Dutch Dragathon wins KPMG's Learning & Development innovation award

16 May 2018 Consultancy.uk 5 min. read

KPMG Netherlands has won the 2018 edition of the firm’s annual Learning and Development (L&D) Innovation contest, with an idea to help new employees avoid dreaded industry burnout. The Dutch delegates fended off stiff competition from colleagues from Luxembourg, the UK and South Africa in the final, with a concept aimed at teaching new team members how to ‘manage’ the work-life decisions of peers and bosses.

To stimulate innovation within its ranks, international accounting and consulting firm KPMG organises several internal competitions aimed at developing prototypes, new services and innovations that could improve the company’s operations. One of those competitions is the inaugural L&D Innovations Awards, hosted in Portugal, which recognise Learning & Development excellence.

For a company such as KPMG, which has a workforce of 197,000 and intakes over 40,000 new colleagues a year across its footprint of 150+ offices, Learning & Development is a key pillar. “The skills, knowledge and capabilities of our people are central to our success. That’s why we’re fully committed to developing a continuous learning culture – one where every experience adds to your professional confidence and builds your individual career capital,” boasts KPMG on its corporate website.

Dutch Dragathon wins KPMG's Learning & Development innovation award

This year’s edition of the KPMG’s L&D Innovations Awards for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region received submissions from in 11 countries, including the UK. The winning prize, however, went to the Dutch, who outshone teams from neighbouring Luxembourg, the UK and South Africa in the final round. The entries were assessed by a panel of business experts, with the winner selected following a vote by leaders from the KPMG International L&D Community.

Dragathon, the concept which won the Netherlands the top prize, was developed by young advisors of KPMG’s Dutch arm, which has a headcount size of around 2,800 people. It is an accelerated learning solution that brings together a group of new employees to the firm to compete in teams to solve a business challenge. They work together to develop a solution which they present to a panel of experts only 24 hours later. Dragathon – which derives its name to the combination of ‘Hackathon’ and ‘Dragon’s Den’ – was recognised by the jury for its approach to unlocking creativity and fostering team work, as well as accelerating the onboarding of new joiners.

Commenting on the winning entry, the jury stated, “Dragathon is an excellent demonstration of innovation in the L&D field.”

One of the topics the Dragathon is deemed highly effective for is work-life balance. Many firms in consulting are working to reduce workplace stress by promoting a healthier balance between employment and home-life, with multiple benchmarks showing that the work pressure is high in accountancy and consulting industry in particular. Many in particular young professionals feeling pressured to work long hours and burn-out rates higher compared to other industries.

Real behaviours

Mind Work Productions created the concept together with RMMBR, who develop clearing solutions. Jan van Aalderen from creative agency Mind Work Productions, who supported KPMG Netherlands' team, explained: “Our concept is intensive for new KPMG employees. We ask them to participate in a session that lasts 24 hours. Without breaks! During this session they learn what it means to work hard. And even more important. When is the workload enough and is it advisable to set a limit.”

He continued, “You can imagine that as the day progresses, more and more 'made' layers of work ethics disappear and 'real behaviour' surfaces. That is the ideal moment when young, talented professionals can best be confronted with their choices and behavior. The intensive 24-hour session makes the message stick.”

To trigger the ‘real behaviour’ among new joiners, the session does not have rules and guidelines, including the fact that the organisers do not organise at which point participants should rest. “It is really up to the young professionals to indicate their own demands and announce when they need rest.” Aalderen further explained, “In every session we see that a number of participants do not indicate their limit and worked through the whole night. Afterwards they realise how unhealthy that attitude is. Precisely by indicating limits you become resilient and stay healthy. That's really important.”

Since scooping its award, KPMG Netherlands has received interest from other member firms for the concept. A spokesperson of the Dutch team told Consultancy.uk, A great workplace begins with extraordinary people and this award recognises the steps KPMG is taking to develop the talent of its trainees. It’s great to see our team being recognised for this effort by the regional peers at an EMA-wide forum.”

This year KPMG expects to hire more than 35,000 new graduates and other entry-level professionals. Initiatives such as Dragathon are likely to be key to maintaining not only individual health, but also the health of KPMG’s overall workforce, as competition for top talent heightens, and retaining current employees, shielding them from the possibilities of burnout, and keeping them both happy and subsequently more productive becomes a priority.