Caprara considers selling human resource development as a business partner and a driver of Nextel’s strategy one of his greatest successes since he joined the company two years ago. His plans for the company began while he was still employed at Sears, Roebuck and Company. “I built out the hard-lines training organization at Sears and later on, after reporting to the president, I went back and built the services side of the training organization,” he said. “At that point in time, my wife and I had a discussion. I told her I wanted to design the best model possible in a business-based training organization. She said if you can go find a company that will let you do it, do it.”
Nextel Communications had that opportunity. Caprara constructed Nextel University as a business-based training organization that identifies key metrics within the business on an ongoing basis and then drives those metrics for ROI. A lot of the best practices he has implemented, such as the strategic advantage of simultaneously building customer and employee education from the same assets, are new. “Every time you open a new product and take out the owner’s manual, the training organization customer actually built the collateral. The result is there’s no chance that a customer will encounter something that our salespeople are not completely aware of,” Caprara said. “That kind of a marriage and interface between resources would normally be a marketing resource that’s just not found in this kind of organization.”
Another piece that’s not unique to Nextel, but is definitely advantageous, is Caprara’s decision to house succession planning, leadership development inclusion efforts and diversity initiatives within Nextel University. It was no easy feat, considering that when Caprara first came to Nextel there was no HRD department. Resources were completely decentralized, yet Caprara and his team were able to put together the current model and implement its structure in just six months. Now there are seven institutes (sales, technology, customer support) and five centers (program resource, program design) around North and South America.
“A training and education department has the potential to touch every point in both the employee and the customer life cycle,” Caprara said. “Most training departments never do that. They are strictly on call, if you will. Our training organization is not responsive or reactive. It’s not even proactive. It’s designed to be completely pre-emptive. We have our business training managers connected to the business; they’re not there to wait for requests. They’re an equal business partner at the table to work the business strategy.”
Business training managers at Nextel University work directly with each of the business owners to facilitate creation of their strategy and to put it on paper. “That allows us to be that partner at the table that has a line of sight into the strategy and the needs that a training organization normally doesn’t have,” Caprara said.
On a monthly basis, Nextel University measures more than 130 individual metrics. All 12 institutes and centers have a scorecard to measure traditional training metrics like learning effectiveness and business impact. These add up to the HRD Balanced Scorecard. There is also an ROI or return on expense (ROE) attached to every significant project. “Every training instance in the company is measured,” Caprara said. “If there’s a training instance in the company, not only does the individual have to test out, but depending on the program, there’s a 30-, 60- or 90-day follow-up to see exactly what the impact of the training was. The financial aspects of the organization are measured monthly; the amount of courses, the participants and all the traditional pieces, but more importantly, the effectiveness of the training is measured. Each institute has a scorecard with 30 to 40 measurements on it. Additionally, HRD tracks each training instance using an online measurement and a benchmarking tool called ‘Metrics That Matter.’ This provides standardized course evaluation and reporting on established measures, allowing HRD to maximize return on learning investment.”
Since he came on board, Caprara has also shifted Nextel University’s practice of purchasing training to one that develops training internally. Over the past 18 months, more than 560 copyrighted training programs have been developed in house, eliminating roughly 40 vendors. Additionally, the learning technologies department in Nextel’s curriculum design center is constantly reviewing and researching new projects in adult learning technology. Their work, and the work of others, has led to a truly blended approach to learning using leader-led training, e-learning, Web-based training, learning maps and other tools.
To address the cultural and language challenges of educating Nextel’s global employees, Caprara developed a multi-templating process which is used by the instructional design team to aid the versioning of documentation into other languages. “When a new product or a new data service is released, we template the training, no matter how it has to be built, simultaneously for different audiences,” Caprara said. “We have a partner with a collaborative work tool, which is electronic and allows real-time print-off anywhere of documentation so that it’s the most updated version.”
