Bill Byron Concevitch, chief learning officer for Verint, a large enterprise software company specializing in workforce optimization; Dave Groff, chief learning officer at Allstate; Steven Krempl, president of Krempl International; and David Lamb, vice president of learning and development for Orkin, offered insights on who should own talent management, the hazards of using too much technology, and what to do about a CEO who doesn't want to teach.
Q| Just a few years ago, the title of chief learning officer was relatively rare.Today such positions are plentiful. Now a new role is emerging in the sphere of talent management - all the things that help a company find, develop, engage, and keep a high-performing workforce. Is this role the next step for learning professionals? Are they expanding their influence at the executive level? What's your opinion?
Krempl| At Starbucks - where I worked previously - we talked about talent management as the overall umbrella for talent acquisition, talent development, and talent retention. In most organizations, those are three separate buckets. So if they are so important, how do we get all of the pieces to talk to each other? One result of such conversations is that those things have gotten more integrated.
Concevitch| Looking at the lifecycle of the employee from first contact to the time they leave - where HR blends with learning - is an approach that is just beginning to catch on. The focus should be on the employees, and it should be seamless to them. In the future, I think we will see more integration of HR, talent, learning, and everything that's not what I'd call transactional HR. We will be looking at how we maximize employees as an asset for the organization.
Krempl| One of the ways we stumbled into this at Starbucks was through our websites. We had the staffing website, the HR website, the employee website, the health website, and of course, the starbucks.com website. Each one was owned by a different part of the company, and the employees were confused about which one to use. So we started to think about a system that would tie things together and serve many of the employees' needs.
Groff| We found that whether you're looking at staffing, learning, organization development (OD), or performance management, they're all trying to reinforce a strategic business proposition. Often it's the same one. So why would the CLOs and HR people come at the business as though we are all independent? It just didn't make sense. And so we have been working to bring all of the key parts together and build synergies among all aspects of HR rather than coming at it from different angles.
Q| Learning professionals have less reason these days to complain that they can't get a seat at the leadership table. What kind of advice do you have for the person who wants to be more of a true business partner?
Groff| Getting a seat at the table is a limited theme in my view. We've been working on what you do at the table once you're there. We believe you have to understand how to dissect business strategies to understand the talent implications of those strategies. Who does that now? Do CLOs do that? Do the compensation people do that? Do the HR business partners do that? We've settled on a position that suggests that the HR business partners throughout the enterprise ought to be the ones to interpret the talent implications of strategies. If they do that right, then we - the centers of excellence - would back away from that space.
Right now, the HR business partners don't have the background to analyze business strategies to get at talent implications, let alone how to devote resources to talent pools that are important to strategies. We understand it a bit better. The OD people who work for me operate in that space very, very smoothly. So we have been on a path to expand the skill sets of the business partners to influence the strategy processes, operational planning, and resource allocation from a talent perspective.
Q| Strategy comes up over and over again in discussions of relevance for learning professionals. How important is it to operate at that level?
Lamb| I tend to be a little more tactical in my thinking. We need to think at the strategic level to get to the table, but once there, we need to think and act as if we are a service provider. If we can do that and talk in business terms, then we'll earn a place at the table much more quickly. And once there, we need to be able to ask the right questions of the right people, and then listen carefully to their answers.
We also need to make sure that our solutions align with the strategic business objectives of the company, and finally, we need to execute and meet our commitments every time. If you do that, you'll not only be at the table; you'll be an honored member of the group.
Groff| We have been working to build a strategic mentality in our HR partners throughout the enterprise. For many years, HR has been associated with delivering services, and the service-delivery mentality has gotten in the way of becoming more strategically deployed. We are backing away from daily conversations related to delivery of services.
Lamb| I'm in an operations support group. We're joined at the hip with HR because it's important that we have a common vision and that we work together. But it's a tough job being in the HR organization where you have a strategic mission and a lot of tactical responsibilities.
Groff| We have outsourced lots of things such as benefits management. That has freed up space we can use to make more strategic contributions.
Concevitch| To get a seat at the table you need to find out what keeps senior leadership up at night and then come back with solutions.
Groff| I don't think our CEO or any CEO stays awake at night because of a learning issue. I think they're kept up by performance issues, to which learning is only one solution. So we've been trying to identify the individual and organizational performance deficiencies that do keep a CEO up at night and address how to fix them. And if the solution has a learning component, that's fine. And if it doesn't, that's fine too. In our company, the learning function has been more instrumental in providing a broader view of performance than any other entity. We've been provocateurs in the corporation.
Q| ASTD's State of the Industry Report for 2007 shows that over the past six years, the investment in learning in corporations has been steadily increasing through good times and bad. How is that investment decision made in your companies? What do you take into account when deciding on the training budget?
Groff| We spend millions of dollars every year on training for 140,000 people. I oversee a percentage of that budget, but there are dozens of other people who own other components. Our investment in technical infrastructure is fairly steady and increases marginally each year, but we are also trying to expand its effectiveness and simultaneously reduce the cost.
In a company the size of ours, none of the components is large enough to be considered in a central planning process.
We're shifting away from owning all the resources. For instance we're moving instructional design and media design work to third parties. Now we get better service and faster response time at one-third the old cost. That has allowed us to reallocate funds to things such as leadership development and the development of pivotal talent pools in the company.
Krempl| In the past, Howard Schultz, the founder, chairman, and chief global strategist of Starbucks, has said, "We spend more on training at Starbucks than we do on advertising."
