The Skills Challenge: How Four of the World’s Best Workplaces Prepare Their Teams for the Future

October 26, 2017, 2:58 PM UTC

Business challenges can vary by region, but one stands out the world over: The need to prepare the workforce for the future.

When PwC released its 20th CEO survey this year, 77% of corporate leaders agreed skills shortages pose a threat to growth. At the same time, more than half said they planned to add new hires who will all need integration into their new roles.

This is where the World’s Best Workplaces—recently announced by Fortune and Great Place to Work—offer some of the most valuable insight. These companies excel at creating agile, adaptive organizations on a global scale. And analysis of their programs found professional development was the top area separating them from their peers. Here are four examples of how the most respected international workplaces maximize the human potential of their employees.

Cisco: Employee development in real time

Cisco’s UK team members can search for mentors, job swaps and even long-term job rotations to expand their skills using an online Stretch Assignment Marketplace. The app, though, isn’t what makes professional development novel at this Best Workplace. Rather, it’s one part of a culture of continuous learning and development.

Cisco no longer conducts rated annual reviews, replacing them instead with regular conversations focused on performance, career direction, personal strengths and alignment with the wider team. Every quarter, groups of managers run through skills gaps, potential promotions and compensation decisions informed by the topics they discuss regularly with their staff members.

“The extent to which Cisco helps to develop their employees, not just with career development but with personal development, is outstanding,” said one team member. “So much investment goes into supporting and helping individuals develop as people and help their employees maximize their capability.’

Lessons from retraining 100,000 at DHL

Following the global financial crisis, a reorganization and the hiring of a new CEO, DHL undertook a massive training program to reengage its people and refocus them on the company’s customer service. By late 2011, after only 18 months, all of its 100,000-plus employees underwent a series of coursework that remains new team members’ introduction to the company.

The German logistics giant flies new hires to its air hub in Kentucky for interactive courses on the fundamentals of international shipping, the organization’s history and its culture, as well as job-specific training. For managers, this focuses heavily on transparent communication, feedback and clear goal setting.

According to one employee, this investment in professional development continues well afterward: “What makes DHL different, and a great place to work, is its focus on people. Here, we have abundant learning and development opportunities, from training, coaching, job attachment, best-practice sharing, to internal promotion. I always receive feedback from my superiors and am inspired to do my best work.”

Hands on at H&M

When H&M sponsored a TV series called Fashion Planet, staff members in the Netherlands styled the actors and served as extras on set. At press events and store openings, the company also taps employees for photography, hair styling and other duties to incorporate their interests into a work experience that extends beyond the shop floor.

Co-workers at various job levels in the UK have traveled to help colleagues set up new markets in India, the Philippines and Australia. Ninety percent of the sales advisers supporting the Australian project advanced into management positions when they returned. In Mexico, an internship program also fills corporate office vacancies with store staff wanting to explore other parts of the business.

“I found my dreams and goals in H&M. Even though every day is busy, everything I do is worth it when it comes to my goals and my future,” said one H&M associate in China.

Hilton: Preparing the next generation

In addition to supporting career development for its current workforce, Hilton Hotels and Resorts begins filling its talent pipeline at the earliest possible opportunity.

Last year, the organization hosted more than 100,000 young people at 1,260 career events worldwide. In Venice, Italy, one hotel brought in hundreds of students from professional high schools, graduates of a local university and trainees from a beauty college. Chefs, the spa manager and team members across the organization offered them general job-application tips while giving candid advice about the range of careers available in hospitality.

Like all of the World’s Best Workplaces, Hilton realizes that investments in employees are investments in its future. These organizations will grow even more competitive as their people explore their talents and adapt their skills to markets changing faster than ever.

Remarked one employee, “Hilton has given me opportunities to develop myself professionally and allows me to share my knowledge with many team members around the world. Hilton stimulates self-development and offers many varied ways of learning that go beyond your actual day-to-day job.”


Kim Peters and Tabitha Russell Wilhelmsen are Executive Vice President and Certification Program Manager, respectively, at Great Place to Work, the longtime research partner for FORTUNE’s annual list of 100 Best Companies to Work For and other Best Workplaces lists, including the World’s Best Workplaces.