With so much going on, it’s necessary to prioritize projects in order to control the costs of training. Caprara’s connectivity-learning model, which embeds training managers in the business, takes advantage of their strategic positioning by having them act as Business Guidance Counsels, training experts engaged in a gatekeeping process to determine the needs of the business and provide solutions. “Every program and project that we have that’s of a significant investment goes through our performance center,” Caprara said. “We do a projected ROI on it so that we can go back to the business and say, ‘This is what you asked for, this is the solution, this is the cost, and this is the ROI.’”
Caprara is also a member of Nextel’s program oversight committee. Every large project or program that comes through the company goes through the committee for funding and resources. “By being part of that committee, I’m able to make sure that the training funds of the company are scalable. If there’s a new program or initiative, the funds are attached to that initiative,” Caprara said. “Secondly, all of Nextel’s training funding for both training and professional development resides within my budget. That means that not only 100 percent of the training funds reside here; if we have a business that wants to, for professional development needs, send someone to a particular program or something of that nature, we fund those as well. Another piece that we have here is through centralized efficiencies. For instance, our curriculum design team runs at a strong efficiency rate. The templating process we have in there allows that organization to be scalable and handle a huge load.”
Lastly, Nextel controls costs through fee-based training. “When you build a piece of training internally, you’re restrained by cost. You have a budget. Whenever you go outside to sell training, you have to build a differentiated product. It has to be of a higher quality, and since it’s funded to build that quality, it (can be) repurposed for internal use, and you end up with a better internal product at a lower cost,” Caprara said.
Future learning plans at Nextel University will include a new metric piece called “Strategic Skills Readiness,” which Caprara is in the process of launching throughout the organization. It will identify job families and the core competencies required to meet business strategies for each job family. “We’re measuring the existing readiness of the organization based on those competencies, and then we’re targeting specific training directives to address those competencies and measure them on an ongoing basis, which gives the business a readiness factor that you can track against performance.”
Nextel University will also expand its customer learning solutions and fee-based training divisions, introduce mobile centers of excellence and broaden the leadership development program from 50 to 150 participants this year. “We have over 100 mentors signed up within the company, most of them vice presidents and above, and we’ll start leveraging those resources internally to develop a strong mentoring program,” Caprara said.
Caprara is responsible for educating some 17,000 internal employees and provides training for approximately 50,000 non-employees who work for Nextel in indirect sales, telesales and Web sales. To do that, he created Nextel University, a large umbrella covering a dense and expansive learning culture, which includes a leadership development program that partners with Georgetown University and the University of Maryland, a bank of courses or management essentials called “Core Business Literacy Education” and succession planning, which lists potential leaders one to three years and three to five years out. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for Caprara to work on his golf game, which he said was bad anyway. “My team would like me to slow down once in a while,” said Caprara, who modestly denies almost all credit for the accomplishments that have taken place at Nextel under his watch.
“I have a number of things that I believe in. As soon as you become a manager, the first thing you should do is never become impressed with yourself. But you have to understand that other people are impressed with you, and when you talk you have to make sure that you understand the impact you have on people,” Caprara said. “Partnerships are absolutely critical—internal partnerships and partnerships with vendors. We have the luxury within our organization to have wonderful partnerships with our finance department, with our communications department. They’re as much a part of my organization as anyone within my organization. Anyone can have a vision, but I tell my folks that vision without execution is a hallucination. It’s not just trying to execute, it’s taking a look at everything you do strategically.”
“Nextel seems to be the type of place where if you have a vision and you can articulate it and put it forward, there’s a good chance it can become reality,” added Caprara, who sat down with each of the senior executives in the company to gain the resources to make his training vision a reality. “I was able to show them their current resources, the anticipated resources, the impact on their people, the impact on their cost center and the impact on their customers, and without exception, they bought in,” Caprara said. “That type of freedom I don’t see existing elsewhere, and that’s part of the culture that we need to protect.”