Johnson & Johnson’s CLO on Launching a Learning Program to Enable Career Development Enterprise-Wide - Senior Executive

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9 min

Johnson & Johnson’s CLO on Launching a Learning Program to Enable Career Development Enterprise-Wide

Chief learning officer Sandra Humbles discusses the framework of J&J Learn, which is driven by employees’ career interests and AI recommendations for education and mentorship.

by Kimberly Valentine on August 15, 2023

Sandra Humbles

Sandra Humbles

Chief Learning Officer
Johnson & Johnson


  • Chief learning officer Sandra Humbles leads a department of 2,000 learning and development professionals across more than 120 learning organizations within Johnson & Johnson.

  • Under her leadership in 2022, the J&J learning and development team won four awards from the research and advisory firm Brandon Hall Group, including a gold for Best Advance in Learning Technology Implementation.

  • In her previous role as VP, global education solutions for J&J MedTech, Humbles led digital transformations for surgeons trained through VR, AR, and AI.

A lack of professional growth opportunity is the leading reason employees leave their roles, accounting for one-third of departures, according to data by Culture Amp. To attract and retain top talent, Johnson & Johnson (J&J) opted to create a career development program. 

Chief learning officer Sandra Humbles and her team developed the J&J Learn program to reach all 150,000 employees in Johnson & Johnson’s workforce. “It’s bigger than just our core education and learning,” Humbles says. “We’ve tried to connect everything we do to how we think about talent.” 

J&J Learn starts with collecting an employee’s reflections and insights on how they want to develop their careers. From there, AI makes recommendations on learning materials, suitable mentors, and real-world opportunities at J&J to guide employees’ upskilling journey. 

Launched as a minimum viable product in April 2022, the program rolled out workforce-wide that July. With more than 50,000 employees already engaged in the platform, Humbles’ team is working toward a stretch goal of 75,000 participants by the end of the year. 

Senior Executive L&D spoke with Humbles about the framework of J&J Learn and how it’s intended to create more equitable career development opportunities across the global enterprise. Read on for an edited excerpt from that discussion. 

Senior Executive Media: The J&J Learn program starts with analyzing an individual’s interests and values in addition to their skills assessments. Can you explain how this works? 

Sandra Humbles: We have a development framework that is common to all… It starts with reflections and insights. The month of June is our mid-year conversations, where we’re looking at our goals and we’re also looking at our career navigation and development plan. Everybody is sent into the front end of J&J Learn to do that reflections and insights… You as a human being, what do you value? What motivates you? What skills do you have that you really want to leverage as you move forward? And then maybe what your career aspiration is, and where you may have a strategic gap.

You end up with a customized view of what’s important to you… From there, you will decide where the priorities are. The most important thing that happens is still the conversation with your leader because we do want to make sure that as you’re starting to drive the AI engine here, [you also have] the personal connection with your leader to make sure that that is leading you to the right destinations.

“[L&D is] about the total employee value proposition. Why people join J&J, and why people stay at J&J.”

Sandra Humbles, Chief Learning Officer at Johnson & Johnson

Senior Executive Media: What comes next after an employee has identified their learning priorities?

Sandra Humbles: The other part of the development framework basically is three E’s…education and learning, experiences, and exposure. If you come out of your review and say, I’m going to skill up in these two areas, [J&J Learn] will show you the three E experience — so learning content, it will show you mentors that are relevant, and it will show you gigs that allow you to apply that skill so that you can really get to the application.

Let’s use an example. Someone says, ‘I want to skill up in being really good at coaching, because eventually I would like to be a people leader.’ They will literally go in and say ‘coaching is important to me,’ and click on a little book [icon], and it takes them…to a learning journey with our coaching curriculum. They have access to…the coaching book [“Coaching for Performance: The Principles and Practice of Coaching and Leadership,” by John Whitmore]…to understand the whole methodology of coaching. Then there are training experiences, white papers, etcetera, so that person can immediately start to skill themselves up in the academic part of coaching.

Then you think about exposure, that’s getting connected to talk about, this is what coaching means… They may select a mentor who is already advanced or an expert in that space to help them to practice some of the skills… Programs in the past around mentorship were very much about networking. They weren’t intentional. Whereas our mentoring, as we move forward, is all linked to upskilling. So you will get a mentor who is a great coach or you will get a mentor who is good in strategic thinking.

