2019 Learning Elite
EY - From left: Simon Berridge, Jan Cannon-Bowers, Christiana Zidwick, Brenda Sugrue, Eric Ellefsen, Shawn Phillips.
From left: Simon Berridge, Jan Cannon-Bowers, Christiana Zidwick, Brenda Sugrue, Eric Ellefsen, Shawn Phillips.
Building a Better Working World
At EY, learning is prioritized as a key differentiator.
By Ashley St. John
Building a better working world — this is EY’s ultimate purpose, one it works to espouse through its Vision 2020 strategy launched in 2013. At the heart of this strategy is having the highest-performing teams provide exceptional client service worldwide.

Recognizing that high-performing teams drive competitive advantage and that workplace learning is a key differentiator between businesses that thrive and those that do not, EY leadership hired the company’s first global chief learning officer, Brenda Sugrue. Sugrue has led the charge the past four years in developing and executing EY’s learning strategy. Key to that strategy are developing the highest-priority skills, providing an exceptional learning experience, and business impact and external recognition. Last year, EY launched LEAD, a new approach to career development and performance, which is threaded throughout the learning team’s work.

Developing the highest-priority skills is crucial, as companies across all industries are struggling to upskill their talent to prepare for the future, and competition for professionals with specialized skills is high, particularly those with analytics, cyber and automation-related skill sets. According to Sugrue, some of the ways EY is overcoming these challenges is through the use of EY badges, digital fluency programs, location-specific and service line-specific programs, and the development of a scalable process to rapidly develop priority skills globally.

EY launched EY Badges in November 2017, which enables people to earn digital credits in skills that differentiate them in the market, such as data visualization, AI and information strategy, to name a few. According to Sugrue, the badges are wildly popular, and colleagues even meet after hours for badge “study halls.” They share their badge achievements on LinkedIn and celebrate successes in conversations across EY Yammer sites.

The EY learning team deployed Let’s Talk Digital e-learning to all EY people in response to a mandate from EY’s global executive board to become digitally fluent across the organization. Achieving digital fluency in its most literal sense, according to Sugrue, is the ability to approach at least one client to discuss new EY digital opportunities. Let’s Talk Digital explores the essentials of a digital conversation through authentic interviews, case studies and resources applicable to every service line, sector, function and seniority level. The 50-minute mobile experience engages learners through photographic, person-centered imagery.

Under Sugrue’s leadership, EY also has implemented SuccessFactors Learning, a new global LMS. SuccessFactors was launched to 170,000 EY people in July 2018 as the first phase of implementation, and it went live to an additional 90,000 in March 2019. SuccessFactors has enabled EY to create guided blended learning journeys that bundle physical and virtual classroom, e-learning and performance support materials into a single learning experience.

All of these efforts have not been without challenges. Global scope, scale and complexity are an issue — EY has hundreds of thousands of people in 150 countries who speak close to 200 languages and serve 200,000 clients in nearly 20 sectors. Meeting the organization’s skill development needs is a tremendous battle; last year, they provided 13 million hours of formal education.


Over the past four years, EY transformed its learning technology, processes and content, generating dramatic increases in efficiency and effectiveness. Annual learning hours went from eight to 13 million, while costs stayed flat. New and redesigned programs doubled business metrics, including revenue and client satisfaction.

Company size: N/A
Location: United Kingdom

Additionally, EY member firms are fully independent entities, and there are no top-down, required corporate mandates. Therefore, adoption of global initiatives requires extensive socialization to gain buy-in. Similarly, EY’s more than 1,000 learning team members operate across 25 region-based teams in four geographic areas; they, too, are not bound to the central learning organization.

EY’s extensive learning efforts require senior leadership engagement, which EY achieves through a four-pronged approach — by demonstrating business impact, business alignment through governance, program sponsorship, and engagement as learners and facilitators. EY’s top executives visibly prioritize learning and development, starting all the way at the top: Global Chairman and CEO Mark Weinberger personally sponsors EY’s most strategic initiatives, including EY Badges and LEAD. Leaders from across the organization participate in two annual programs — New Manager and Assistant Director, and New Senior Manager and Associate Director — which are delivered to 12,000 people worldwide. And, incredibly, EY leaders committed more than 1 million hours of time facilitating programs during the past fiscal year.

It’s been four years of great transformation within EY, but the journey isn’t over. Looking toward the future, Sugrue said they plan to maximize the benefits of their new SuccessFactors LMS by adopting available functionality and enhancements, scale up their evidence-based design and delivery of high-impact learning solutions through a new global Learning Design Center of Excellence and ramp up analytics through a data science upgrade to their measurement strategy.

A better working world is definitely within EY’s reach.

Ashley St. John is Chief Learning Officer’s managing editor. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.