Case Study of Dell: Employee Training and Development
Michael Dell, the CEO of Dell Computer Corporation, in a recent annual report, summarized where the CEO stands on the role that learning plays in his company. He said it was people who produced results in any business, laying emphasis on how building a talented workforce remained Dell’s greatest priority as well as its greatest challenge. This challenge contained two primary issues. The first being training, developing and retaining their existing employees so they continue capitalizing on the career opportunities Dell’s growth provides them. The second being to actually successfully recruit employees at all levels to support Dell.
The CEO said the company progressed pertaining to both issues in the previous fiscal year, adding Dell would continue to keep it a critical area of focus. Dell filled more than half of its executive-level positions with promotions from within the organization, hiring the remaining externally. Dell also modified its core training and development programs to improve employee effectiveness as well as, for the second successive year, compensation programs.
Michael Dell said hyper-growth companies that lack long-established practices have better chances of adapting with the ever-changing environment, while laying emphasis on the fact that enough structure had to be in place to ensure that growth would not go out of control. He said hyper growth needs to be dealt with in a particular manner regarding learning and leadership development.
Dell Learning was established to meet Dell`s needs pertaining to human resources. Although training had always been an integral part of Dell, in 1995, it realized the need for greater emphasis on ensuring the employees were sufficiently skilled to keep up with the firm`s hyper growth. Dell Learning, following the expansion in 1995, was also assigned a series of objectives:
* Bringing learning in line with Dell`s key business
* Making learning directly and openly available
* Creating a clarity around competencies required to maintain Dell’s hyper growth
* Providing consistency through a global curriculum
Naturally, as a response to hyper growth, Dell had to structure three fourths of its training program to target new employees, products and basic job skills. A centralized corporate team was established for training development and administration. Training managers were appointed to:
* Develop business based educational plans
* Hold business leaders responsible for execution of plan
* Ensure that sufficient resources exist to execute the plan
* 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 comprises six major elements:
1. Corporate and Regional Operations – global education planning, financial management and reporting, and process and infrastructure.
2. Dell Learning Services – instructional design services and consulting.
3. Dell Learning Technology Services – enables rapid distribution of new learning technologies.
4. Education Services – handles 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 technological support.
6. The Program Management Office – develops strategies and aligns them with 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, a few groups, do however, report to marketing or customer service organizations even though they still take part in management meetings, operations reviews, and global strategy sessions.
This organizational structure is, in part, a response to Dell’s hyper growth status. The company’s training charter was revised around the time Dell University was reassessed and thereby renamed Dell Learning to include:
* 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
The establishment of such a charter as well as the nature of the computer business have forced Dell to take an aggressive take towards technology-enabled learning. In order to put learners in control, it was essential that learning solutions be available to them all the time, as well as them being able to control what they learn and when. Low-tech solutions made that possible, however, classroom learning never could. Technology has made learning omnipresent and a natural part of work.
The Dell Learning Technology Services Group was added to the corporate team in 1999 – to focus exclusively on utilizing technology and other non-traditional training methods. Curriculum road-maps and self-assessments have been based on the skills and knowledge required for job success. The road-maps show logical sequences of learning; the assessments, determine the gaps between employees current abilities and required abilities, enabling them to customize their development. Road-maps include management and executive education, sales, marketing, finance, technical certifications, and IT.
Most of Dell’s competitor’s have corporate universities, however, the biggest difference between them and Dell is that Dell has put the learners in charge. Most companies believe it’s too dangerous to let employees determine what training they require, however, Dell Learning Technology Services Manager Darin Hartley said: “These are people who raise children, maintain households, manage budgets, and solve incredibly complex problems every day. We ought to be able trust them to manage their own learning.”