Then it may go as far as, ‘You know what, now I understand it. I really want to get an experience.’ They may either sign up to do a small project [through the GROW Gigs program]. So in an experience, they can then actually apply all of that knowledge.

Examples of employees taking on gigs to help support their tailored growth and development [include]…governmental affairs and patient engagement and advocacy champion in Slovenia. In this gig, an employee in Slovenia developed their skills specifically around patient and stakeholder communication, networking, and patient care quality… [And] employee health and well-being ambassador in Egypt. In this gig, an employee received focus L&D on our employee well-being offerings and how to support and promote company well-being practices, services, and support broadly.

Senior Executive Media: In addition to meeting with employees about their goals, how are managers involved in the process? Are they provided with training from the L&D team? 

Sandra Humbles: A great example of manager training to support the J&J Learn overall program is through the GROW Gigs program, where we conduct learning sessions with teams and organizations about J&J Learn and how to best implement it with team members of all levels. These sessions begin with deep overviews of J&J Learn and explain why skills are the foundation for gigs and mentors. This ensures we provide the necessary foundation, training, and insights to managers ahead of launching J&J Learn to their teams.

We have a network of global volunteer champions from the learning teams, HR, and the business who are equipped with the required information, training, and skills who have helped support all global teams launch and continue to implement J&J Learn. These volunteers are responsible for championing and supporting the teams within their regions and continue to provide guidance, support, and tools to both managers and their teams throughout their J&J Learn journeys.

Ahead of launch, we also developed numerous content resources such as videos and how-to guides to give managers’ direction in supporting their teams. These resources guide managers on when to initiate conversations and how to direct their team members back to the J&J Learn platform. 

Senior Executive Media: What metrics are you looking at to measure the success of J&J Learn? 

Sandra Humbles: [L&D is] about the total employee value proposition. Why people join J&J, and why people stay at J&J… We used to say it all the time, ‘LinkedIn Learning knows more about our people than we do.’ That statement is now not true. We actually now know more about our people than LinkedIn Learning, which is awesome. 

Job one was to completely open up that internal marketplace and live into the promise of J&J really being a career playground… [An] example is if you have somebody in supply chain, they have maybe been skilling up in AI and data science, and now they are going to be able to see jobs and mentors and gigs anywhere in J&J.

So the best way I can say how we’re measuring it is we’re opening up our internal marketplace at the highest level, which will mean job satisfaction. 

At the micro level…you could call them more operational metrics…getting the utilization and making sure the experience and net promoter scores (NPS) are where they need to be… Click down one level, what is the quality of the work that people are doing in that ecosystem? We’re looking at the metrics of how many people have completed [the reflections and insights]… So far, over 15,000 employees have completed [this]… How many people have really identified the skills that they want to scale up and then gone into the learning side of the platform?

We have several layers where we track employee satisfaction with NPS, both relational and transactional NPS. Before J&J Learn launched, our internal data showed a strong need and desire for more engaging, personalized L&D. However, that NPS quickly turned positive right after the launch of J&J Learn. We’re also looking into other satisfaction data. A few examples include: user experience — on J&J Learn home [navigation site], nearly 80% of respondents stated that they are easily able to find what they’re looking for — [and] learning content star ratings — we have over 900 courses that have an average rating of five stars.

Senior Executive Media: What is the long-term vision for J&J Learn as it relates to talent development?

Sandra Humbles: By January of next year, we’re on track to…open up complete transparency to career navigation at J&J… Anybody who sits anywhere in J&J can click on their name, and they can see, because of their profile, jobs that they can immediately move into because they’re a complete match, areas of promotional opportunity, and then they will be able to see areas where they need to skill up. 

Our talent acquisition team, my peers, are now working on: How do you then show job vacancies to people who have those skill sets and are ready now for those positions? It will completely open up from, ‘Hey, this is maybe the path I’m wanting to go into,’ [to] ‘I can now see the vacancies.’

I’ve been in J&J 33 years. I got to where I am by networking, by working hard, by talking to the right people. The next generation, we’ve digitized all of that… It’s equal to the whole population at J&J… Being an open access platform, our J&J Learn program has created equitable opportunities for all employees. 

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