Company leaders recognized this need, and approximately four years ago, they set out to determine what technical and managerial skills were needed to keep up with the rapid growth. Then, armed with a list of these characteristics, the company’s HR professionals embarked on a massive organizational development effort designed around a new entity known as Applied Global University (AGU). Established just two years ago, AGU is an internal organization dedicated to building the capabilities the company needs to be successful.
AGU, which is part of the HR department, oversees $30 million worth of annual training and development activities. Its mission? "To make employee development visible, efficient and strategic," explains Jim Hessler, managing director of AGU. In so doing, everything AGU does is lockstep with the rest of human resources. The organization is involved in recruitment, performance management, retention—even reorganization, if necessary. "By working with HR, all development activities are more closely aligned with the business process," Hessler explains. "This way, we don’t have training that’s separate from what we’re trying to achieve as a company."
It wasn’t always this way—at Applied Materials or any other major U.S. corporation. Training, although a part of HR, has long been an independent operator. Training professionals have traditionally stitched together a patchwork of training programs with little thought given to overall corporate objectives. The training developed for manufacturing employees was different from the training for technical employees, which was different still from the training offered to managers. Not only that, employee development was rarely linked to other HR activities. Employees often were hired based on one skill set, promoted based on another, and trained on yet other competencies that may or may not directly impact their job performance. This mishmash of efforts was costly, wasteful and unproductive.
Fortunately, all this is changing now as HR professionals begin to realize that to stay competitive, training and all other HR activities have to work together to support and reinforce corporate strategy. "In high-performing companies, HR departments are more closely integrated," explains Kerri Folmer, director of the Human Capital Group at Watson Wyatt Worldwide in San Francisco. By forgetting about ownership and turf battles, Folmer says HR professionals can more clearly identify the people practices needed to help the company reach its strategic goals.
Why training and other HR activities are becoming more closely aligned. According to Alice J. Pescuric, vice president of the Workforce Effectiveness Practice at Development Dimensions International (DDI) in Pittsburgh, companies are becoming savvier about the need to integrate training and other HR practices for a number of reasons.
First, there’s tremendous pressure on all fronts to do more with less. Naturally, the way this is done is by becoming more efficient and eliminating redundancies and unnecessary work. Why should three separate training programs be developed for management, technical and manufacturing employees if the course content is the same throughout? By working together, each HR group can take advantage of established capabilities.
Second, enterprisewide technology and reengineering are making it possible for the entire HR department to become integrated in a way never before possible. Today, information on recruitment, benefits, training, performance management, skill sets, payroll and succession planning all can be stored and accessed in the same information system.
The third reason HR and training are working more closely together is because of the pressure felt by every corporate function to become strategic bottom-line business partners—or get outsourced. This not only applies to HR as a whole but to every activity within HR, including training.
"When put together, all of these factors are forcing HR to pool its resources and take a holistic look at business objectives," Pescuric says.
Interestingly enough, in many organizations, it’s the training department that’s spearheading this integration. As companies strive to become learning organizations that are capable of adapting quickly to market changes, training professionals are giving up their old role as classroom trainer. Instead they’re becoming "performance consultants" who work to boost productivity in a variety of ways of which traditional classroom training may play only a small part.
"Trainers are starting to talk about the entire business process," Pescuric explains. This is because not all performance problems are training problems. "If, when holding a gun to an employee’s head he or she will perform for you, the problem isn’t a training problem," she says. It may be a problem with the rewards or performance-management systems, a problem of unclear roles or a lack of information. Because there are so many things that impact performance, trainers are becoming more intimately involved in—or at least aware of—other HR activities.
How training integrates with other HR functions. One of the ways trainers are taking on a more strategic, performance-oriented mindset is by working with the rest of HR to train line managers in HR responsibilities.
At the Sony Technology Center, a San Diego-based division of Sony Electronics Inc., trainers consider themselves consultants to the line organization. They work to help managers throughout the company understand their HR responsibilities. Instead of HR bearing the burden of hiring and performance management, for example, Sony’s executives believe better performance occurs when individual managers are responsible for these activities.
Debby Swanson, manager of training and organizational development at Sony, says Sony’s training consultants are helping supervisors and line managers by:
- Training them how to hire employees using DDI’s targeted selection process, which is a competency-based approach to hiring. By helping managers learn how to effectively interview candidates based on a predetermined list of job competencies, trainers empower managers to make smart hiring decisions on their own.
