Chief Learning Officer® recently published an article about PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and its new chief learning officer, Leah Houde, who was hired in February 2020 and has since had to lead learning at the organization in the midst of a pandemic.
Houde notes that she completed an in-person orientation in Atlanta and then flew home to New York to prepare for her new job. The following night she received a call advising her they were shutting down all PwC offices due to COVID-19. “Everything happened overnight,” she says. Instead of the planned meet-and-greet tour, Houde spent several weeks setting up a home office and meeting virtually with team members and employees, discussing how to transition all of PwC’s learning to digital.
With nearly 300,000 employees in 151 countries who need constant training to stay current on the latest trends in accounting, analytics, human resources, and other areas, this was a challenge. Blair Sheppard, Global Head of Strategy and Leadership for PwC, stressed, “It was obvious she was perfect for the role.” Sheppard knew Houde from his time as a professor and dean at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, where she was a student as an undergrad and where Sheppard was her adviser for her dissertation in organizational psychology. Later, Sheppard hired Houde to help create Duke Corporate Education (CE). “Leah had a massive exuberance for life and deep intellectual curiosity, but it was balanced by practicality,” Sheppard says.
During this time, Houde learned to pivot in a crisis. She started at Duke CE a year before 9/11, after which most companies banned travel and began reducing executive education budgets. Sheppard notes, “She kept her sense of calm, humility, and humanity through that time. That made her more resilient.” Houde now uses the lessons learned during that time to help PwC navigate the transition to virtual learning during the current pandemic. When Houde began as CLO, about 43% of the company’s learning occurred digitally via live virtual events and digital content that included custom learning paths and digital badges. Once the pandemic began, that number had to reach 100% virtually overnight. Houde says, “We were fortunate we had the platforms and capability to develop and deliver learning virtually.” Within three weeks, every critical live learning program was converted to digital and employees were engaging with the training.
Once that content was online, Houde and her team worked to expand the company’s well-being and mental health training options to teach managers how to lead from afar, how to identify and address mental health issues, and how to create culture and connectivity in a remote work environment. PwC has also launched a new program to help it attract more people of color.
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