Learning has a way of making its presence known in business. Organizations realize learning can alleviate some of the production or process woes they experience or that additional development opportunities can pave the way to greater productivity.
Talent management is no different. The growing industry around management of the employee life cycle often benefits from the services and expertise of those in the learning space, particularly when the company in question is experiencing rapid growth.
INTTRA, one of the largest multicarrier e-commerce platforms for the maritime shipping industry, created INTTRA University for just that reason. Serving about 230 employees globally, the university’s main goal is to ensure the management team is aligned to a specific set of behaviors to help plan for and sustain the rapid growth the company has experienced since 2001.
Lisa Bell, vice president of organizational and people development and former vice president of HR, said INTTRA was an entrepreneurial start-up filled with technicians trying not only to create products, but to sell them. When the business took off, the company scrambled to migrate its technically skilled personnel into leadership and management roles.
“How do you ensure they’ve got the interpersonal and the business strategy and vision skills? This is when you talk about talent management,” Bell said. “We want to ensure that if someone’s a terrific technician, and we have an opportunity for them to be a manager, that they succeed. Of course, we could hire someone externally, but they’re going to come down on the learning curve on subject-matter expertise. We’ve got a treasured foundation of people who are subject-matter experts about our industry, and we’ve made the decision to move them along to be managers.”
Fusing learning and talent management strategies also helps set the right tone in an organization. Bell said at INTTRA, people clearly see they have opportunities to develop their skill set using on-the-job training activities, that they can grow within the organization.
“Somebody in technology that shows an interest in the commercial side can throw their hat in the ring and say, ‘I’d like to see if I can do that job.’ It’s both an upward and a lateral promotion,” Bell explained. “I had somebody a couple of years ago in our quality assurance department express that he’d like to move to commercial, and we gave him that opportunity. It worked out, and now he’s back in quality assurance as a manager overseas on that assignment.”
INTTRA operates in a knowledge-based industry, Bell said. People bring a skill set to the table, and they are given an opportunity to help move the company forward and be successful. There must be some give-and-take in the relationship, however.
Understanding the value of learning as an investment and a necessary piece of a complete talent management strategy is one reason the company continues to use face-to-face, classroom learning opportunities when so many global organizations are taking development online.
“If they’re doing business travel, we encourage people to take a class at the same time so that they have two vantage points,” Bell said. “They’re now taking a class in a different culture, and they are also taking a class with people in a different department that they don’t have a connection with. We’ve made the INTTRA village smaller. Now, it’s not just a name on a telephone directory — they know somebody overseas.”
Bell also said being a small company helps offset learning cost considerations, but she said the main benefit to holding global classes is the relationships that develop. In mid-2004, when the company was facing tremendous growth, INTTRA placed learning at the helm of its efforts to not only change technicians’ mindset to embrace management opportunities, but to implement a corporate culture and exercise internal branding. Part of this meant embracing the concept of a high-performance team.
“Usually, technicians are sole practitioners,” Bell said. “We’ve given them the additional interpersonal, strategic, visionary skills to be cross-functional within the group. That produces efficiencies, and we become more productive. We’ve been able to train probably 95 percent of the people in INTTRA University on alignment and our values, where in large organizations, you may train divisions, but you don’t have everybody on the same ramp-up to move forward.
“People understand that by having that relationship with somebody overseas, they can give that person a call or send an e-mail and say, ‘I’m working on this project. Can you help me out?’ In our company, it’s a collaborative effort. That’s how we have been successful.”