Dell Learning also partners with several universities, community colleges, and high schools for certain learning needs as they are available online and can be specifically focused as well as offering educational assistance (advanced degrees) to employees. The chief financial officer, Tom Meredith, leads Dell’s alliance team with the University of Texas, he said there were two kinds of knowledge critical to success. The first being your associates’ knowledge and the other being the knowledge that is required immediately, wasn’t required in the past and most likely won’t be required in the future either. He said the first type of knowledge was provided through degree program, adding that Dell Learning provided the second type to its employees.
Dell links where employees can find them easily during the normal course of their work. The ultimate goal is ‘stealth learning’ – -making learning so involved with work that people can’t pinpoint when learning happens. Dell’s HR created an Internet-based, online pay-planning tool. Managers use it to record and submit their plans for merit pay increases for the next fiscal year. The tool comprises formulas and reminders based on company guidelines, this is considered by them as part of their job, however, stealth learning is taking place as they learn to manage their pay budgets and relationships between pay decisions and other aspects of compensation and performance management.
As opposed to the traditional approach where training budgets are determined by the trainers or authorized managers, at Dell, individual lists are provided to Dell Learning by the managers, who have compiled a series of trainings required by them and the costs that they will incur, allowing flexibility and the ability to scale learning according to the business’ needs. That ‘pay as you use’ philosophy has been driven by the vice-chairman’s office, he said: “I’ve been in companies where people are constantly complaining about corporate allocations. They ask what the training people do with such large sums of money, the complaint, however, disappears when you take away the allocation. But the training department better be doing what our managers want or it’ll go out of business.”
Adopting such a technique has shifted talk about training costs in board meetings to how Dell’s investment in learning has paid off – cost avoidance, increased sales, increased employee productivity, and better customer service. Seeing as how several employees say they joined Dell was development, it apparently helps recruiting too.
In 1998, Dell Learning launched a Web-based global measurement system that provides online access to training statistics and reporting at global, business, segment, and departmental levels.
* Training Snapshot Report – this documents all training activity, including classes taken, total tuition and enrollment, and total hours by region, business, and segment.
* Training by Type – this report sorts training activity by category, such as management, executive, customer service, sales, new product, technical, new hire, business initiatives, professional development, and compliance.
* CBT/On-line Training Report – this documents all computer-based training and online training completed for the fiscal year.
* Customer Satisfaction Report – this is a summary of all training evaluations by course.
* Dell Learning’s performance measurement strategy includes a performance measurement scorecard showing Dell Learning’s alignment with business goals. An enterprise-wide assessment software system and infrastructure were designed and implemented for delivery of Web-based tests, surveys, and other assessments.
* Despite the internet being heavily prevalent in not only organizations but our society as a whole, Michael Dell understands the importance of personal interactions. From the early days of the company, he insisted on holding semi-annual executive conferences, saying that most communication was done through technology, adding that it became easier if a personal relationship had been established. The CEO closed a presentation in a recent conference while emphasizing the need to hire and develop new talent for the company to remain in line with its organizational vision.
When the chairman’s office initiated QUEST (Quality Underlies Every Single Task), the CEO, as well as other senior executives, personally ensured quality tools were provided to every employee and managed the program’s evolution from its initial focus on internal quality to its current external approach to create the best possible customer experience. The CEO also encourages senior executives to involve themselves wherever possible to ensure that timely and adequate training is provided to Dell employees.
Another example of CEO involvement in governance is how the education function’s work is measured at Dell. Its training organization has its operations review with the chairman’s office. Those quarterly sessions go over the total company investment in learning, areas of focus, deployment of resources, and results. The chairman’s office also looks at training department productivity in terms of Dell’s investment in comparison to its competitors.
Dell’s CEO is also involved in setting strategic direction for training by personally setting specific targets. Two vice-chairmen directed a study to determine the core competencies required for leadership success. The study was utilized to determine what competencies the company should be looking for in potential employees. Those competencies have been integrated into Dell’s staffing, promotion, and performance review processes. More significantly, they form the basis for development activities across the company. The chairman’s office, together with the executive committee, conducts quarterly meetings on the development of company’s top talent.
