In 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard sold eight audio oscillators to Walt Disney Studios for the development and testing of an innovative sound system to be used for a movie called “Fantasia.” By recognizing a new business need and then tying technology investments ($528 of working capital and who knows how many hours of human capital) to this market void, the two engineering geniuses productized an invention and significantly contributed to a movie-making breakthrough.
In the past 65 years, Hewlett-Packard (HP) has demonstrated its talent for market adaptation. Besides a stellar and sustained record for technology innovation and product success, HP has led the way for flexible working hours, open work environments, the principle of “managing by walking around,” globalization and employee stock sharing.
HP’s focus on innovation has helped the company weather significant market changes and successfully close the biggest merger of technology companies ever, with Compaq. In 2003, HP borrowed from its own best practices and lessons learned to create the adaptive enterprise strategy, a formalized set of practices, services and technologies to help manage change and get more out of IT investments.
“The adaptive enterprise strategy is based on using change as a competitive advantage,” said Ryan Robinson, vice president of workforce development and organization effectiveness for HP’s Technology Solutions Group. “It’s not just responding to change, but being able to master change—and leveraging IT and employee resources to help you do so rapidly and efficiently. Companies that can master change will win in the 21st century.”
One of the critical keys to an adaptive enterprise strategy is proactive, ongoing workforce planning and employee development. Jim Malanson, director of global development for HP’s Technical Solutions Group, one of HP’s three principal business units, has years of experience in managing workforce change. His organization is responsible for working with representatives from the Technical Solutions Group to create development products and solutions for the 65,000 professionals who deliver HP technical solutions around the world.
Malanson talks business in a quantifiable, almost scientific way. Utilization rates, workforce gaps and production capabilities are among the phrases he uses, and it’s clear that he applies the adaptive enterprise strategy to his own organization, as well as those he supports. “Any business result is based on three factors: technology, processes and people,” said Malanson, who was director of services training for Compaq prior to the HP merger. “Productivity increases related to technology and processes are usually constrained by budgets, technical limitations and time. The biggest variable in the equation–and the area of biggest productivity opportunity–is people.”
Rather than basing employee development plans on static job descriptions, an adaptive enterprise aligns ongoing skills development to business direction. “It all starts with workforce planning,” Malanson said. The HP definition of workforce planning touches on many areas, including internal mobility, workforce profiling, career planning, resource management, training plans, compliance tracking and organizational design analysis.
Careful, deliberate workforce planning is required to execute any business strategy, Malanson said. At HP, workforce planning starts with an assessment of the current workforce, including a skills inventory, and then moves to capacity and capability modeling. “We’ve developed tools that help us determine overall capabilities required for execution, based on detailed measures for different jobs. We then compare these results with available capacity within the HP workforce. Finally, we create a workforce plan, which guides us on the most efficient and cost-effective ways to fill any capacity gaps,” Malanson said.
Capacity gaps are filled by reskilling or relocating current employees, hiring new employees, outsourcing or partnering. Decisions are based on factors like business affordability, long-term needs, work volume fluctuations, timing of the need and the organization’s core business strengths.
For instance, Linux and UNIX are currently the core operating system technologies for HP. Several years ago, when the company identified this imminent shift, relatively few employees had the requisite skills for these systems. On the other hand, the company had a significant number of very senior, highly skilled engineers who were experts in VMS and OpenVMS.
“We certainly didn’t want to lose these engineers—their experience was a huge competitive advantage,” Malanson said. “We also knew the company would need significant Linux and UNIX talent to execute our business strategies. Since we had identified immediate, short-term and long-term capacity requirements, we could deploy a staged reskilling program.” Skills development for such initiatives involves a combination of off-the-shelf and custom courses, virtual classes and virtual technology labs—all supported with a learning management system (LMS).
Malanson’s organization also benefits from the workforce planning process. “For the last several years, I’ve managed departments comprising both full-time employees and contingent workers,” he said. “Our employees fill roles vital to our business—program management, instructional design, media experts and subject-matter experts. For more general work, such as technical writing and programming, we draw from a pool of suppliers.”
According to Malanson, this combination reduces costs and gives his department the flexibility it needs to meet changing work volumes and compressed deadlines. It also gives him the ability to focus employee development on critical skills and long-term business needs.
