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.