HomeCase StudiesAward-winning digital L&D: How Colgate-Palmolive developed 16,000 employees to innovate, automate, and drive business outcomes

Award-winning digital L&D: How Colgate-Palmolive developed 16,000 employees to innovate, automate, and drive business outcomes

by HRD Connect | Business Transformation

30-second summary:

  • Colgate-Palmolive’s digital L&D program has educated all 16,000 employees that work in offices around the world on digital capabilities
  • Colgate has “leapfrogged” benchmarks established by a leading multinational consulting firm through a multi-phased program based on shared language and personalized, gamified programs
  • The program designed specifically for the supply chain has strengthened business results, such as the development of over 70 bots that have driven efficiencies including a 100% elimination of product delivery errors

In the past two years, Colgate has executed an award-winning digital L&D program, educating each of its 16,000 in-office employees – who work in offices in more than 100 countries – on the importance of a company-wide digital transformation to advance its purpose and business objectives.

Now entering its next phase, the success of phases one, two, and three are clear. A series of eight bootcamps taught 2,450 employees from marketing and customer development teams the practical skills to advance our digital transformation. Wendy Boise, Senior Vice President, Global Talent, Learning and Organization Development, Colgate-Palmolive, debriefs HRD Connect on the outstanding journey so far, and what’s still to come.

How Colgate’s L&D program has impacted business results

HR leaders and CEOs agree that HR’s role has changed over the past five years. Some HR leaders are taking the strategic and business-led approach Ulrich envisioned in his 1997 business partner model. Colgate-Palmolive’s L&D transformation is a perfect example of this industry shift. The first two phases of the digital L&D program have delivered tangible business results:

  • Colgate-Palmolive’s purpose is to be a caring, innovative growth company that is reimagining a healthier future for all. To advance this purpose, it has developed patented algorithms that analyze clinical data to highlight emerging trends that predict how well a new formula will perform based on efficacy, appeal, and time to market
  • Colgate’s Intelligent Automation has deployed 70+ bots across Colgate’s business, established a pipeline of 100+ automation ideas, and identified numerous opportunities for process improvements
  • Colgate now has customer delivery appointment bots that deliver products quickly and seamlessly, driving a 95% reduction in order touches or manual intervention and eliminating 100% of delivery errors
  • Colgate has increased its e-commerce sales penetration and mastered digital advertising targeting capabilities, as well as mastered sophisticated analytics to manage its digital shelves online and globally

The digital L&D journey: Pre-launch

Recognizing the increasingly automated, adaptive, and intelligent world organizations operate in, Colgate conducted a benchmark analysis in partnership with a leading multinational consulting firm to determine what new capabilities its workforce required to ensure people partnered with technology and developed the capabilities to power its digital transformation. These capabilities are:

  • Data-driven targeting
  • Automation
  • Measurement
  • New ways of working

“The findings of the study helped shape several of our key priorities as well as our upskilling strategies and programs,” explains Boise. “I mean that not just individually, but also the capability of our entire enterprise and the skill acceleration we needed to implement.”

Discovering skill gaps across the organization, from marketing to sales and beyond, Colgate designed a learning program for its 16,000 employees who work in offices, split into three initial phases. Boise emphasizes Colgate’s priority to support the business-wide need for digital transformation, rather than fulfilling a static learning or training objective: “We’re embedding digital in everything we do, from driving digital media efficiencies to new analytics to our E-commerce business.”

“It’s about accelerating digital upskilling, focusing on digital frameworks, concepts, and technologies, and how we use them to advance our purpose and strengthen business results.”

The digital L&D journey: Phase one

Colgate’s answer to the prospect of upskilling its 16,000 employees who work in offices was a top-down approach, beginning the change journey with a ‘C-Suite Series’ before moving to a ‘Leadership Series’ targeted at division leaders and senior executives.

“The change starts with our leaders,” explains Boise. “We wanted to make sure people understood our priorities and that we’re all speaking the same language.” Indeed, shared language is a fundamental drive for the success of digital transformation initiatives.

Subsequent training and upskilling for employees at all other levels of the business followed, including a series of eight boot camps for practitioners. The bootcamps focused on teaching Colgate’s Marketing and Customer Development teams, comprised of approximately 2,450 practitioners, the practical skills they needed to facilitate digital transformation.

“From there, we moved to enterprise-wide digital training,” says Boise. Two further modules targeted the rest of the organization focusing on the capabilities that the consulting firm highlighted. “We focused on the foundations and we got everyone on board.”

The digital L&D journey: Phase two

Phase two of Colgate’s digital capability development journey moved on to focus on deeper skills building. Colgate turned to a learning content provider to determine further skills gaps at the individual level.

Colgate developed personalized skill plans for each employee and an opt-in certification program. Certification is a crucial method for improving dwindling L&D program adoption rates. Gamifying the learning process through badges, and creating the capability for employees to share badges on LinkedIn, encouraged both Colgate practitioners and business leaders.

“We found that people were very proud to share their badges and recognize their accomplishments on social media,” notes Boise. Employees can task a test to get an immediate credit or badge for the module. Or, if they scored lower than expected, the system provides learning content that they can take to move forward with the completion of the module.

Having established this phase as a continuous practice, Colgate conducted a benchmarking reassessment at the end of 2022. “The results were outstanding,” shares Boise. “We leapfrogged the important benchmarks we had set.” An employee pulse survey in April 2023 also revealed that of all the digital transformation progress made to date, Colgate Employees were most proud of the development in digital capabilities.

Up next: Establishing digital fluency

Colgate is lining up the next phase of its digital L&D journey in the remainder of 2023 and early 2024. This phase will focus on bringing the business leaders from phase one together to determine how Colgate can best bring the theoretical learning for its leaders into real-world scenarios.

This will include planning around complementing formalized learning with structural changes such as redesigning career pathways to support digital capability development.

“We think about how to become digitally fluent,” explains Boise, “It’s got to be outside of just learning. How do we bring and blend diverse capabilities together for the outcome that best advances our purpose and business objectives?”

Boise and Colgate hope that complementing skills assessments and digital learning programs with career pathway redesign will enable the organization to better understand the skills of its talent and tap into a wider talent pool when filling open roles.

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