Malanson uses technology to make the process even more efficient. “Our electronic sourcing system automates and expedites the quoting process. We can usually issue a request for a quote, process responses and assign jobs within a few days,” Malanson said. Because his department has invested the time to develop templates for various deliverables, his staff eliminates the false starts and misaligned expectations that often are common when outsourcing multiple projects. “Simplify, standardize, modularize and integrate—these are words that adaptive enterprises live by,” Malanson said.
The merger of HP and Compaq, which closed on May 3, 2002, impacted 155,000 employees and millions of customers worldwide. The extensive workforce and development planning that was done prior to the merger is a compelling example of how these processes transform the adaptive-enterprise concept into a business reality.
Malanson co-managed a small team charged with developing and deploying all training and information resources required to support the merger of the HP Services resources. The first stage of this huge responsibility was to prepare approximately 6,500 customer-facing employees and managers worldwide for the newly consolidated company’s first day of operation.
“Our mission was to give these employees the training and information resources they would need that first day to answer virtually any question that might arise,” Malanson said. “We also wanted to guarantee equal or better response times to what customers had previously received. We didn’t want to lose customer confidence or miss a single opportunity because an employee lacked the resources to efficiently handle an inquiry or properly direct a call.”
The job was complicated by federal guidelines that regulate mergers, limit the information that can be shared with employees of the involved companies and define when information can be delivered, and to whom. Because of such legal requirements, Malanson’s team had only seven days before the expected close to deliver this critical training. Therefore, technology would play a critical role.
Central to the training effort was the HP Services Playbook, a Web-based index with links to more than 250 documents and URLs that gave employees the detailed information they needed. Originally, the Playbook was planned to have a shelf life of about six months, but it remained popular for almost a year. In the nine weeks following the merger, the Playbook had 4.5 million hits.
For about two months before the merger, Malanson’s team worked with other organizations to collect the information resources and get required legal approval, and then designed and built the Web site. The Playbook was aligned to each of the units within HP Services and organized so that needed information was no more than three clicks away.
“The building of the Playbook site was a big task in and of itself,” Malanson said. “We knew it would have to handle high volume, with potentially 20,000 concurrent users in peak hours, so we had to work closely with IT to ensure there would be no performance problems.”
The team also had to accommodate constant change. “It was like working with Jell-O,” Malanson said. “Inevitably, information changed both before and after the merger. We had to have processes to make the changes and immediately add new resources as they were developed.”
Malanson’s team also designed single-page action sheets for key job roles within HP Services. These sheets were created for major milestones related to the merger–such as the first day post-merger and the second week post-merger–and gave employees specific “plays” that had to be accomplished, along with references to the Playbook resources required to execute them.
The actual delivery of the initial stage of merger-related training was accomplished through finely tuned orchestration and technology. Throughout the week prior to the merger closing, Malanson’s team worked virtually around the clock to facilitate and conduct conference calls, which were augmented by 43 separate virtual training sessions. In addition to covering merger-related information, the training outlined critical processes for the newly combined company and also instructed employees in the use of the Playbook.
By the end of the week, the team had trained employees in North and South America, Asia-Pacific, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. All employees had access to the Playbook immediately following the merger close.
“The role of technology in the merger process cannot be understated,” Malanson said. “Without it, we never could have reached our audience in such a short time. Employees could stay in their offices for the training, and the Playbook site proved to be an invaluable resource. It’s a perfect example of how companies can maximize technology to adapt to significant business change.”
Today, many of the best practices related to workforce planning and organizational effectiveness delivered to HP’s adaptive enterprise customers come directly from the company’s merger experience and the processes that have been developed and fine-tuned over the years.
“Aligning your workforce to the business sounds so elementary,” Malanson said. “To be successful, the alignment has to be rigorous, meticulous and disciplined in execution, but the payoffs are huge. This strategy has saved us millions of dollars, significantly increased employee productivity and helped us better utilize employee talent. I’ve been with the company for 35 years, and there are many others who have worked here much longer. That’s no accident.”
Linda Galloway is president of Apollo Associates, which provides marketing and PR consulting for technology companies. HP is a customer of SkillSoft, a client of Apollo Associates. Linda can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.