Case Study of Dell: Employee Training and Development

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.

Michael Dell - Training and Development at Dell
Michael Dell

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.

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