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The Value of a Virtual Academy
When Microsoft needed a more efficient way to deliver education to its global finance function, it tore down the classroom walls and created a flexible, Web-based learning model.
When Microsoft needed a more efficient way to deliver education to its global finance function, it tore down the classroom walls and created a flexible, Web-based learning model that enables people in different time zones to come together in an environment that fosters teamwork and yields a high retention rate.
In 2008, when Michelle Young, then a learning and development consultant, set out to help Microsoft’s CFO transform Microsoft Finance’s worldwide team from another pair of hands to a value-added business partner and trusted adviser, she didn’t predict that her virtual global learning pilot would become the model for scalable online distance learning across the company.
Prior to 2008, when it came to employee development, Microsoft held a subsection of course offerings in person twice a year in a centralized location in Europe, the Middle East and Africa and one in Asia-Pacific called Learning Weeks. In 2008, the bottom fell out of the market, and like everyone else, Microsoft tightened its belt, especially in finance, which cut out all non-customer related travel for more than a year, including travel to Learning Weeks.
Young, now senior learning and development manager for Microsoft Finance HR, had to find a way to provide learning to a global audience without in-person sessions.
The company’s growth in far-flung locations, especially India and China, made considering the Redmond, Wash., in-residence model too costly and cumbersome. In addition to hard costs, there was the time away from the office en route and spent in day-long meetings. Instead, Young created Microsoft’s Finance Academy — a learning portal for the company’s finance professionals.
Microsoft’s former CFO Chris Liddell wanted the finance function to be a value-added business partner. To do that, the company’s 2,500 finance professionals had to understand not just the financial side, but how all of the disciplines come together to run the business and how the decisions made by each can make or break a quarter’s financials.
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