How Leading Tech Companies Use Learning & Development to Engage Employees

Ellen Procter Wilson
Published in
7 min readMar 28, 2016


Companies with high employee engagement reap a number of valuable benefits: productivity and innovation flourish, employee retention and loyalty grow. One key way that companies can drive employee engagement and differentiate themselves in a competitive job market is through their Learning & Development (L&D) programs.

Millennials now comprise the largest segment of the American workforce, and a recent study shows that they rank training and development as the #1 most valuable benefit employers can provide. Leading tech companies today understand this and are creating new learning initiatives to drive employee engagement and job satisfaction. Pandora calls these programs their “B2E” (Business to Employees) initiatives. Salesforce, the thought leader behind Customer Success, has named them “Employee Success”

Here’s how five big names in tech use innovative Learning & Development programs to make sure employees are engaged at work, and how startups and mid-sized companies can borrow from their playbooks.

SALESFORCE: Innovative, Customized Learning Journeys

Salesforce customizes Learning & Development to the individual employee to increase productivity and engagement. Dan Darcy, SVP Productivity, runs enablement at Salesforce and describes his job as Customer Success for internal employees.

For Salesforce, Customer Success is all about putting customers first. It means actively working to increase customer happiness, engagement, productivity, retention and ultimate success. For Dan and his team, Employee Success comes first.

“My goal is to establish the best sales training program in the industry; and then roll out this framework for training across all Salesforce departments,” Dan says enthusiastically. Dan’s team polled employees and discovered that Salesforce employees wanted personalized learning opportunities that they could do at their own pace.

To deliver, Dan’s team is adapting Salesforce’s homegrown Trailhead interactive customer learning platform for in-house employee training. Sales Account Executives still start their careers with face-to-face Salesforce Academy training at headquarters. Trailhead builds off this foundation by flipping the classroom model. Employees and managers design one-on-one learning journeys to meet each individual employee’s unique personal development needs and goals. With Trailhead, Salesforce is leveraging new training technology to increase both Customer Success and Employee Success.

YELP: Retaining Young Talent through Learning & Development

James Balagot, Head of Learning & Development at Yelp, uses L&D to increase engagement and retention. Yelp hires and trains hundreds of young account executives each year who quickly get pursued by other companies. As a former Yelp account executive himself, James understands that providing young professionals with valuable learning programs, a positive culture and meaningful advancement opportunities is the best defense against attrition.

Yelp’s strong commitment to promoting from within is the foundation for the company’s L&D efforts. To keep engagement and retention high, Yelp executives actively mentor young employees and tell managers that employee development is their key priority. James surveys employees regularly to assess their job satisfaction and engagement. Employee participation in L&D programming is optional but the message is clear. Yelp wants employees to succeed and provides daily opportunities for learning. At Yelp everyday can be a school day so employees can continually grow and advance their careers.

PANDORA: A Clear Focus on Manager Training

Pandora is another company that recognizes that mentorship and manager-employee relationships are key to employee job satisfaction. “The #1 reason why employees leave is because of poor relationships with their managers” states Matt Morgan, Pandora’s VP, Employee Experience and Development. His team carefully tracks two key employee engagement survey metrics to measure the strength of employee-manager relationships:

1) My manager really cares about me as a person

2) I would recommend my manager to others

Teaching new managers to coach, support, and manage their people effectively is Pandora’s primary L&D goal.

Matt’s team creates all its own B2E content and training tools for new managers in house to reflect Pandora’s values and culture. While the courses are required, Pandora makes all its manager training available online and on-demand, and makes sure each session takes less than 15 minutes to complete. Pandora successfully focuses their L&D initiatives on manager training to increase employee engagement and retention.

ADOBE: Online Leadership Training Drives Global Productivity

Adobe’s uses L&D to develop leaders. “At Adobe, when we talk about leadership, it’s leadership at all levels from our newest college grads to our senior leadership,” says Angela Szymusiak, Senior Talent Development partner. Three years ago, Adobe’s senior executive team identified five key leadership capabilities to cultivate in all employees:

1) Lead with Emotional Intelligence

2) Identify and hire top talent

3) Scale the business and drive growth

4) Innovate and drive change

5) Role model the Adobe Check-in approach by delivering meaningful, timely feedback

Adobe’s Global Talent Development team designed Adobe’s innovative Leading@Adobe curriculum to accomplish these goals across Adobe’s vast organization of +14,000 employees, in 40 countries and 70 locations.