The data gathered from leaders across Dell identified two distinct sets of competencies:
* Hiring Criteria – they include functional and technical skills, business acumen, integrity and trust, command skills, and intellectual horsepower. Depending on the job requirements, a best-in-class candidate should have demonstrated strengths in most of those areas. In other words, in order to be minimally successful, employees will need to do their jobs well, understand the Dell Business Model, be ethical and honest, be willing to speak up and defend their points of view, and think smart.
* The Dell Leadership Profile (DLP) – consists of common traits and skills shared by some of Dell’s most successful leaders: customer focus, priority setting, problem solving, dealing with ambiguities, drive for results, organizational agility, building effective teams, developing direct reports, and learning on the fly.
Despite these two sets of competencies serving as guidelines for recruitment, they aren’t intended to represent all the competencies required to be a successful leader at Dell. The remaining competencies and performance standards vary according to the specific job requirements.
The DLP and Hiring Criteria are in an interview guide, available to all groups, worldwide. The DLP competencies are also used in several projects worldwide such as organizational HR planning and executive staffing and development. The profiles are also integrated into Dell Learning’s curriculum and performance management processes. Learning has been singled out as crucial to success for Dell leaders at any level across the organization. Integrating the competencies into so many aspects of how Dell does business has made a huge difference, however, the key to such success in integrating the competencies was due to Michael Dell and top executives using the same language and approach. Such hands-on involvement by a CEO has a strong symbolic and practical impact on how learning happens within an organization.
Michael Dell is always talking about what he learns from at least three important sources: employees, outsiders, and especially customers. His experience, in the form of stories, end up in his speeches and presentations to his leadership team. He’s constantly searching for new ideas from the internet, books, etc, and providing them to his employees.
In his book: ‘Direct from Dell’, Michael describes another deliberate, systemic learning process: “In a direct business like ours, you have, by definition, a relationship with customers. But beyond the mechanisms we have for sales and support, we have set up a number of forums to ensure the free flow of information with the customer on a constant basis. Our Platinum Councils, for example, are regional meetings (in Asia-Pacific, Japan, the United States, and Europe) of our largest customers. In these meetings, our senior technologists share their views on where the technology is heading and lay out roadmaps of product plans over the next two years. There are also breakout sessions and working groups in which our engineering teams focus on specific product areas and talk about how to solve problems that may not necessarily have anything to do with the commercial relationship with Dell. For example, is leasing better than buying? Or, how do you manage the transition to Windows NT? Or, how do you manage a field force of notebook computers?”
When Michael Dell talks about what he’s learning, he doesn’t just quote authors and analysts. Most of what he shares, he’s learned from employees. At Dell, an open email policy means that everyone in the company has direct access to the CEO, which helps support his learning. There have also been periodic lunch meetings with randomly selected groups of employees. Michael also walks the halls, drops in on employees to ask what they’re doing, hearing, and thinking. It’s not only a good management technique, but also a good learning strategy.
The CEO promotes learning by acting as a chief marketing officer for learning. He has set a standard in the company by making it clear that learning is not only expected, but inspected as well. For example, when Dell mandated that all managers take instruction on ethics, values, and the legal aspects of management, Michael sent personal emails to his team to let them know that he expected 100 percent participation, and what the CEO wants, the CEO generally gets, so, needless to say, 100 percent employees were present.
Michael Dell said: “Everyone has to be open to learning all of the time, starting with me, and everyone must support and encourage their teams to make sure they have the knowledge and skills to succeed.”
It can clearly be determined by the above-mentioned facts that Dell not only lays key emphasis on programs such as training and development of its employees, but has figured out innovative and extremely effective and efficient ways to deal with its training needs given its hyper growth status. It also shows that all levels of managerial executives are involved in the learning process through a series of channels and councils, this motivates employees as their seniors are actively involved in the employees’ knowledge.
Case Study of Dell: Employee Training and Development