Joe Ilvento knows how to sell. As a freshman biology major at Syracuse University, he took a summer sales job and outsold colleagues who had been on the job for 30 years. As a prize, he got to attend a sales seminar with Tom Hopkins, the international sales guru and author of “How to Master the Art of Selling.”
It changed Ilvento’s life. “I sat in the front row of 2,000 people and realized I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to make money,” he said.
Ilvento switched to psychology, and when he graduated he got a sales job at a cable company. Once again, he became the top sales rep, tripling his sales quotas while his peers struggled to make theirs. He gained so much recognition for his sales swagger that other reps started asking to go on calls with him, and his manager eventually promoted him to sales trainer. That’s when his career shifted to the learning and development field.
Innovation at the Jersey Shore
Ilvento went on to become a master trainer with Sarder Learning, then spent almost 14 years as a learning leader at Citi Group before being recruited by Commvault, a data protection and information management solution provider near his home town of Tinton Falls, New Jersey. “They created a role for me that didn’t exist,” said Ilvento, who became their first CLO and director of talent development in 2011.
Commvault, which was originally spun out of Bell Labs in the late 1990s, faced a number of unique talent challenges, said Chief Human Resources Officer Jesper Helt. Unlike Silicon Valley, where companies poach talent on a daily basis, Commvault was one of the few tech companies on the Jersey Shore. “We were insulated from the talent wars, but it also made it easy to fall out of touch with best practices for employee development,” Helt said.
The leadership team recognized that the next generation of hires were bringing new, valuable skills to the company that senior staff didn’t possess. That forced them to rethink their approach to training, mentoring and career development. “People coming in want to be taken seriously and given meaningful work on day one,” he said. “We had to tie that into our people practices.”
That led the leadership team to take a more strategic approach to HR and L&D, which led them to Ilvento. “Joe is a very accomplished learning professional with a crazy big toolbox,” Helt said.
Central Learning Function
Ilvento began by reviewing all the learning functions so he could make recommendations on where to improve. He found that the company had no shared learning philosophy or central department. “Every department did their own thing,” he said. The company also used separate vendors for performance management, learning management and other HR services, which made it difficult to get a clear view of the human capital data.
For his first act as CLO, Ilvento brought together the leaders of every business unit to agree on a single learning management platform. They chose Cornerstone OnDemand, which they would use to create a centralized repository for training and learning management. Having a single solution would allow for better data sharing across departments and the dissemination of best practices, he said. “Once we turned it on, every system was totally integrated.”
He populated the learning management system with a library of relevant e-learning courses to support everything from soft skills training to automation and technical skills.
He also began meeting with the C-suite to discuss their vision for leadership development, which led to the creation of the Commvault Management Training Program. “We built the content around Commvault’s values, and now any department can send their managers to get trained,” Ilvento said.
However, the most impactful program Ilvento built falls outside of the traditional training paradigm.
Talent Reviews in a Snap
Commvault’s founders decided early on that they would not put their people through the drudgery of the traditional employee review cycle. “They saw in their own careers how absurd this process was from both sides, so they said no,” Helt said. That was great when the company was small, but as it expanded it became difficult to keep track of performance. “We needed that talent data to grow the business, but we wanted to do it differently.”
Ilvento saw an opportunity to use the Cornerstone platform to meet that need. Rather than buying an off-the-shelf performance management solution, he worked with the development team to build a custom app within the Cornerstone environment to meet their exact assessment needs.
Ilvento started by meeting with managers and employees to understand what they wanted from a performance management system — and what they wanted to avoid. “It needed to be a lightweight solution that didn’t take a lot of time,” he said.
But it also had to give them a framework to set priorities, plan development activities and provide follow-up coaching. “We wanted to inspire ongoing conversations between managers and employees about how they can grow in their careers,” said Helt. “There is a lot of power in these kinds of dialogues.”
Using the feedback, Ilvento’s team built a program within Cornerstone called Unlocking Potential, which is a simple structure for employee reviews. Each year, employees record three to five priorities in the platform, along with key action steps and due dates. “It’s important to build assessments around ‘priorities’ rather than ‘goals’ because goals are always changing,” said Katie Tobin, senior manager of learning and development.
Six Key Questions
Instead of rating employees on their accomplishments, twice a year managers and employees meet for a “talent snap” conversation. Managers use the conversation to answer the following questions about the employees’ performance, progress and engagement: Do they deliver high-impact results/contributions? Do they live and breathe the Commvault values? Do they exhibit emerging, solid, strong or exceptional levels of potential? Are they at risk for low performance? Are they a low, medium or high flight risk? Are they ready for an expanded role or promotion now or in the next one to two years?