Because of Adobe’s size, the Global Talent Development team relied on technology, Adobe’s web conferencing platform, Adobe Connect and on-demand resources to deliver scalable leadership programming. The company now offers a curated on-demand suite of leadership development e-learning tools globally. Moreover, Adobe gets the content right — its 60 minute virtual Adobe Connect labs consistently receive net promoter scores above 90% (eg: I would recommend this experience to my colleague).

Adobe has also reimagined its performance management model. It has replaced its annual performance review process with an innovative frequent feedback loop approach called Check-In. Check-Ins have been embraced throughout the company and are credited with improving communications, employee satisfaction and productivity.

FACEBOOK: Culture Is The Key for a Rapidly Expanding Workforce

“Facebook’s key Learning & Development objectives are to promote respect and foster a culture of continual learning,” says Mike Welsh, Learning & Development Partner and People Engineer at Facebook. The company’s approach to L&D was designed to appeal to its talented millennial workers who are hungry for autonomy, feedback, learning, and advancement. Facebook employees want personalized experiences so the company offers many avenues for individual learning through on-demand classes and career flexibility. At Facebook, most of the learning happens organically within functional departments and is peer-to-peer and employee-driven.

What Facebook’s L&D team is most known for are its innovative Manager, Leadership and Positive Culture development programs. For example, Facebook’s Engage Coaching Program provides new managers with one-on-one sessions with an executive coach to help them develop effective people management skills.

Facebook’s FLiP (Facebook Leadership in Practice) program also receives rave reviews. The FLiP program goes deep into leadership best practices, case studies, team-building and coaching circle exercises where rising leaders receive feedback and coaching from their peers and Facebook executive team members.

Finally, Facebook’s nationally recognized Managing Unconscious Bias program trains employees to acknowledge bias in the workplace and build productive working relationships with co-workers. Facebook successfully uses L&D to create a culture that puts people first, and fosters employee engagement, collaborative relationships and continual learning.

COINBASE: A Forward Thinking Startup

Some believe that L&D is a perk only big companies can offer. Three year old Coinbase, creator of the first bitcoin wallet, is proving that theory wrong.

Coinbase, a Series C company with just over 100 employees, is already using L&D to ensure high employee engagement. According to Nathalie McGrath, Director of People, Coinbase has created meaningful L&D offerings without a big budget and proprietary programs. To date, Coinbase has adopted Facebook’s coaching circles model, implemented Code School on Fridays and is exploring partnerships with Udemy in order to offer employees a variety of valuable on-demand courses. Coinbase’s goal is to empower employees and promote employee learning and continual personal development even when the company is in startup mode.

Five Affordable Ways to Launch L&D Initiatives

While large tech companies may have the money to invest in best-in-class, proprietary L&D programs, many of their best practices don’t require significant resources and budget. Here are five tips that companies of any size can implement quickly to bring L&D to their organizations without breaking the bank.

1) Promote in-house mentorship and coaching. Get informal mentorship meet- ups, coaching circles, and peer-to-peer learning off the ground.

2) Make on-line education an employee benefit. EdTech companies like Udemy, Udacity, and Coursera all offer a variety of affordable, turnkey B2B subscriptions for employee on-line learning.

3) Regularly track employee engagement and job satisfaction. Measure results and solicit feedback. Design and test new L&D initiatives. Strive to constantly improve these metrics.

4) Train new managers to lead, manage and give frequent feedback. Employees are more engaged and productive when their bosses are good people managers.

5) Treat employees like customers. Make employee engagement, success and advancement a key business priority. Leverage L&D programs to demonstrate your company’s commitment to its employees.

Learning & Development Will Drive Engagement, Retention and Productivity

“Employee engagement is the one key metric that business leaders can influence quickly to improve business productivity,” stated Jack Welch early this year. Salesforce, Pandora, Yelp, Adobe, Facebook and Coinbase have all demonstrated how Learning & Development programs can be used to increase employee engagement. True star employee performers care far more about learning and personal development than free lunches, gym discounts and ping pong. Earn their loyalty and increase their productivity and job satisfaction by bringing meaningful learning & development opportunities to your organization.

Ellen Wilson is a product marketing, branding and growth consultant in the SF Bay Area.