Name: Ted Hoff
Title: Vice President of Learning
- Basic Blue for Managers program results include:
- Alumni reports of first-year business enhancements due to leadership skill improvement averaging $450,000 each.
- A cost savings of $24 million in learning through the deployment of innovative e-learning solutions.
- Five times more content delivered to managers vs. previous manager offerings.
- IBM’s $80 million Role of the Manager program, less than one year old, has already:
- Served as a catalyst for IBM’s managers to create and sustain new momentum to achieve and exceed revenue goals for the year.
- Helped produce a net return of more than $20 million in just one of nine IBM business units.
- Increased employee engagement and morale, increased achievement of IBM’s strategic objectives and increased collaboration and communication among brands and teams.
Learning Philosophy: Learning is in the core DNA of IBM. It is fundamental to our heritage and our future. Our strategy for delivering value to our customers demands innovation and teamwork, and rests on a customer-driven, high-performance mindset. Our executives have high expectations for how learning should enable IBM to develop the people and organizational capabilities that produce innovative, integrated solutions for our customers.
IBM is no stranger to the concept of corporate education. In fact, providing workforce development opportunities is part of the technology giant’s corporate heritage, a time-tested effort to ensure market leadership through top-notch associates trained and ready to move with speed and seize new business opportunities.
“IBM as a company has in its DNA a philosophy that learning is essential to its success,” said Ted Hoff, IBM’s vice president of learning. “I saw this as a newcomer to the company. I have seen a lot of large corporations. This company has a very special heritage and commitment to learning. It’s ingrained in all the senior executives in IBM. There is an expectation we’re going to be conducting learning, we’re going to be developing employees, we’re going to be developing new ideas. Now the demand and the challenge is to see how well we can actually do it.”
Those have been Hoff’s demands and challenges since before joining IBM in May 2001. Hoff cut his teeth in learning after achieving his MBA from Harvard Business School and teaching marketing there for a while. But, he learned, he wanted something other than an academic career.
His own consultancy, Leadership Development Inc., solved that problem, giving him a chance to use both his business skills and educational abilities. In that role, Hoff worked with major clients like Verizon, GTE, Citibank, Johnson & Johnson and PepsiCo.
His work with GTE led to his role at IBM. Randall MacDonald, IBM’s senior vice president of human resources, brought Hoff to the company after they’d worked together for GTE.
“(IBM) was looking for someone to fill the role of vice president of learning,” Hoff said. “They were looking for someone who would take a very business-driven approach, someone with a very measurement-disciplined approach. I had always claimed to take that type of approach, so Randy thought about me and he called me.”
That results-focused approach was not just a sales pitch. It’s a serious commitment for IBM, Hoff said, and a clear challenge for a learning executive. IBM has more than 350,000 associates worldwide, and developing each of them is a priority. Each associate takes part in some education program at least annually.
“They had a clear picture of what they were trying to accomplish. It was a change of career for me. I had always had large corporations as clients before, but now I’m on the inside. IBM is unique in its complexity and scope. This is just a fascinating role to be in,” Hoff said.
“They were looking to drive business priorities and business success through learning. They were looking to ensure that certainly learning built the capabilities, the expertise and the skills of the people at IBM,” he added. “But also that learning could actually enable IBM to succeed in the marketplace around some key initiatives. We have been pursuing an approach to be able to do both simultaneously. Both build people, build their capabilities, but also to align people around new ideas and new practices to enable IBM to succeed in the marketplace.”
Lofty goals, those. But IBM’s heritage as a learning leader makes them more manageable.
“The greatest challenge is just being able to take advantage of all the opportunities we have at IBM to provide value through learning,” Hoff said. “This is a technology-rich company, it’s a company that’s steeped in the commitment to learning, it’s a company in which the executives have a dedicated focus on learning. They’re asking a lot out of learning, and our biggest challenge is how effectively and how quickly can we move to seize all those opportunities?”
In Hoff’s case, the movement was fast. Hoff expanded on existing programs, introduced others and generally oversaw an expansion of the learning initiatives. One example is a program launched for IBM’s 3,000 executives and 30,000 managers in early 2002. Part of a two-year effort, the program has already made measurable differences in how managers pull together teams and build on success, Hoff said. Hoff is also proud of an effort to build IBM employees’ knowledge of specific customer industries, creating a workforce instantly able to connect with clients. Other numbers tell of similar successes:
- More than 50 percent of IBM learning is now conducted online, including both formal e-learning courses and work-based networking with company experts.
- IBM studies have linked learning and employee retention, with associates undergoing development opportunities being 79 percent less likely to leave IBM in their first three years.
- Introducing e-learning solutions has saved $24 million in deployment costs.
- IBM’s Role of the Manager program helped, in less than a year, to produce a net return of more than $20 million in just one of nine IBM business units.
IBM itself operates in many different dimensions, Hoff said, across business units, geographies and functions. Education happens at all levels, with some directives from corporate and some happening at local levels.
“We in learning have to have clear accountability for the caliber of learning across the company,” Hoff said. “We accept that accountability without having direct lines of reporting in most cases. We lead the learning across IBM through leadership and teamwork. All of us are expected to lead through accountability, but to actually get things done through teamwork.”
That learning structure is conducted with a blended approach of classroom and e-learning. Education happens along a four-tier structure. The first tier focuses on performance support, providing opportunities for conceptual awareness and understanding. Tier two is more interactive, teaching procedural understanding and application. In tier three, IBM associates learn collaboratively, working with peers on shared analysis and problem-solving in a networking environment. Finally, there’s tier four, focusing on experience-based education and using tools like mentoring and coaching to impart higher-level alignment and decision-making skills.
“So we define what the objectives are, then we are constantly looking to see how we use the Web with effectiveness to the extent that we can,” Hoff said. “This has permitted IBM to move more than 50 percent of the learning that’s conducted onto the Web, but to do it in a way that is driving truly high learning effectiveness. Not just putting stuff out there that people don’t find of value, but rather putting things on the Web that are actually compelling to people, then reserving that in-person time for when we really need it.”
There’s another success story to tell about that. Since the four-tier plan and blended delivery methods were introduced, IBM has saved more than $400 million per year. Hoff is still looking at ways to improve on those impressive results.
As much as possible, IBM measures the results of the various learning opportunities. Understanding those measures, Hoff said, allows the company to move ahead with what’s working.
Educational initiatives are measured along three levels: the learning effectiveness, the improvements to organizational effectiveness and increases in the overall business performance.
“If we can achieve positive, measurable success at all three levels, we will then say that this learning contributed at least in part to the improvement of IBM’s business performance,” Hoff said. “These measurements can be a challenge, but they are also your best friend because they ensure we are clear about our objectives, clear about the logic chain here, about how learning drives organizational capabilities and business performance, and we can demonstrate to ourselves and to the executive sponsoring learning that we are in fact delivering that value.”
So what’s next for Hoff and IBM? More of the same, of course. IBM as a company is transitioning itself to provide “e-business on demand.” That same expansion is available to IBM associates, who Hoff encourages to expand their own boundaries.
“We want to continue to pursue the cutting-edge future of e-learning on demand,” Hoff said. “The story of learning at IBM parallels the story of IBM itself. It’s as essential to the company as ever.”