The way two UCLA Anderson alumni with chief learning officer (CLO) positions at Deloitte see it, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better destination for the work they do than at the world’s largest professional services firm, where education and employee development are paramount to the ongoing success of the business.
“For a learning person, this job is a dream,” says Deb Johnson (’99), who as CLO for the Deloitte Technology Academy supports technology upskilling for both new hires and current professionals across the U.S. firm. “Our R&D is developing our people, and because we are a private partnership, our leaders feel personal ownership and are incredibly invested in our learning and development efforts.”
Johnson reports to fellow UCLA Anderson graduate Eric Dingler (’95), who as CLO of Deloitte’s U.S. firm uses learning and development, innovation and strategy to maximize the talent potential of more than 100,000 professionals. “Our output is the insights we provide our clients, and so our assets are our people and their ability to process data, understand context and figure out how to solve our clients’ complex problems,” Dingler explains. “Unlike other businesses, where you can invest in marketing, store design or research to create a new product, in professional services, L&D is one of the few levers you can pull to improve the quality of your output.”
That two of Deloitte’s top L&D executives hold UCLA Anderson MBAs is no coincidence. Dingler and Johnson note that Deloitte recruits aggressively and expansively from their alma mater, and the firm’s roster includes a substantial number of UCLA Anderson alumni. They say that’s in part because of the school’s status as one of the top-ranked business schools — but they cite an additional factor.
“Culturally, Anderson and Deloitte are similar, in that they’re both highly collegial, collaborative environments,” Johnson says. “Some schools are known for being particularly competitive and cutthroat, and some firms are known for that as well. That’s not Anderson, and it’s not Deloitte. There’s a reason many Anderson grads choose Deloitte.”
Broadly, Deloitte’s L&D activities fall into several categories. Technical learning covers the knowledge required to do the jobs for which Deloitte professionals were hired. That varies by business: for tax consultants, it might include education on the tax code or recent tax law changes; individuals involved in auditing are brought up to speed on those requirements and learn how to audit following Deloitte’s methodology. The work led by Johnson ensures that professionals are learning or raising their skill levels in the aspects of technology relevant to their roles. A third L&D category develops leadership skills; a fourth is tailored to the goings-on in the specific industry sectors and subsectors Deloitte professionals must understand in order to deliver their services most effectively. Finally, certain programs cover general professional skills needed in all domains, such as writing and project management.
Part of Deloitte L&D involves in-person learning. Deloitte University — headquartered in Westlake, Texas, with six other locations around the world — provides formal classroom experiences for the firm’s employees, from new hires to senior executives. But live, in-person learning is also delivered at local offices, hotels and other venues. There’s self-directed learning, some of it digital, wherein employees take courses on their own time. Pop-up training is offered within the flow of work on an as-needed basis, some of it through mentorship or connections with experts.
“Our mix of modalities continues to evolve,” Dingler says. “Ten or 15 years ago, we had a much higher percentage of live and in-person learning, and much more of what we call ‘sage on stage’ — PowerPoint-driven, big, integrated simulations. It’s become a much more balanced mix between live in-person and live virtual, accelerated by the pandemic. Our stakeholders and professionals now believe that for certain material you can have high-quality learning in a virtual space — as well as digital.”
The live learning itself is changing, Dingler notes, toward smaller, modular programs that can be reconfigured more easily than the large simulations and delivered in person only when it adds sufficient value. “If I can just as easily sit in the virtual space and be given knowledge, then, when designed with the right activities and interactions, live virtual can be just as impactful as in-person and it costs less,” Dingler says. Twenty years ago, the digital space primarily involved e-learning, he notes. Now it’s much more varied, employing smaller assets (a quick video or interactive PDF, for example) and increasingly delivered within the flow of work via pop-ups and other devices.
Another development is what Johnson refers to as the ecosystem approach to learning and development. “In the past, we would either build things ourselves or buy ‘off the shelf’ and just send people to a certain class,” she says. “Now, there’s such a vast array of content that our professionals need, and if you want best-in-class learning content, which we do, it’s much more of an ecosystem play — looking at partnering with leading academic institutions and at co-developing and co-delivering with partners, for example.”
