Although HP has a hefty $250 million training budget, Burnett says that unless you keep employee training in line with your company's overall performance strategy, it may not matter what you spend.
SBN sat down with the 19-year HP veteran during her recent visit to Cleveland. Burnett discussed how the corporate giant reaps the benefit from its training dollars and how that strategy can be used with businesses of any size.
What makes HP's training strategy different from other corporate universities?
Approximately two years ago, we changed our training strategy from being driven by individual managers' requests to a program driven by the overall business strategy. Now, the business plan and performance requirements drive what we do.
That may seem simple, but it's a huge shift. I'm only offering the training and development that's critical to our business strategy. We're not about being a full service university. We're about enabling the business strategies to the business performance.
I think we were meeting management needs based on, say, five managers vs. looking at an (overall) strategy of the PC business.
We don't do basic skills. If you don't come with basic skills, you've got a problem. We do offer programs that help people be more effective. They're very tied to what those people have to do and the competencies required for that business. (We're) really looking to enable a department strategy not a business strategy.
What were the major changes?
We went from about 70 fragmented, decentralized training centers buried deep in the company to an integrated organization. We put ourselves under the scrutiny of a governing body -- of line leaders looking at the portfolios and mapping them to their individual business strategy.
We had a portfolio of more than 50 leadership programs. For the first time in the history at HP, we took a look at those 50 different programs and the executive competencies we were trying to build and asked ourselves, are they building the competencies our executive team believes our HP leaders need?
Guess what? They weren't.
Considering all the changes you've made, what is the most important?
Measurement. I absolutely believe you must and can measure training. For example, consider sales. If you want to increase the size of the deal and decrease the time it takes to make the deal, that's your goal and you can measure it.
We introduced a negotiating program -- a set of tools -- and an environment of management support around those tools. We measure deal time and size before training and we measure deal time and size after training. In the end, we shortened the deal time and increased the deal size.
You can work in general terms but you have to tie it to the specific performance you're trying to change. You have to have a specific goal in mind. If you don't, you're dead.
Can you measure this in terms of the bottom line or employee worth?
We go in with a team and translate the managers' time to value metrics. That means we interview people, we look at what they're doing and we talk to managers.
We determine the average time to decision, the average time to successful execution and the average time to conflict resolution. We put a value number on each, multiply it by the salaries of the decision-makers and that gives us a time metric and a dollar metric.
Then we ask if the managers want to decrease this by half -- half the dollars at half the time to reach value. I've never met anyone who didn't say yes.
The next step is to pick the team for dynamic leadership. We coach them through the program for eight weeks. At the end of those eight weeks, we come back and do the time to value metrics. We've only had the first eight-week session but we were able to reduce their time to value.
Training that consists of offering a course catalog is the university approach. Engaging in a business conversation and helping people understand the barriers to better performance, that's training that makes a difference. It's not simply asking, 'What training do you need?'
Can companies with a small budget do successful employee training?
You don't need a large budget, but more important, you don't need to do a whole bunch of things. I think you need to do a few things really well.
There are a couple questions you have to ask. What's going on that's blocking my organization from being high performing? What's in the way of producing great client relationships or new business for our company or hitting our revenue targets?
Brainstorm that list with your team and get them engaged in identifying the two or three performance blockers that are wrapped around your capability. Then take that list to the training department or training manager. Ask them to help your team work on the problem, not sell you a course.
What I've noticed with small to medium businesses, they want to put a chip on every block -- they feel they have to have management training, they have to have this, they have to have that. They aren't thinking about what are the critical capabilities they need to be a success. They could probably do more with less.
My advice would be really look at your business strategy and lay your development capability right next to it and see if there's a line of sight.
Do you have any advice about getting the most for your money from training?
Find someone who knows who the key players are in the industry. Then go to them with the business problem. Ask them how they would address it.
Once you've crystallized the problem, you can get some suppliers to bid based on whether they move the needle up the scale for you. In other words, they don't get paid unless they improve your statistics or solve the problem.
I try very hard to make performance contracts like that. Ask them, 'Are you in it to improve the performance or not?' If you are, this is a gain contract, meaning the more you improve performance, the more money you get.
Agree on how you will measure performance upfront. I believe anyone can get benefit from their business's training dollars by focusing on their business's problems.