Homegrown Career Development

When employee volunteers at Walgreens created a career development and training program, they generated inherent enthusiasm and support.

By Tara Shawel Apr 1, 2011
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In January, Walgreens unveiled a career development and training site, but it was already a known entity to a significant portion of the employee base. A hundred employee volunteers designed the tool exactly to their liking. Let me tell you how the project came about.

In the spring of 2009, Walgreens began expanding the use of HR business partners in business units and support functions. Today, as one of those business partners, I have a direct reporting relationship to Mark Wattley, divisional vice president of human resources, business strategy and solutions, and dotted-line reporting relationships to my clients, Chief Financial Officer Wade Miquelon and Sona Chawla, senior vice president of e-commerce.

Our finance division includes finance, accounting, strategy, strategic sourcing, mergers and acquisitions, audit, risk, re-engineering, tax and treasury. These areas, served by roughly 1,000 employees, all roll up to Miquelon.

At the time I interviewed for the business partner role, Miquelon saw the most opportunity for improvement in organizational development and made it a priority. Historically, the company focused most talent development activities on retail employees, and that needed to change. Earlier this year, we welcomed a new chief human resource officer, Kathleen Wilson-Thompson, who introduced an overarching strategy for talent development. Taking that strategy to the business-unit and job levels became one of her goals; my division’s program begins that initiative.

Miquelon and Wilson-Thompson see a need to build all employees’ skills. In finance, Miquelon wants a program created by and for the people. And so, the quest for volunteers began in October 2009.

Employees’ Needs First

In exchange for time and commitment, we promised volunteers a program that would help them navigate their career aspirations. Miquelon and I began to publicize the project via his internal newsletter and in staff and division meetings. For the kickoff meeting, we had about 15 participants. Within just a few weeks, we were up to 100 volunteers. Word spread fast about the exciting work, and employees wanted to get involved. Volunteers now build programs, act as subject matter experts and serve as internal educators.

To give the initiative an identity, we named the program “blueprints.” Our tag line is “Building Exceptional Careers.” The program allows each employee to manage his or her own career. We are providing employees the tools to do that, with the support of their managers. As an HR business partner, I serve as the liaison to the business-unit executive and help facilitate employees’ career progression. Yet the employees and their managers own the task.

The objectives for blueprints are to:

  • Establish defined career paths that our employees can pursue in technical, functional and general management tracks.
  • Provide tools and training so employees can pursue desired career paths.
  • Be the employer-of-choice among finance and accounting professionals.

In exchange for time and commitment, we promised volunteers a program that would help them navigate their career aspirations.

The Volunteers Sign On

Beginning in September 2009, we developed a seven-phase road map.

The 100 volunteers serve on teams managing 12 work streams. The teams include professionals skilled in accounting, analytics, finance, mergers and acquisitions, and strategy.

Five teams develop career management products:

  • Tools and training. Examples include e-learning modules, instructor-led courses, experiential learning and third-party training.
  • Rewards and recognition. Accolades range from simple “thank yous” to formal recognition delivered by the CFO.
  • Competencies and performance standards. The knowledge, skills, abilities and behaviors needed to perform a job.
  • Internal development. Finding roles, career paths and rotations that will help employees pursue career goals.
  • Calibration and succession planning. These products ensure consistency when measuring performance and build a bench of possible successors for key roles.

The remaining teams enable us to deliver our products and services:

  • Program management. Keeping the project on time and on budget.
  • Enabling technologies. Features include e-learning, a recognition nomination process, posting open positions, news, executive messages, career-path tools and processes, and enterprise collaboration.
  • Change management. This team will ensure that blueprints will be adopted and operational by executing change strategies and serving as champions.
  • Communication and branding. How we market blueprints from inception to launch.
  • Training. Team members focus on training employees to use the offerings.
  • Research, metrics and scorecards. This team researched talent management models and served as a data source for the work streams. Members crafted and executed a baseline employee survey. The research helped us determine what we needed to deliver. And it uncovered other benefits—including improvement in certain engagement and satisfaction metrics—as a result of blueprints’ events, products and services. Finally, this team will create a scorecard for tracking metrics such as career movement and retention.
  • Integration. This team is working with HR professionals at headquarters to ensure alignment with companywide initiatives and to prevent duplication.

Front-Line Leadership

Each work stream has a volunteer leader. We were deliberate when selecting them, seeking qualities of influence, experience and a drive for results. Irene Verner serves as a great example. Verner was an audit manager when she volunteered. She quickly recognized that to accomplish her team charter, she would need to divide work into subteams and give members specific tasks. Her team met weekly and updated me on progress. She and her team members treat their blueprints responsibilities no differently than those of their day jobs. Verner recently moved on to lead a newly formed process improvement team as a director. Her experience on blueprints will help her build and grow her new team.

Volunteer leaders have produced another unintended but valuable benefit: We have trained 100 of our employees in talent management concepts. These folks stepped in as finance and accounting professionals. As volunteers, they expanded their understanding of human resources.

Sarah Gilbert says, “When I was exploring new opportunities within the company, it was important for me to find something within the finance group because I get so much joy from working on blueprints that I wasn’t willing to let that part of my job go. It makes me more engaged at work.” This is a huge compliment and testament to the excitement around this program. Gilbert is moving from a job as a market manager to become senior manager of enterprise process improvement.

The Volunteers Deliver

Products and services delivered via our site include education videos, webcasts, podcasts and audio presentations. For classroom instruction, we post schedules and registration forms. For finance topics such as budgeting, tax planning and principles of accounting, we will rely on off-the-shelf e-learning modules.

For complex topics specific to Walgreens, we will call on internal experts with institutional knowledge and business experience to build and deliver courses. Their contributions will make learning relevant and meaningful to their peers. For example, Bob Zimmerman, our head of strategy, can teach a course on corporate strategy and, more specifically, Walgreens’ strategy.

Other products include onboarding materials, recruiting tools and online nominations to recognize achievements in business leadership, stewardship and organizational development. For the website design, we wanted an edgy and modern look that would captivate users and bring them back.

To further drive engagement, learning and a sense of community, we are looking to provide social networking on business and personal topics. For example, we will offer a “chat with an expert” function. If I have a question regarding budgets, I can connect with our head of financial planning and analysis for the answer.

Through blueprints, I want to demonstrate to employees and managers that talent initiatives matter. Career development prepares employees for rotation and advancement opportunities, and allows them to perform at higher levels in their current roles. Function-specific training will help achieve those goals.

So, where does this lead? To a more skilled, competent and engaged workforce.

The critical factor for me will be measuring the use of blueprints and watching the program evolve as a means for strengthening my division and enabling employees to actively manage their training and career development.


Services: As of Dec. 31, 2010, Walgreens operated 8,136 locations in 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and Guam. That included 7,655 pharmacies, 506 of which were acquired during the previous 12 months. The Take Care Health Systems subsidiary manages more than 700 in-store convenient care clinics and worksite health and wellness centers. Walgreens also operates home-care facilities and specialty, institutional and mail-service pharmacies.

Owners hip: Publicly held (NYSE: WAG).

Top managers: Chief Executive Officer Gregory D. Wasson, Chief Human Resource Officer Kathleen Wilson-Thompson.

Fiscal 2010 revenue: $67.4 billion.

Employees: 244,000.

Headquarters: Deerfield, Ill.

Connections: (847) 914-2500, www.walgreens.com.

The author is a human resources business partner at Walgreens in Deerfield, Ill.

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