The responses are captured in the system, and managers have additional space to take notes, record coaching ideas and sketch individual development plans if they choose.
Because all of the data from past talent snaps are also captured in the system, managers can track each employee’s growth and potential over time, so they can shape these conversations around past accomplishments and make better choices about future development. “It provides a simplified framework that lets managers check in with employees on their career development and what they need today,” Tobin said.
The impact has triggered a culture change in the company. “Our development paradigm has gone from ‘where are you doing poorly’ to ‘let’s develop your strengths,’ ” Helt said. “We all have room to improve. Unlocking Potential focuses on leveraging what we are already good at.”
The platform does more than support individual assessments, however. It also gives Commvault leaders the data they need to track workforce performance and predict what kinds of training or engagement activities are needed to meet the company’s strategic goals.
Workforce Potential in 3-D
Once talent snaps are complete, employees are automatically plotted on a 16-box grid that maps employees based on their level of performance against key objectives and their alignment with company values. The highest performers and most-aligned employees land at the top left corner, while low performers and those at risk of leaving are toward the bottom right.
The platform then displays the results in a 3-D map, allowing managers and leaders to explore the data. They can zoom in on individual candidates to get details on their performance or filter results to view trends for specific roles or in-demand skills, or to study results for a business unit or across the entire population. Color coding allows them to see where a group is excelling (green) and where there are talent or engagement gaps (red).
It enables managers to see at-a-glance things like who is ready for promotion, where high performers are located, where pockets of talent are at risk of leaving and what specific skills may be lacking in the workforce. “It’s a strategic way for us to look at all of our talent, and it gives managers a framework to move their people to the next step on the ladder,” Ilvento said.
Commvault leaders use the platform to do workforce planning and to implement proactive solutions, including training, promotions, mentoring, stretch assignments and other workforce development strategies. And because it tracks historic assessment data, they can monitor the impact of these action steps. “It’s been very well received by management and staff,” Ilvento said. “It’s changed how we look at talent management.”
Employees also like it. Using the platform is optional, but leaders encourage everyone to use it, and data from the employee engagement survey shows those who do experience more positive development experiences. The survey found that 73 percent of employees who have career conversations using the Unlocking Potential tool say they know what they need to do to grow their careers versus 47 percent of employees who don’t use the platform. Eighty-eight percent of employees who use the platform say their managers provide feedback/coaching that positively impacts their performance versus 58 percent who don’t. And 89 percent of employees who use the platform say their manager supports their skill and career development versus 58 percent who don’t.
The Unlocking Potential solution exemplifies who Ilvento is as a leader, Helt noted. “This isn’t something he’d done before. He just saw a need, then got creative conceptually, drawing on his own wealth of experience.”
The project even pushed Cornerstone to rethink how their platform works. At one point, when Ilvento’s team couldn’t build everything they wanted in the performance management module, they pulled it all into the talent management module to leverage features in ways the vendor hadn’t considered. “It earned him lots of accolades from the Cornerstone team,” Helt said.
It also inspired the HR team to have Ilvento build something that would “add a little wow to the onboarding experience.” Now, as soon as a new hire accepts an offer, the newly designed onboarding system sends them links to the company’s value statement, videos about the workplace and a questionnaire about their favorite snacks so Ilvento’s team can have them delivered to their desk when they arrive. The platform also uploads a picture of the new hire so their team will recognize them, and it uses a green screen to put them in company events — like outings to Yankee Stadium. “It’s a way to differentiate the experience and to make it memorable,” he said.
When he’s not building platforms, he’s busy creating and curating learning content for everyone in the company. That includes his latest e-learning course reminding people how to get the most out of offsite conferences, which includes a video of the chief legal officer encouraging them to have fun — but not too much fun. “It is a fun way to get the message across and make the learning come alive,” Ilvento said.
His unconventional approach to the CLO role has made him a favorite at Commvault. “He is one of the most innovative leaders I’ve ever worked for,” Tobin said. “He’s always looking for ways to scale what we are doing and to meet a business need.”
Carmen Cortez, former HR leader at Commvault (now currently with Cisco) agreed. “He is able to translate his creative ideas into practical solutions,” she said. And when he faces an obstacle, it just inspires him to keep going. “He always says ‘there must be another way.’ ”