A High-Touch, Low-Tech: Approach to Training: Barilla America Is Creating a Performance-Based Culture on Both an Individual and Organizational Level, with Learning Targeted in the Middle

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BARILLA AMERICA INC.

BANNOCKBURN, ILLINOIS

To appreciate how central training and development are to the business at Barilla America, one need look no further than the five organizational goals set by the company and constantly monitored under its three-year plan. Alongside net sales and other financial priorities is "strengthen competitive advantage through talent, performance, and culture."

"The prominence of that goal sends a strong message about the importance of people to our success," says Wayne Bosch, vice president of human resources. "We cannot be indecisive in this area."

And they are not likely to. The performance-based culture instilled within every level of the operation stresses competitiveness, engagement, and leadership. "If you instill a culture of enabling people to excel at what they are good at and to trust their leaders, performance will follow," explains Bosch.

It's a strategy applied every day at the North American operation of the Barilla Group, one of Italy's top food corporations. Double-digit growth at two busy plants is prompting further expansion at the 11-year-old division, and a heavy emphasis on learning.

To give one example of that expansion, it is the division's learning organization that designs, develops, and facilitates the annual strategic planning sessions with top executives. The process begins with one-on-one interviews between the director of learning and talent development and key executives who partner to determine the session's objectives. A customized strategic planning session is then designed and facilitated at an off-site location.

The agenda of this year's session was the clarification of the 2010-2012 strategic goals, focusing on how to grow the business. Items included identifying key performance indicators for the six cross-functional business teams, discussing the business team's overall performance, and allocating resources (people, processes, and technology) to execute the strategy. A follow-up plan was developed and enacted to cascade the expectations to the key leadership members. Corporate strategic goals flow through the HR strategy plan to complement HR learning initiatives.

The mandate for Barilla's performance-based culture comes from the top and stresses a targeted approach to skills development, says Bosch. Individual development plans are pegged to each employee's strengths and aspirations, with input from managers to determine whether there is alignment. When employees are evaluated at the directorship level, each member of the leadership team provides input. Once the process is completed, high-potential individuals receive separate development plans created specifically for them.

Similar dedication is devoted to the recruitment of talent, says Bosch. Half of the exercise is about ensuring whether candidates possess the requisite skills and knowledge, and the other half assesses their behavior fit, such as whether they are truly interested in developing careers within the company, he says.

The learning team's fingerprints are all over these activities, just as they are with organizational development, Bosch states. For example, he says, its members are constantly looking at the onboarding strategy to ensure that new hires are given time to acclimate to the organization's culture and behavior, permitting them time to build meaningful business relationships. He says that is one reason that the group's turnover rate ranks at an astounding 6 percent, well below the 16 percent figure tracked by most companies in the field.

The learning organization's central role in change management is perhaps best demonstrated by its performance during the company's implementation of a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which was completed with fanfare in July 2009. Barilla America created a plan to ease the transition by employing the "high-touch low-tech" approach that was developed and executed by the learning department. …