By Cone, John
Training & Development , Vol. 54, No. 6
An excerpt from a recent annual report of Dell Computer Corporation does a good job of summarizing where the CEO stands on the role that learning plays in his company:
Ultimately, in any business, it is people who produce results. Building a talented workforce remains our greatest single priority and challenge. This challenge contains two primary facets. The first is training, developing, and retaining our existing employees so that they can continue to capitalize on the career opportunities our growth brings. The second is successfully recruiting employees at all levels to support our company, whose employee population grew 24 percent last fiscal year.
We made good progress on both fronts last fiscal year, although this will remain a critical area of focus for us. We significantly strengthened our management team with key executives from leading companies both within and outside our industry. At the same time, more than half of our executive-level positions were filled by promoting current Dell employees.
Finally, we restructured our core training and development programs to further improve their effectiveness and, for the second consecutive yea enhanced our compensation and benefits programs consistent with our philosophy of sharing our success with our employees.
The success of Dell Computer, especially in the last decade, has been widely chronicled. The company designs and engineers a broad array of computer system products, including desktop and notebook computers, servers and storage products, workstations, software, and peripherals. Dell's customers range from large corporate accounts and government institutions, which account for two-thirds of company sales, to smaller companies and home-office and individual users. The company is also a presence in e-commerce with Gigabuys.com, Dell's new online superstore.
Dell has offices in 37 countries and distribution in more than 170. The company was quick to recognize the impact of the Internet and now has Internet sales of more than $35 million a day, accounting for more than 40 percent of business. Dell's mission is "to be the most successful computer company in the world at delivering the best customer experience in the markets we serve."
Says Michael Dell, now the longest-tenured CEO in the industry, "A hyper-growth company's relative lack of a past--sacred strategies or long-established practices and procedures--means that it will have a better chance to improvise as it goes....The key is to have enough structure in place that growth is not out of control, but not so much that it impedes your ability to adapt quickly."
At a recent meeting of Dell's top executives, Michael Dell cited some people-related indicators of hyper growth: Employees cite tenure in quarters, not years; the ratio of good ideas to experienced people is 10:1; you need three people to do the same job that used to take one; and there are no business cases to tell you how other companies have done it before you." Hyper growth makes special demands on learning and leadership development.
How does a company get 200 to 300 new employees on board each week? How does it keep these new employees current on the dozens of new products and services introduced each quarter? How does it maintain its culture and key processes when most employees have been there less than two years? How does it grow managers when it needs thousands more (literally) each year? One response was the formation of Dell Learning, known previously as Dell University.
Although training had always been a part of Dell's strategy, by 1995 it was clear that it needed an even greater emphasis. So, the office of the chairman directed that the role of Dell Learning be significantly expanded. The charter of the (then) corporate university was simple but challenging: ensuring that people had the knowledge and skills to keep pace with the firm's hyper growth. …