TEAM—together everyone achieves more. For United Stationers Inc., a broad-line wholesale distributor of business products and marketing and a logistics services provider, the word “team” forms the foundation of organizational vision—a vision to create a high-performance organization.
“Our primary philosophy is embodied in our number-one key strategic initiative, and that is to create a high-performance organization,” said George Sanders, vice president of compensation, benefits and development for United Stationers Inc. “Within that context, we’ve identified some very specific training goals. One of them is to create teams, and to create teams, we’ve got two programs: our high-performance-team training, which is a three-day live workshop, and something called DELTA, which is ‘developing effective leadership teamwork and accountability.’ It’s a two-and-a-half-day training program for our management team.”
With a training department of only four people, United Stationers had to come up with a strategy that would allow them to touch each of some 6,000 associates. CyberU Inc. was able to provide a Web-based learning regimen with the customized content modules United Stationers needed to provide the right training at the right time to enable the company to meet its annual performance goals and capture the succession planning process it planned to implement. United Stationers’ succession planning process would ensure that the organization could quickly and efficiently fill voids left when people moved into other positions or left the company, by identifying and assessing talent and competencies in the employee population.
Both the DELTA course and the high-performance team training for United Stationers’ 340 different teams are instructor-led. There is also a robust safety curriculum that gets a large part of learning hours each year. “We have a course called MLET, ‘Managerial, Leadership and Effectiveness Training,’ which is another type of team-building course,” Sanders said. “That’s a five-day dive into team dynamics.”
CyberU’s Web-based courses provide in-depth support for United Stationers’ traditional classroom learning in three course categories: technical or desktop applications, customer service and personal effectiveness, which address subjects such as advanced negotiation, establishing performance plans, problem-solving teams and effective business communication. “Because we have 63 distribution centers spread throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico, it’s very hard for us to have enough people at any point in time to hold a class at any one particular distribution center. It just isn’t practical,” Sanders said. “The Web-based courses allow us to get the material to the associate when they need it, and it has proven to be a very effective strategy for us.”
Implementing the CyberU system has helped to engage U.S. employees, impact their performance and affect the company’s bottom line. “If we were going to create a team culture, a number of things had to happen,” Sanders said. “First, we had to identify what kinds of teams we were going to create in the organization. We have an executive leadership team, regional and local business teams, local project teams, category management teams and customer relationship teams. That really is the essence of our organization now. We’re trying to create a high-performance organization where teams of five to 15 people get together either on an ongoing or project basis to accomplish certain goals.”
One of those specific business goals, titled “War On Waste,” saved United Stationers millions of dollars in 2003 and 2004. Sanders said 2005 should see several more million dollars in savings for the company. “In rough numbers, we are trying to take $100 million of cost out of our business over a three-year period, partially through using these high-performance teams,” Sanders said. “In 2003 and 2004, we made considerable progress toward accomplishing our goal. The marriage of online with instructor-led courses for the high-performance teams allowed us to achieve those ‘War On Waste’ goals,” Sanders said. “We’re about a $4 billion company. These are very hard goals. We have to prove that these are costs that are permanently taken out of our business either through process efficiency, through successful negotiations with vendors and suppliers, our entire supply chain.”
Next, United Stationers will integrate development plans with their CyberU offerings. “CyberU has a wonderful capacity of being able to identify training interventions based on developmental needs,” Sanders said. “We’re having our manager of talent development work on a core set of what we’re anticipating to be development needs in the organization. We took a look at our 2004 succession planning material and looked at the strengths and weaknesses of about 300 of our top managers. We’re focusing on those 300 top managers, and we’re going to create a library, a database of common developmental needs.”
Kellye Whitney is associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.