Lamb| In our 2008 budget, we divided expenses into a number of major buckets. One of those is the expense associated with delivering our current learning solutions. Over the last three years, the budget for learning has increased significantly, even as other corporate units have reduced their budgets.
We also look at major initiatives that are coming - such as new products, new services, and new technologies - that we don't fund in our budget. We work closely with the clients who own the initiatives to manage their learning budgets. When you deliver things as promised to your senior team, they'll listen much more carefully, not only to requests for money but also to what you say you can do to support success on their important goals.
Q| Your comments point out how much measurement of results has changed. Obtaining funds to invest in learning does not seem to be a major hurdle in your companies, but when it's time to show results, what are some of the metrics that you use?
Concevitch| One recommendation is to have other people measure it for you. If you're truly providing impact to business units, they will be able to measure it, and once they do that, several things happen. They value your work even more. You get more visibility. And in most cases, their measurements will probably put a significantly higher value on the results than you would because they see and feel the impact.
Lamb| Some of my peers and colleagues say that measuring returnon- investment is difficult to do and not worth the time it takes. They think, "Other staff such as finance and information technology don't have to report on their financial results, so why should they?" I disagree. I think we have an obligation to measure results if we want to be business partners. Business people care about return-on-investment. They care about profits and cost savings.
So we have rigorous methods for figuring out what the return-oninvestments should be. We design our projects to meet those objectives. We do smile sheets and tests on just about everything that we do. To measure how learning transfered to the field, we ask the learners and their managers how effective we've been and how we can improve. Finally, we measure ROI on all large and missioncritical learning initiatives.
At the strategy level, we clearly understand that our objectives are worker retention, customer retention, and growth and profitability, in that order. All of our executives are held accountable for those goals, and everything that we do aligns with and supports them.
We're a data-rich company, so we can determine what a situation was before and after we put our learning solutions in place.
Q| There are some CEOs at major companies who don't have specific performance metrics for training and development. They say that learning is working if the company is achieving its goals and delivering on its strategies. What's the situation in your companies?
Concevitch| Our CEO expects us to influence things such as market penetration and the ability of the salesforce to sell a new product.
Groff| We asked ourselves, "How much of the success of a learning event is determined within the context of that learning event?" And we concluded not much. You have to look at the entire set of performance factors that influence the desired performance, not just the learning aspects. We've been defining those other factors, called conditions of success, and we do evaluate them.
Krempl| Measurement of success at Starbucks may be a little bit different. Are the stores in place? Are they operationally ready and can people start serving customers? You know when you walk into a store whether it is working or not.
Lamb| We don't take full credit for results. However, if we do work aimed at increasing retention and it improves, say, by 1 percent, and millions of dollars fall to the bottom line, we will certainly accept credit, along with other parts of the organization for those results.
Q| In many successful organizations, the CEO serves as a teacher. If your CEO agreed to do this, how would you make the best use of his or her time?
Krempl| At Starbucks, CEO Jim Donald wanders all over talking to people. He has his own three-day program, and he participates in other programs where he can have the biggest impact. Regularly, Howard Schultz, the founder, also joins in.
Concevitch| So involve them without having them realize they are teachers. Ask them to talk about leadership or strategy or anything that is high on their priority list.
Lamb| Happily, we don't have that problem. Our CEO and president are part of every leadership course. They talk about the culture of the company and why ethics are important. They talk about how important our customers are and how to treat them with respect.
Our CEO and president are frequent visitors to our learning facility in Atlanta. Not only do they share their wisdom and experience with employees, but they also bring in customers, potential customers, government regulators, and people who are joining the company at a senior level. They consistently show that they care about Orkin and about our people.
Groff| I've worked in other companies and I've worked with probably 13 CEOs. Some say: "You know I'm not a teacher." Some were personally engaged with employees, and some were distant with everyone but their direct reports. For the less engaged, we would invite them to talk about leadership and suggest ways to do that using templates to organize their ideas.
Q| During the last 10 years, there's been a big change in the amount of technology that's available to design, deliver, and track learning. Huge enterprisewide performance systems integrated into other employee management software are pretty much the norm at large companies. How has technology made a difference in the effectiveness and efficiency of learning in your companies?
Lamb| We're making great strides at Orkin. Three years ago, almost 100 percent of learning was delivered in classrooms at Orkin University or in hotel rooms around the country. Today, probably 70 percent is delivered with technology, primarily via satellite broadcasts, interactive distributive learning, web-based training, and selfpaced learning.
We also use webinars, gaming technology, and simulations. It has allowed us to deliver a common message to all employees, and we are seeing higher completion rates for courses. We also see an effect on the bottom line. Our sales on the commercial side have gone up significantly.
Soon everyone in the field will have a handheld device. So rather than train our people in everything that they might ever need to know on their jobs, we're beginning the process of moving electronic performance support to these handheld wireless devices.
We're building simulations and looking at Second Life and some other 3-D environments where we could train people. My team is producing podcasts and vodcasts in our e-learning studio. We see a return on-investment, not just in cost savings and cost avoidance but in value to Orkin customers.
Groff| Allstate has been involved for about eight years in the transfer of most education into learning management systems to achieve efficiency and speed. Like others, we went too far, and we've suffered a lack of connectedness throughout the enterprise because we no longer bring people together as much. So we're re-equipping ourselves to deliver standup training and to focus on a culture of bringing people together to learn about the company and benefit from peer groups. We will still use LMSs to distribute new product information.
Krempl| I think Starbucks could become a place where learning is offered to customers. The company has the largest platform of T1 lines in the country. Why couldn't learning be made available that way? Starbucks is already a sort of third place for many people. They have home, work, and Starbucks.