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An excerpt from a recent annual report of Dell Computer Corporation does a good job of summarizing where the CEO stands on the role that learning plays in his company:
Ultimately, in any business, it is people who produce results. Building a talented workforce remains our greatest single priority and challenge. This challenge contains two primary facets. The first is training, developing, and retaining our existing employees so that they can continue to capitalize on the career opportunities our growth brings. The second is successfully recruiting employees at all levels to support our company, whose employee population grew 24 percent last fiscal year.
We made good progress on both fronts last fiscal year, although this will remain a critical area of focus for us. We significantly strengthened our management team with key executives from leading companies both within and outside our industry. At the same time, more than half of our executive-level positions were filled by promoting current Dell employees.
Finally, we restructured our core training and development programs to further improve their effectiveness and, for the second consecutive yea enhanced our compensation and benefits programs consistent with our philosophy of sharing our success with our employees.
The success of Dell Computer, especially in the last decade, has been widely chronicled. The company designs and engineers a broad array of computer system products, including desktop and notebook computers, servers and storage products, workstations, software, and peripherals. Dell's customers range from large corporate accounts and government institutions, which account for two-thirds of company sales, to smaller companies and home-office and individual users. The company is also a presence in e-commerce with Gigabuys.com, Dell's new online superstore.
Dell has offices in 37 countries and distribution in more than 170. The company was quick to recognize the impact of the Internet and now has Internet sales of more than $35 million a day, accounting for more than 40 percent of business. Dell's mission is "to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in the markets we serve."
Says Michael Dell, now the longest-tenured CEO in the industry, "A hyper-growth company's relative lack of a past--sacred strategies or long-established practices and procedures--means that it will have a better chance to improvise as it goes....The key is to have enough structure in place that growth is not out of control, but not so much that it impedes your ability to adapt quickly."
At a recent meeting of Dell's top executives, Michael Dell cited some people-related indicators of hyper growth: Employees cite tenure in quarters, not years; the ratio of good ideas to experienced people is 10:1; you need three people to do the same job that used to take one; and there are no business cases to tell you how other companies have done it before you." Hyper growth makes special demands on learning and leadership development.
How does a company get 200 to 300 new employees on board each week? How does it keep these new employees current on the dozens of new products and services introduced each quarter? How does it maintain its culture and key processes when most employees have been there less than two years? How does it grow managers when it needs thousands more (literally) each year? One response was the formation of Dell Learning, known previously as Dell University.
Although training had always been a part of Dell's strategy, by 1995 it was clear that it needed an even greater emphasis. So, the office of the chairman directed that the role of Dell Learning be significantly expanded. The charter of the (then) corporate university was simple but challenging: ensuring that people had the knowledge and skills to keep pace with the firm's hyper growth. Apropos of that is an article in the Wall Street Journal, "Dell or Be Delled," in which "being Delled" was described as having your business taken away by someone who leaps ahead of you and changes the rules of your business. Dell understood that threat and realized its success would depend on how fast it could learn what's next and apply that to serving customers.
Dell Learning, responsible for all education in the company, was given these main objectives:
* to align learning with key business initiatives
* to make learning directly available to everyone who needs it
* to create clarity around competencies required for continued success
* to provide consistency, where needed, through global curricula.
In response to the hyper growth, three-quarters of the training targeted new employees, products and services, and basic job skills. To meet that charter, a centralized corporate team was formed to establish processes for training development and administration. Training managers, reporting directly into each business or function, were appointed to perform these tasks:
* develop a business-based education plan
* hold business leaders responsible for executing the plan
* ensure that resources existed to execute the plan successfully
* report on the plan's impact.
In addition to providing strategic direction, the corporate team includes fulfillment teams that serve Dell's different businesses on demand. One team produces learning tools for training sales and technical audiences on Dell's products and services. Another, Education Services, manages classrooms, registration, scheduling, tracking, and other logistics. A third group consists of highly experienced instructional designers who oversee development projects requested by the businesses.
Essentially, the training organization operates as a federation. There are three parts: Corporate Training, Regional (HR) Training, and Regional (Non-HR) Training, held together by the senior management team and a series of Dell Learning councils.
The Corporate Group has six major elements. 1) Corporate and Regional Operations is concerned with global education planning, financial management and reporting, and process and infrastructure. 2) Dell Learning Services provides instructional design services and consulting. 3) Dell Learning Technology Services is a specialized group charged with enabling the rapid dissemination of new learning technologies. 4) Education Services is a centralized support function handling event management, vendor management, registration, facilities, and a wide range of administrative services. 5) The New Product Training group provides core training materials for sales and tech support for all of the company's products. 6) The Program Management office develops strategies and global curricula to support strategic initiatives. The specific areas of focus shift from year to year based on business needs.
The Corporate Group reports to Human Resources, as do a number of business-based training groups that may be functional (finance), geographical (Brazil), or in a business segment (home and small business). Decisions about where to locate those training groups are based on business needs and economies of scale. A few groups report to marketing or customer service organizations but are still part of the training federation participating in management meetings, operations reviews, and global strategy sessions. The groups also participate on the training councils that Dell Learning organizes around key needs. Like the Program Management offices, councils come and go based on business needs. There are currently eight councils-- some focused narrowly (finance, IT) and some broadly (technology, management). The councils raise issues, set policy, and create global consistency.
That organizational structure was, in part, a response to greater expansion of the charter for Dell training. At about the time that the "university" designation was dropped (it was seen as limiting and was replaced with the name Dell Learning), the charter was revised to include these principles:
* Education should be business-issue based.
* Education should be as cost-effective and time-effective as possible.
* Business managers should be in charge of managing their own training investments.
* Education must be flexible and able to scale.
* All training should be competency based.
* All learning should be just enough, just-in-time.
* Learners should be in control.
* Learning solutions have limited shelf life and should be treated accordingly.
* Learning occurs everywhere, so our obligation is to leverage it across the organization.
* The education function must create access to the intellectual capital of Dell.
Those principles and the direct nature of the computer business have required Dell to move aggressively toward technology-enabled learning. More than half of all formal learning takes place outside of a classroom. …