Name: Jim Brolley
Title: Director of Organizational Learning and Development
Company: Harley-Davidson Inc.
- Re-energized local plant training groups into a learning and development organization with a common approach across processes, programs and technology, all aimed at strategic business needs.
- Reduced dependence on classroom learning by introducing an e-learning capability, focused on specific enterprise needs, which resulted in a 249 percent increase in users, a 470 percent increase in courses started and a 578 percent increase in total training hours.
- Moved learning and development paradigm from event- to process-based with implementation of a front-line with implementation of a front-line leadership process that integrates blended learning, coaching and Learning Lab concepts.
- Deployed a career management, Web-based, 360-degree feedback assessment process available to all salaried employees, supported by an online competency-based development planning tool.
Learning Philosophy: “Learning is an attitude, as well as an acquired and practiced skill. To learn we need to first admit we don’t know, that learning can come from anyone, then actively search for it. Learning is like rowing a boat upstream. Not to row is to fall back. The model we use at Harley is: Learn a little and do a little, get some feedback, then repeat it again and again. It’s becoming a mantra here, and that’s a good thing. It makes us nimble.”
Learning organizations value agility, speed and performance. So do motorcycle enthusiasts. Jim Brolley, Harley-Davidson’s director of organizational learning and development, has found a way to mesh the excitement and power of riding a Harley with measurable business results that use work as a vehicle for learning. He sustains an environment that encourages intellectual curiosity and maximizes individual competencies.
Before joining the Harley-Davidson family, Brolley worked as a sales manager for Pitney Bowes and as the director of training and development for the Otis Elevator Company. He began his career as a junior high school teacher in New York City and credits that experience with helping establish his current action-driven learning delivery style. “You have to keep their interest,” Brolley said of his former students. “If you don’t continually keep them moving, involved, questioning, active, then they’re either throwing gum at one another or writing love notes. It forced me to be active. It also made me into a person that couldn’t be theoretical. Kids, in my opinion, are very much like adults. They want practical solutions. If you give them a lot of theory or you become a talking head, you’re only asking for trouble.”
To maintain the excitement of organizational learning at Harley-Davidson, Brolley has implemented an application-driven concept called Learning Labs, which use work projects as the main forum for learning. The Learning Lab concept is meshed together with tools called Smart Books, which make learners responsible for a large portion of their education. Classroom time is minimal because learners are out actively looking for answers to the 20 to 100 questions in their Smart Books. “They have to seek out the answers to the questions,” Brolley said. “They have to seek out the subject-matter experts and prepare themselves to come to the program. By doing this, they’re learning on the job, meeting and creating relationships, and sharing the learning of people who have more knowledge than they.”
Using Learning Labs and Smart Books has cut classroom sessions from four- or five-day programs down to one or two days. Now, senior management leaders can participate by sharing tips and experiences. Some of the ideas generated by these Learning Lab projects have been implemented into company policy, while others are under consideration. However, the main goal is to help employees learn the practical preparation skills required before classroom instruction is accomplished. As a result, learning takes less time, and employees can go back to their jobs and immediately apply what they’ve learned. “People are energized,” Brolley said. “The plant management loves it. We’re largely a manufacturing-based organization. We produce a whole bunch of motorcycles for the world, and like any manufacturing organization, we can’t afford to take our leadership or our hourly folks off the floor for long periods of time.
“Those projects are always plant- or strategic-company-driven so that they’re not only applying the learning on things we need them to apply it on, we’re also offsetting or in some cases paying for the time we had them off the job and paying for the expense of the training program,” Brolley said.
With 8,000 employees to educate, Brolley leverages a three-level matrix system in order to effect change on all levels of the organization. The first level of the matrix is transitional learning, which deals with a core group of people moving into key positions. “One of (the positions) would be a front-line leader – supervisor, plant manager, those kinds of people,” Brolley said. “These are key positions that can negatively or positively influence our ability to satisfy our customers. I have worked with our senior leadership and identified some of those positions so that we are strengthening the transition of a person going into that job. We can make that transition much less painful than it might have been in the past.”
