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 expected?

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! structured?

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 philosophy?

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 places.

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 vice versa.

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 are doing.

LXB: What are your next challenges and opportunities?

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.