Philips Lighting University: Lighting the LED way through staff certification

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Philips sets up highly successful LED certification programme for its staff with the help of BT Learning Solutions

In lighting technology today, LED is transforming the marketplace. Philips Lighting, a world-leading innovator, is continuously developing new applications for new markets. To help cement this position, Stefaan van Hooydonk, Dean of the Philips Lighting University, was asked to find ways for all staff, especially marketing and sales, to increase their LED knowledge and help grow the company’s LED success.

Working with BT Learning Solutions, Stefaan set up an ambitious LED certification programme open to everyone. Exceeding expectations right from the start, this initiative has now gone global. With powerful motivational effects and proven linkage to bottom line results, the programme has helped light the LED way.

The key to strengthening the position of Philips as an innovator, and helping our sales people better understand the needs of our customers, is deeper insight into LED technologies and applications.”
- Stefaan van Hooydonk, Dean, Philips Lighting University


LED lighting solutions are rapidly replacing conventional technologies and transforming the market landscape. Once dominated by only a handful of manufacturers, the LED revolution has unleashed an avalanche of new lighting products and market players. Product lifecycles have been dramatically shortened as those entrants vie to set new standards or hop on competitors’ innovation bandwagons. Meanwhile conventional thoughts on the needs and preferences of business customers and consumers have become blurred.

To raise the knowledge bar of its customer-facing employees, Philips Lighting decided to set up a certification programme. “We asked BT Learning Solutions to help us as it has a reputation as a leader in developing learning and certification programmes,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk.

BT Learning Solutions was tasked with drawing up an inventory of best practices and available tools within and outside Philips. It was also asked to develop a proof of concept exercise to assess current knowledge levels, and produce a roadmap for the rollout of the certification programme on a Philips Lighting-wide scale.

Stefaan van Hooydonk explains: “The key to strengthening the position of Philips as an innovator, and helping our sales people better understand the needs of our customers, is deeper insight into LED technologies and applications.”


Philips stressed that in designing the programme it was the results that should be the prime focus, not necessarily the inputs or methods. “In our view, it’s irrelevant how and when people acquire knowledge and learn, as long as they are able to prove they possess the required knowledge levels by passing the test,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk. “We thus opted for an output-based learning model. That means we set the standard on proving one’s knowledge level while we gave people full freedom in how they acquired this knowledge.”

In only three months, BT Learning Solutions delivered the requested inventory of best practices and available tools, the proof of concept exercise, and a rollout plan for the certification project. Stefaan van Hooydonk says: “BT did a great job, even producing a set of test questions calibrated to ensure relevance and integrity.”

Next, the Philips Lighting University team ran the proof of concept, which involved some 100 employees, mostly from sales and marketing. “One of the objectives was to benchmark knowledge levels,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk. “As the certification is output driven, no preparation is required of candidates. Yet in reality, about 60 to 70 per cent of colleagues attempting the test, failed. This failure creates an awareness of one’s knowledge level and a desire to do something about it.” Candidates typically passed the test at the second or third attempt, after being offered access to an interactive toolkit.

That toolkit consists of e-learning tools, apps, e-books, edu-games, wikis, webinars and informal learning options (for example, directly liaising with subject matter experts to quickly fill knowledge gaps). “Our innovative learning approach worked very well, with people free to use the tools they thought fit, which had a stimulating effect on their motivation,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk.

Moving into the rollout, expectations in the first year were that some 1,000 people would achieve certification. Within 12 months, however, no fewer than 2,500 out of a target population of 6,000 sales and marketing staff had qualified at LED Fundamentals Level or LED Professional Level.

That success can to a large extent be attributed to the internal communications around the certification programme. It used innovative ideas to advertise the tools and the test, with a bottom-up approach to spreading the word. For example, candidates who passed the test were awarded banners and logos for use in email signatures to recognise and publicise their LED skills. Says Stefaan van Hooydonk: “That campaign created a high awareness level and helped instil pride in those who achieved certification.”


Encouraged by the first year’s results, the Philips Lighting University team raised the target for the second year to 20,000 employees, expanding the certification offering with an LED Passport Level to enable non-technical and administrative people to become involved. “LED is a highly strategic technology for Philips, and we feel it’s important to foster awareness throughout the organisation,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk. “That’s why we decided to add LED Passport Level certification to enable everyone to gain elementary knowledge.”

Again, results exceeded expectations. From a Philips Lighting workforce of 55,000 an additional 23,000 employees had received certificates by the end of the second year – including 4,000 at LED Fundamentals Level and LED Professional Level. Hans Dirkzwager, director at BT Learning Solutions, says: “Working closely with the Philips team to push the boundaries – and the business results – of learning technologies has been a truly fulfilling experience for both companies.”

That achievement generated so much interest that a competitive spirit took hold, prompting still more people to study for and take the test. Equally importantly, that bottom-up excitement was supplemented by top-down reinforcement as management at all levels started promoting the certification initiative: acknowledging its importance as a strategic business driver and enabler of change.

Despite that success, it was felt that hard figures were needed to measure the business effect of the certification programme. “Enthusiasm and excitement are fine, but the bottom line is even better,” says Stefaan van Hooydonk. Quantification is another BT Learning Solutions skillset and the Philips Lighting University requested an analysis of the impact and return on investment of the certification programme.

Overall programme investment was quantified at just €165,000 resulting in a cost per certified commercial candidate of only €41. Against that background, BT interviewed a representative sample of managers and commercial employees who had passed the certification test, leading to the following findings:

  • 83 per cent regarded certification as relevant or highly relevant and would recommend it
  • 76 per cent said that it had a positive impact on their work, giving them more confidence and enabling them to engage in more meaningful discussions with customers and business partners
  • 71 per cent felt that it improved their productivity in sales talks with customers and helped them strike better relationships
  • 74 per cent could demonstrate higher sales figures, better margins and improved customer satisfaction (actual figures are regarded as commercially confidential)

A delighted Stefaan van Hooydonk concludes: “The outcome of the BT survey put hard figures against our intuitive satisfaction, giving us the proof we needed to verify the success of our efforts.” Today, the Philips Lighting University has rolled out the LED certification programme toolkit and processes worldwide, but giving countries the freedom to choose their own approach. The concept has also expanded beyond LED, and now includes other domains such as Lighting Controls.

Core Services

  • BT Learning Solutions


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