The second tier of the matrix is called focused training, which consists of corporate mandates and other directives that come down from senior management. “Last year our president said, ‘I want to strengthen our company’s understanding of our values because 50 percent of our employees are under five years in tenure at Harley-Davidson.’ We created a learning initiative that went across the entire organization and continue to do that. He wants to reduce cost, so we have a cost mandate. Those things that come down from the mountain from our senior leadership cause us to help them achieve their strategic goals,” Brolley said. “We don’t do anything that isn’t strategically aligned and driven.”
The final level of the matrix is developmental and built on a robust system to aid creation of individual development plans. “We call it the PEP process: performance effectiveness program. That’s the individual development plan that everyone has that is reviewed on a quarterly basis. As a component of that, each individual with their supervisor or manager identifies a developmental opportunity that will help them in their current job and prepare them for future assignments,” Brolley said. “We also have a career management program with any number of capabilities assigned to any job. We develop training programs and learning opportunities associated with all of those capabilities to an individual’s position. We don’t use any training jargon. We just say, ‘Is this something to prepare somebody for a new job? Is it a corporate strategic mandate, or is this something we need to do to develop somebody so that they can be better in their career?’ Very simple.”
Keeping things simple eases the connection between what’s needed in the company and what learning is provided. The message to senior management, Brolley explained, is that learning fuels Harley-Davidson employees’ ability and motivates the workforce to do what they have to do. “I tell my OD&T people all the time that in the final analysis, we have a damn good product and people love it. However, when you look at our competitors, and we have some very good companies that we compete against, in the final analysis, it’s our people against their people, and we’ve got to be good. We’ve got to be the best. If you want to have the best product, you’ve got to have the best people, period.”
To strengthen delivery of learning at Harley-Davidson, Brolley employs a blended approach and creates opportunities for employees to access learning on an as-needed or pull basis. E-learning has enabled this and saved the company more than a half-million dollars by eliminating some classroom-based initiatives. “We had a very low percentage of e-learning utilization,” Brolley said. “We had systems issues. We had lack of quality programs in quantity and quality and so on. Over the last three years, we have increased the availability, amount and extent of our e-learning 200 percent, and we’ve increased the utilization of e-learning by over 300 percent. Now we have about 20 to 25 percent of our population actively engaged in e-learning.”
With 70 percent of the Harley-Davidson population on the plant floor, it’s often difficult for employees to find time to sit down and spend time with e-learning courses, despite ready access to computers. Brolley recently published a catalog with 4,000 learning opportunities, including more than 1,275 videotapes and 3,000 books, in addition to e-learning modules, to help employees get the learning they need when they need it. “We have learning centers in every one of our major facilities now, and we have a hub – a learning center network – that they can borrow from,” Brolley said.
Measuring ROI is particularly important for Brolley. “We have pre- and post-testing in all of our programs,” Brolley said. “In 2004, we went to Level 3 measurement.” Brolley said that employees are queried a month after training, and additional follow-up takes place 60 days after the training with supervisors. “In Learning Labs with projects, we now have project results that show us that the skills have been learned, are able to be applied, and here’s the cost savings. We’ve got some room to grow, but we have made a dent in knowing that what we deliver is quality. We have certified coaches at all locations to ensure a proper learning environment, and we also have a certification process. Anybody who’s going to be an instructor of any standardized program has to go through a certification process and have acceptable performance. Otherwise they have to go through it again until they get it.”
Learning and development at Harley-Davidson is individualized and not event-driven. All initiatives are linked to business plans with five core values integrated into every aspect of the company: promote intellectual curiosity, tell the truth, be fair, respect the individual and keep your promises. Though training programs exist, Brolley is working to eliminate them in favor of learning aids or contact points, which, unlike programs, do not become redundant or need to be sustained. He also is working to build strategic alliances with universities and colleges close to plant locations in order to provide the Harley-Davidson workforce with the additional expertise needed to create a more robust organization.
“I’m trying to first create the process and understand the framework,” Brolley said. “The process and the standardized procedures become the bedrock, the foundation, and if I can integrate that into the organization, if I can get our FLGs (functional leadership groups) to own those processes, then when Brolley leaves at some point in time and rides off into the sunset on his Road King, it’s going to happen. There will be programs, but the programs will be shadow people for learning. It will be the use of Smart Books, which prepare them better than in the past. That’s not a program, it’s a learning aid. When an employee wants some learning, damn it we’ve got to make contact in some way. Whether that’s a magazine, my catalog, another person, we have to increase the contact points, and that’s a moment of truth for us.”
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at email@example.com.