· 2 min read · Features

Experiential learning: Bringing the outside in


For a business to remain in step with society’s expectations bringing the outside in is a necessity

Experiential learning programmes are invaluable to business. These programmes help business to better understand the communities in which they operate by ‘bringing the outside in’, and data has shown that the vast majority of employees come back more engaged and energised, with new skills or ways of working.

GSK’s PULSE programme is a global skills-based volunteering initiative for 80 to 100 employees per year and is one example of how we’re bringing the outside in. Eligible staff apply for a three- or six-month assignment with a not-for-profit partner organisation while continuing to be fully paid by GSK. The primary intention is for employees to lend their skills and expertise to support the receiving organisation. So a supply chain employee at GSK may help an organisation with its distribution capabilities, for example. In essence our staff are given the opportunity to live the values and mission of our company, which is to improve the quality of life for people across the world.

But what does HR have to do with it? Well, as it turns out, a lot. Experiential learning programmes can powerfully demonstrate the value an HR function can bring to an organisation, and to society.

Our PULSE programme is managed by the HR function, which would indicate the company sees it as a talent development initiative. This is correct to an extent. However, it’s the benefit to the wider organisation and beyond GSK that illustrates the value HR brings via this programme.

There is close alignment between the HR function and the corporate strategy team to ensure the business makes the most of the insights gained from the programme. This involves briefing volunteers before they go on assignment to ensure they understand both the company strategy and the business challenges we are facing; all with the intention of ensuring they can use their time to identify opportunities to help us overcome these challenges or bring back innovative new ideas (it goes without saying that their primary objective is to support the not-for-profit!) This is an increasingly important focus for the programme, and HR plays a key role in ensuring these insights and ideas are captured, shared and where appropriate, implemented.

While the PULSE programme is tailor-made for our business and fully aligned with our mission, it may not be appropriate for, say, an automotive company or a SME with limited resources to implement an identical programme. But I am confident that every organisation can think differently about how it brings the outside in, which is why this Responsible Business Week I’ll be working with Business in the Community to deliver a working group session to share our experiences in order to help other companies introduce their own programmes. Part of being a responsible business means sharing successes with others – especially when it’s for the greater good. It’s clear that for a business to remain in step with society’s expectations bringing the outside in is not a luxury, it’s a necessity.

Natalie Woodford is SVP, talent, leadership and organisation development at GSK. She will be speaking at the Connected Companies roundtable on 19 April as part of Business in the Community’s Responsible Business Week #RBWeek