Yum! Brands, Inc., based in Louisville, Kentucky, is the world's
largest restaurant company in terms of system restaurants, with
more than 36,000 restaurants in more than 112 countries and
territories. Yum! is ranked No. 253 on the Fortune 500 List, with
revenues in excess of $11 billion in 2008. Four of its restaurant
brands - KFC, Pizza Hut, Taco Bell, and Long John Silver's - are
the global leaders of the chicken, pizza, Mexican-style food, and
quick-service seafood categories. Learning Executives Briefing
spoke with Rob Lauber, vice president of Yum! University and global
learning. His Yum! University team includes 21 people, and he has
oversight of numerous learning organizations within the brands,
franchisees, and business units.
Learning Executives Briefing: Can you tell us a
bit about your career path?
Rob Lauber: I started in an operations role. I
worked for Dun & Bradstreet as a business analyst. I moved into
a training role in 1990 as a classroom instructor on selling
skills. From there, I moved to the design side of things at Coopers
& Lybrand and what eventually became Cingular Wireless, not
AT&T Mobility. I joined the Yum! Brands team in April of 2006.
LXB: Has your experience at Yum! been what you
Lauber: It has been better than I expected. In
making the leap, I was looking for a challenge. And Yum! presents
professional challenges on multiple fronts that I am excited about.
LXB: How is the learning organization at Yum!
Lauber: We have a federated model. There are
multiple learning organizations throughout the company, either from
a business unit perspective or a brand perspective. And, a lot of
our franchisees, both internationally and some of the larger ones
in the United States, have their own learning organizations. We set
the agenda for learning in a multitude of ways based on the
maturity of that particular learning organization as well as who is
driving the agenda for that part of the business.
LXB: Is there a corporate philosophy?
Lauber: Culturally, we have a mindset of "people
capability first...satisfied customers and profitability will
follow." We believe that if we have capable people in their roles
that can execute, then the rest of the business will take care of
itself. That has been Yum!'s philosophy since its spinoff from
PepsiCo in 1997. We call it a "founding truth."
LXB: Your website says that "Part of our growth
strategy will be to ensure that our leadership team, company
workforce, and culture are as diverse as our customers around the
world." How does the learning organization help foster that
Lauber: Part of it has to do with our structure.
Outside the United States, we are organized around specific
geographic areas or cultures. For example, our China business is
run as a separate business unit because of the unique needs and
wants of that particular culture for food that is available
throughout the world via our brands. Our learning organizations
mirror that model.
We reuse what makes sense, but we also customize learning for the
particular culture. The learning organization in China focuses on
driving a similar core set of people-capability building strategies
as the other 100-plus countries where we operate, but the
organization does it within the context of the Chinese culture.
That's where our diversity gives us a strategic advantage.
LXB: Is there much cross pollination?
Lauber: Yes, definitely. For example, our KFC
business in the United States is run by a South African and the
Taco Bell business in the United States is run by an Australian.
And in Australia, our business is run by a person from another part
of the world. We have Americans working in our China business in
Shanghai. For us, it is about putting the right people in the right
LXB: How are you creating the next generation of
leaders for the company?
Lauber: We subscribe to the 70-20-10 rule. Seventy
percent is on-the-job experiences, whether that is through
challenging projects or new assignments. Twenty percent of
development comes from coaching provided from peers and other
leaders, and 10 percent comes from formal learning activities such
as classes, workshops, or further education. For example, we focus
on the people we feel have high potential through a people planning
and review process every year.
We make sure they are getting the experiences we believe they need
to prepare them for bigger roles. We look at their next logical
steps from an experience perspective and talk about what formal
development or informal coaching they might need. We do this at
planned intervals to make sure we have the right people capability
we need to remain successful.
LXB: Are your high potentials aware that they are
on a leadership track?
Lauber: Not formally. Most of them understand if
they have upside potential. They may not understand what, when, and
where it will be but may understand where the path is leading them.
We don't approach it from a formal scheduled perspective (like a
rotation). We are opportunistic about putting high-potential people
into roles to upgrade their skills.
LXB: Do these high potentials remain in the same
area, or do they get moved around?
Lauber: It is not unusual for a person to get
cross-functional experiences. For example, in HR, we have several
people who were in other functions before their current role and
LXB: How is the economy having an impact on the
company's learning efforts as a whole?
Lauber: We are definitely not cutting back, but we
are holding the line overall. We have not increased our spending
from last year on a corporate level. We are, as always, looking for
opportunities to be more efficient.
Where we are investing, though, is in our global learning
technologies infrastructure. Two years ago, we started to bring our
restaurants and operations onto e-learning platforms. The
commitment we made two years ago has not changed, regardless of the
economy, but we are looking at how to exploit technology in how and
what we deliver.
Some of it is Web 2.0, such as how can we effectively use
communities of practice? How do we allow people to share their
knowledge and know-how across the business? How do we make it
possible that a product idea in one country is visible to others
who may be trying to identify the same opportunity in another?
The introduction of learning technologies into the restaurantis
helping us to refocus our previous strategy of solely using an
"apprentice" model to build people capability. The introduction of
technology leads us to consider what is the best use of an
apprentice in a restaurant? What is the best use of technology?
What is the best curriculum design or strategy to teach an hourly
worker how to perform a job? I very often find myself in those
conversations at a very tactical level, such as what is the process
flow and how should it work?
LXB: What are your major benchmarks?
Lauber: We are in the midst of redefining our
culture. When we passed our 10th anniversary, our CEO asked us to
step back and take a look at where we were. He helped us frame our
business in the context of a tennis match. If we look at the first
10 years as the first set, how did we do? By most metrics, we won.
Our stock price quadrupled, and we opened thousands more
restaurants and grew our business significantly.
But now our challenge is to be even better in our second set. It is
easy for organizations to become complacent when they feel like
they are winning. But when you are winning, we know the competition
tends to work harder and look for ways to take back the lead.
Basically we believe everything that got us here won't necessarily
get us to where we need to be. So, we are fully focused on taking a
"second set mentality" of how we run our business. We are rewiring
the culture for the next 10 years but keeping the foundational
parts that we know we will need to keep winning. On that front, a
key success metric for the team is how well the new language of our
culture and the new behaviors are seeding into the business.
The acceptance and utilization across our business of the learning
technology platform that we have in place is another measurement.
We operate in 112 countries. How are we doing at bringing the more
than 1 million people we have in our system onto the platform and
using it - particularly our franchise community, which tends to be
made up of small or medium-sized business owners in the United
States. The owners don't normally have the wherewithal to employ
these technologies themselves. Their take rate and how it helps
their businesses (is an additional measurement).
On a program level, we are always looking at the business impact on
how we are driving efficiency and greater effectiveness in what we
LXB: What are your next challenges and
Lauber: My major focus now, and for the past three
years, is how we take the conversation about learning to another
level. In the past it has been focused on the operational-tactical
training piece. In the future, the learning function will need to
evolve further to be the enabler of the learning organization.
Programmatically, my focus remains on ensuring that what we are
doing aligns to business strategy and on being more conversant
about the impact we are having. The financial acumen component
continues to be a big opportunity, especially about where we place
our learning investments.
LXB: A recent article in Learning Executives
Briefing suggested that learning executives are becoming chief
change officers. Do you see yourself in that role?
Lauber: I can see that in a lot of the things I am
involved in here at Yum!. But I also think that learning executives
aren't alone in that role. In many ways, managing change is a
necessary competency of any leader, regardless of the function.
I am sure my colleagues in human resources, IT, or marketing, for
example, could say the same thing. To think that there's a "chief"
associated with change would seem presumptuous to me.