comment on each module. They can also enter conversations with coaches, subject-matter experts or other learners and build their own learning plan - publishing the dates by which they expect to complete each component and keeping track of the modules and other learning resources they have used. In this way, the programme provides a real opportunity for employees to manage their learning and, through doing so, manage their careers.

The combination of e-learning, the selective use of classroom instruction and the incorporation of social-networking tools, which has proved so successful at BAT, also forms the basis of a new approach to the development of general managers at global biopharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb (BMS).

In Volume 43, Issue 1 of Industrial and Commercial Training, Derven and Frappolli describe how the company teamed up with Hudson Research and Consulting to devise a systematic development approach for BMS's general managers that draws on various approaches to training design.

The authors report: 'A constellation of factors made this leadership-development initiative particularly challenging - remote locations, highly diverse skill sets and the fact that prior development of general managers was either spotty or non-existent.'

The resulting programme is helping to prepare the company's general managers for the multiple tasks of leading strategy development and execution, managing a complex matrix of technical functions, delivering on aggressive financial goals and developing and motivating people of different backgrounds and nationalities.

Faced the challenge of training a globally dispersed workforce that operates in a highly regulated environment, BAT and BMS have come up with a remarkably similar approach, with blended learning at its core.

In today's multicultural, multinational business world, 'one size fits all' will rarely be an appropriate response to the challenges of developing a company's leaders. 'Mix and match' is the training maxim for the current millennium.