After the crazy exuberance of the 1990s, software companies dropped like flies. Some died the natural death of any company that isn't making something the market wants at a profit, while others just couldn't compete with the ones that were. Every company that survived found a way to thrive in the newly competitive environment.
EMC is such a survivor. Founded in 1979, Hopkinton, MA-based EMC's products store, archive, organize, and keep secure the vast amounts of information companies have to manage to coordinate the work of employees and serve their customers. EMC is a Top 5 company in this year's Training Top 125 because it successfully wielded training as a formidable weapon in the battle for survival and market share. The key was ensuring EMC's business strategy is supported by the right training for the right people at the right time at every level of the company.
A Framework of Learning
To do this, EMC uses two things: development frameworks and learning councils. Each business unit in the company (sales, technical, engineering, etc.) has education and development performance consultants, and those consultants serve on learning councils for that business unit. The consultants report to the central training organization, so the needs of those business units are addressed when it's time to design or deliver training.
When training needs to be designed, EMC uses a consistent framework, so the training follows certain paths and contains certain elements. For example, the management development, certification, and accreditation programs all follow a template that divides the development into levels of expertise, such as associate, specialist, and expert in the certification program.
"Frameworks are a way to develop our learning more efficiently and hit the mark with respect to business requirements," says Tom Clancy, vice president of Education Services for EMC. "It also makes it easier for managers in the business units and the individuals being developed to understand how the training builds skills and leads to career advancement."
Consider the example of management development. "Six years ago, when the bubble burst, we had to ask ourselves, 'If the market isn't going to drive us, how do we compete?'" says Brian Powers, senior director of EMC University. "We had to transform our leadership team to map the change in our strategy."
In response, EMC created four bands of leadership: executives, directors, managers, and individual contributors. The main focus was to make sure employees demonstrated leadership at every level, even those who had no direct reports. The curriculum for each band was mapped so that people in each band displayed the leadership skills—as part of their core competencies—needed for the company's new strategy.
"Technical and functional expertise is important for customer- facing employees, but their ability to lead is important, too," Powers says. "Our model has changed from command and control to where power has drifted down to individuals who are making complex decisions that affect our customers. For example, sales representatives are leading a series of complex teams to solve customers' problems, and if they're not leading, we're not going to be successful as a company."
Because of those factors, the management development curriculum focuses on the concept of a matrix environment, in which leadership takes place not only through power but also through collaboration and influence. It focuses on complex project management rather than on individualized work done in silos, and teaches employees how to work in a collaborative team structure that crosses the boundaries of business units. "The balance is about 80 percent technical and functional expertise, but employees also get training in a set of leadership skills to complement that," Powers says.
The management development program is complemented by EMC's individual development plans (IDPs). All employees must develop an IDP with their manager's support and guidance, and have the option of attending a workshop that explains how to create a comprehensive and focused plan. Starting with a gap analysis based on the competency model, employees determine their career goals for the next 12 months, focusing on values, drivers and motivators, strengths, and opportunities for improvement. These IDPs are monitored and updated quarterly through EMC's online learning management system.
To foster technical and functional expertise, EMC devotes significant resources to its Proven Professional certification program. The program has been around for several years, but in recent years it has grown into both a competitive advantage and a talent pipeline filler.
The advantage comes from the fact that EMC is a company with a complicated and sizable set of products. In five years, EMC went from offering 200 to 300 products to more than 4,000, and each solution is a complex collection of software, hardware, and professional services. That product set comes partially from acquisitions; in recent years, EMC has acquired 40 companies with products that complement its portfolio.
"For technology companies, differentiation is twofold: products, and the ability of that company's technologists to communicate the value proposition, install products efficiently, and support them for years to come," says Clancy.
There are 10 technologies with certification tracks attached, and within each track, there are programs for specific roles. There are also three levels—associate, specialist, and expert—so it can get pretty complicated, but it also gives a clear path for the learning employees need for the development they want. For example, the company's network-attached storage (NAS) technology has role-based programs based on whether the employee is an implementation engineer, an architect, or another role. An employee can earn a certification in that NAS technology at the associate, specialist, or expert level in his or her role at the company.
To reach the associate's level, employees go through a week-long learning program and take a proctored exam from a third party. The specialist and expert levels each require two to three weeks of training and the exam.
EMC has granted approximately 40,000 certifications to some 25,000 individuals. EMC employees hold roughly half of those certifications, and the other half are held by partners or customers, who get the same training as employees.
Having certified employees who know every detail of the technology they support is an obvious advantage. But through the company's academic alliances with some 250 universities, the certification program has become a way for EMC to fill its talent pipeline. EMC's vendor-neutral course on information storage and management is offered at those 250 universities, which include schools in Brazil, Russia, China, and India. The course covers the storing, managing, tiering, and virtualizing of information. More than 5,000 students—who might someday be EMC employees —are enrolled in the course.
Accrediting Sales Professionals
Certifying the knowledge of technical employees is a big part of a company's work in satisfying customers and maintaining its reputation. But technical employees are only one link in the value chain, which is why EMC also has an accreditation program for its sales employees. "When we announce a new product, time is critical, because generally the first product to market gets 80 percent of market share," Clancy says. "That means we need to get thousands of employees and partners ready as fast as possible to position our products to partners and customers."
The accreditation program doesn't have the same high-stakes exams at the end as the certification program does, but employees do have to pass quizzes at each rollout, and participation is mandatory. It follows the same structure as the certification program, with tracks for different technologies and associate, specialist, and expert levels. Each quarter, the learning councils in each division (sales, marketing, engineering, etc.) decide on the priorities for business requirements in that quarter. In each quarter, sales employees take 14 to 16 hours of training in new products and releases.
"About half of the training is on the product itself, and the other half is about the market for the product, how to compete in that market, and the potential benefits to the customer," says Clancy. The accreditation training is aligned closely with the certification training.
The training consists of Web-based pre-work and workshops where simulated sales calls allow learners to practice what they've been taught and to get coaching and feedback from district managers. The program has reduced the amount of time spent training sales employees, yielding increased sales time and accelerated time to revenue generation.