30 Under 30: AJ Smith, SHRM-SCP

Meet the Millennials who are leading HR into the future.

By John Scorza Nov 23, 2016
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AJ Smith​AJ Smith, leadership development program specialist, is a tour de force at Vanguard University, the training arm for the Vanguard Group’s 14,000 global employees. His impact is far-reaching, as he has helped to create and roll out sales training, leadership coaching and onboarding programs.

Vanguard sales associates are put through their paces in workshops and intensive role-playing with actors to simulate sales meetings. Based in Scottsdale, Ariz., Smith, 28, led the team that designed this unique program, which is credited with helping bring about multibillion-dollar year-over-year sales growth.

Corporate leaders have also benefited from Smith’s creativity. He brought “behavioral nudging” to his organization to encourage simple adjustments in behavior. The company’s 3,000 leaders have received subtle calls to action, or “whispers,” via e-mail. A leader might be challenged to interact with an employee and focus on making the encounter as helpful as possible to the worker, for example.

Smith is leading a project that is likely to have a massive impact—an overhaul of the organization’s approach to training new employees. He thinks it will change the way the HR business partner delivers learning at his organization.

Smith has also made time to focus on his own development. In the past year, he earned his SHRM-SCP and an MBA.

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