PwC Takes Employee Development to a Virtual Level
By Samuel Greengard
If one word defines the enterprise in the digital age it's talent. Recruiting has emerged as a key differentiator for organizations, and the ability to develop and retain talent increasingly separates high flyers from organizations that wind up mired in digital mud.
For business, accounting and consulting firm PwC Canada, the path to employee development has taken a decidedly digital turn. The professional services firm offers an array of instructional programs for accountants, and, in recent, years, it has placed a premium on just-in-time learning and knowledge. This includes e-seminars, e-workshops, videos and online tutorials that focus on general business issues, as well as specific tax-related issues.
"We rely on the knowledge in people's heads to differentiate ourselves from other firms," explains Ted Graham, director of knowledge and learning at PwC Canada, based in Toronto. What's more, "The generation that is coming along wants unrivaled professional development. They want to be able to progress faster and better than those who worked before them."
In the past, the company gathered managers and executives from the firm's tax practice at a biennial conference, which was typically held at a posh resort in Canada. "It has been a very effective way to meet and share information," Graham says. However, over time, prices for everything from lodging to air travel crept noticeably upward. For the last couple of years, the firm was spending approximately CAD $2 million to hold a three-day conference for about 600 people.
Last year, Graham and other PwC executives decided to explore other options, such as inviting a smaller group or looking for ways to trim costs. In the end, the firm opted to include everyone, but replace an in-person meeting with a virtual gathering.
"We approached the situation from the standpoint of how could we deliver the tactical learning virtually, while continuing to approximate at least some of the networking that happens at these events," he explains.
The result? PwC Canada opted to create a virtual learning conference. "We shifted our focus from a venue to how to engage people at their desktops most effectively," Graham recalls. "How could we weave in video, networking and contests?"
The firm turned to virtual communications firm ON24 to build an online environment that features Webcasting, online presentations, Webinars and more. PwC accomplished the task with a budget of CAD $80,000—about 5 percent of the previous CAD $1.8 million budget.
By all measures, the virtual conference was a success. "We had an 80 percent approval rating for the virtual conference, compared to an 81 percent rating the last time we held an in-person conference," Graham says.
Moreover, participants asked questions and participated at levels that equaled or exceeded previous meetings and events. Finally, the virtual format and lower costs allowed PwC Canada to expand the overall number of participants, including many junior-level managers.
The technology has ushered in a new era of efficiency. PwC Canada will continue to hold in-person conferences, Graham says, "but we recognize that we can provide updates in a much more timely manner and swap some live meetings for virtual meetings. We are continuing to explore the field and learning how to maximize learning in the digital age."