- Working with the company’s equal employment opportunity administrator to provide annual updates on departmental affirmative-action goals. The trainers hold regular informational sessions for managers about their roles and responsibilities in maintaining affirmative action in the company.
- Training managers how to develop performance plans and conduct performance reviews. "We teach managers the skills and processes necessary to conduct performance reviews, attack performance-improvement problems and conduct performance-planning discussions," Swanson says.
In addition to partnering with HR to give managers HR skills and responsibilities, trainers are working hard to change the way training is delivered. "Because of the speed of change and the pace of work today, people don’t have as much time to come to training," Swanson says. "They don’t have time for role plays. They want real-time, short-version, bottom-line, value-added tips they can use right away." At Sony, for example, trainers are starting to put together short meeting topics that can be delivered in less than an hour. They also are looking at putting resources and reminders on the company intranet so employees have just-in-time access to information.
The trend toward alternative delivery methods has certainly created changes at BASF Corp., a chemical company based in Mount Olive, New Jersey. Three years ago, as part of a reengineering process, the company’s HR function identified a strong need for an employee career-development system. "We needed a system that balanced employee career-planning needs with the talent requirements of the organization as a whole," explains David Wight, manager of career development. In creating the system, HR chose not to develop employees through traditional training but through work-related development opportunities. "Adults learn by doing," Wight says. Although the career-development system is still evolving, BASF’s trainers probably won’t be training employees in order to fill skill gaps. Instead, they’ll be working with HR to educate managers on the importance of supporting employee development through special assignments, work rotations and other on-the-job development opportunities. To support this new direction, the company’s other HR systems, including internal job posting, performance management and incentive compensation, are being revamped. "We need to make sure HR is pulling in the same direction," Wight says.
But even trainers who continue to provide regular classroom training are becoming more strategic and mindful of overall HR objectives. For example, HR professionals at Transamerica Life Companies in Los Angeles have spent the last two years identifying the skills and capabilities needed to achieve the company’s overall business strategy. "We needed some kind of model to look at the way we manage, assess and develop people," explains Michael Wolfe, vice president of corporate human resources. In doing so, the company executives identified job competencies that are needed companywide. These include such skills as communication, accountability, initiative and collaboration. They also identified competencies such as technical knowledge or value focus that are needed only in certain business units. These competencies will be used by HR to make hiring, promotion and compensation decisions. Furthermore, all employee training and development activities will be linked to the competencies.
According to Wolfe, when employees are assessed based on their individual competency profile and that profile is compared to corporate requirements, development needs become clear. Thus, trainers can begin to develop training based on clearly identified employee needs.
"In the past, training was delivered based on a shotgun approach," he says. For example, every manager might be sent to training on how to interview applicants, regardless of whether or not all managers demonstrated a need for that kind of training. "Today, the training is tailored and targeted to an individual’s development plan."
Consider an HR generalist approach. The fact that Transamerica no longer has a training "department" is proof of the company’s commitment to link training with other strategic HR objectives. "We reengineered HR three years ago, eliminating the training department," Wolfe says. This allows the company’s HR professionals to serve as generalists who are more concerned with overall corporate strategy than individual administrative responsibilities. Today, these generalists provide the necessary training.
The HR generalist approach may be a good one for other companies to consider, especially those in which silos still exist between human resources functions. The best way to integrate training with hiring, performance management, compensation, benefits, job posting and other facets of HR is by eliminating the barriers between them. As Wolfe explains: "Today, we’ve broken down the walls and have a fully integrated approach to managing the employee asset. Selection, development, pay and training are all connected to a set of criteria that’s common to that individual. We no longer hire under one criteria set, pay under another and train under another. We’re fully integrated, and as a result, HR as a function has become more of a consultative, facilitative group rather than a back-room, paper-pushing function."
Obviously, this kind of structure won’t be easy for organizations that have yet to start down the path toward integration. Turf battles are common throughout Corporate America and HR is no exception. What advice do experienced HR professionals have about getting started? "Focus on the business objectives," Swanson says. "I don’t mean to be trite about it, but if you’re constantly looking at your internal customers’ needs, then out of that you have to align. Instead of focusing on internal responsibilities within HR, focus on external objectives. This way, you can’t help but connect with each other. At least, it works that way when we do it."
Workforce, May 1998, Vol. 77, No. 5, pp. 88-93.