Prior to 2020, only 2–3% of the live learning hours logged by Deloitte professionals were delivered in a live virtual format. The COVID-19 pandemic changed that in a big way, necessitating what Dingler calls a mass experiment. “We had no choice but to transition what we were doing live in person to live virtual, and that allowed us to see how different types of learning played out in that virtual space, at scale, in a way we hadn’t been able to do in the past,” he says.
Capitalizing on the pandemic-induced shift, Deloitte’s L&D teams conducted a series of analyses during the pandemic’s first year, seeking to determine which types of learning programs fared best in person and which were just as effective in the live virtual format. They found that when a live virtual program was focused solely on knowledge acquisition, and designed with an appropriate interactive component, it scored just as well with participants and was deemed equally effective as the in-person delivery.
“Where learning depended on interactions with people, ‘peeling back the onion’ and taking it deeper and being able to read someone … that is harder to replicate in the virtual space. So our scores and effectiveness evaluations went down for those,” Dingler says. “That taught us that you have to think about design and facilitation differently when you’re doing certain things virtually rather than just trying to replicate the in-person program.”
As with much of the business world, Deloitte’s L&D teams have seized on advances in data analytics to glean and act on insights they wouldn’t have had a decade ago. Among other things, that has helped to illuminate some of the more intangible benefits of in-person learning, including enhanced networking and culture building. Recently, Deloitte held an optional two-day program at Deloitte University for pandemic-era hires that emphasized fostering connections with the firm, colleagues and leaders. Until then, “their entire experience of Deloitte was Zoom, the money that we deposited into their bank account and a box of swag we sent them,” Dingler says. Since then, the attrition rate has been dramatically lower among the program’s attendees than for the new hires who didn’t attend.
“Culturally, there’s a huge value associated with being together,” Johnson says. “In technology, if the point of a virtual class is to teach a skill, and you show that afterward everyone can pass the certification, then yes, you can do it virtually. But you’re missing the community-building elements of being together. In a lot of ways, this mirrors the ongoing societal debate about whether and when we go back to working out of the office, and what is the right moment to be together. There are trade-offs, and no perfect answers.”
The content of Deloitte’s learning programs is also rapidly shifting, moving from role-based to skill-based learning. “The organizations that are going to succeed today and in the future are the ones that have the greatest agility,” Dingler says. “The half-life of any knowledge domain is continuing to shrink. Our clients want us to solve the really complex problems, which are evolving. And for individuals, particularly in professional services, that means being able to pivot across different knowledge domains multiple times in the course of their career.”
Johnson says her Anderson education provided the foundation to succeed in such an environment. She took a circuitous path to her current role, working at Deloitte as a management consultant before enrolling in UCLA Anderson’s MBA program. At the time, she was interested in the media and entertainment business, but after several internships she decided it wasn’t for her. After returning to Deloitte to work as a consultant, she spent five years as chief of staff for the firm’s women’s initiative and inclusion efforts before meeting Dingler, who offered her a position on his learning and development team.
“I wish I could say that I set out deliberately to be in the role I’m in and that my education was designed to prepare me specifically for that, but it’s not true for me and I don’t think it’s true for the vast majority of people who graduate from business school,” Johnson says. “When I reflect on the role my Anderson MBA played in my career path, what was hugely valuable was learning broadly about all of the disciplines in business, along with the professional network of classmates from every imaginable area that I can now reach out to with questions. That allowed me to be conversant in various domains, and to be agile in my career.”
Dingler started his career at Arthur Andersen as an auditor and certified public accountant before transitioning to consultancy, focusing on the entertainment industry. His interest in becoming a CLO led him to enroll in Anderson’s Fully Employed MBA program, which enabled him to earn his MBA in three years, taking classes on Thursdays and Saturdays, while maintaining full-time employment. Dingler focused on human resources and leadership courses but, like Johnson, he believes the broad-based understanding of other disciplines gave him the problem-solving skills and flexibility that allowed him, after a series of leadership roles with Coca-Cola, Bristol Myers Squibb and Gap, to ascend to the CLO position at Deloitte.
For both Deloitte CLOs, the landing spot couldn’t be more rewarding.
“We get to impact every single person at Deloitte, over and over, multiple times a year,” Dingler says. “We help them realize their professional ambitions, providing skills that can also help them to be better at home and in their community. That’s pretty compelling to me.”
“Nelson Mandela said education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world,” Johnson says. “Everything I do at Deloitte is about making people the best versions of themselves so that they can make the biggest impact. What could possibly be more rewarding than that?”