Although he didn’t start out in learning, HP CLO Sam Szteinbaum has taken to his current role with gusto. As the company continues to expand rapidly, he’s growing its learning offerings apace.
For a company with more than 172,000 employees around the world, Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has a relatively low profile within the technology industry. It doesn’t have the ultra-hip branding of Apple, the long and celebrated history of IBM or the omnipresence of Microsoft.
What HP does have is the distinction of being the first IT company to surpass $100 billion in revenues, a feat it accomplished in 2007. Moreover, it’s not only the biggest seller of personal computers on earth, but also the fifth-largest software vendor in the world.
To preserve its standing as a pre-eminent provider of technology solutions, HP relies on just-in-time, accessible and effective learning programs. This starts with Sam Szteinbaum, the organization’s vice president and CLO, who is responsible for managing learning across all the businesses, regions and functions within HP.
“At HP, a large portion of the [CLO] role is very operational in terms of the execution required to train all the sales and service people around the new products and services the company is introducing,” he said. “We obviously have very rapid product life cycles in our business.”
Interestingly, Szteinbaum, who holds degrees in mathematics and economics from the University of California, as well as an MBA in finance and strategic management from Purdue University, didn’t have a learning background before becoming a CLO. He started out his career in finance at HP 24 years ago and eventually moved to marketing. Prior to his current role, he served as general manager of the consumer PC business in North America following HP’s merger with Compaq a few years ago.
These experiences — along with the numerous contacts he’s made in HP’s different business units as a result of his multiple roles in the company over the years — have benefited him a great deal as CLO, Szteinbaum said.
“We want to make sure that we’re aligned with the business and doing things that the business needs and values. So the operations background I have from my prior experience was one of the elements that made me attractive for this position to the head of HR, to whom this function reports.”
That’s not to say he had no previous exposure to people development before he rose to the CLO position. “Even though I was a general manager in a business in my prior role, there were a number of people development activities we did in that business that came to HR’s attention.
“Those were our own initiatives within the business. We felt those were needed by our people in order to have stronger engagement and get better business results. They were aware of some of our efforts, which intrigued them in terms of getting someone like myself to run the learning function.”
As HP’s learning leader, Szteinbaum focuses on three key areas for the workforce: technical knowledge, sales skills and leadership development. The last sphere has received a lot of attention in the past few years, he said.
“On the leadership development front, we’ve been revamping our offerings. We wanted to make sure our leadership offerings were aligned with the direction of the company and language that’s being used for managers to understand the direction from the top. We’ve worked on some broad offerings that have involved large numbers of managers.”
One of these initiatives is Leading for Results, a program targeted at all of HP’s approximately 15,000 managers. Szteinbaum said one of the most important aspects of the course is that company leaders are involved with instruction.
“The purpose of the course is to align managers around the company direction, elevate performance and help them be more effective in developing their people,” he explained. “We’ve been doing it with our own leaders as instructors. We’ve embraced the model of leaders developing leaders. In that offering alone, we’ve gotten more than 750 business leaders to serve as instructors to help deliver the course. The majority jump at the opportunity. If they didn’t, we probably wouldn’t want to use them. Luckily, the culture at HP has long been one in which people are engaged in development.”
Another leadership development offering is the Key Talent Program, which varies by organizational level and region. That program — which can last one to three months, depending on participants’ places in the enterprise hierarchy — blends modalities such as virtual classroom, e-learning, simulations and face-to-face interactions into a comprehensive package.
“We actually put them into business action teams, in which they work on business-relevant projects that are sponsored by the owner of that business issue,” Szteinbaum said. “We purposely put them to work in areas that are different from whatever their day-to-day responsibilities are so they’ll get exposed to other parts of the company. We have leadership development modules that feature experts in strategy, communication skills or whatever other topic is being addressed. We bring in senior managers to talk to them in small groups and take questions.”
One of those senior leaders is HP CEO Mark Hurd, he added.
“We are very fortunate that he’s willing to spend the time and be committed to these types of programs. He’s very engaged with our new offerings on the leadership side. He’s very generous in getting in front of our learners to teach them. On the leadership side, we’re very engaged with him to find out his agenda and what he’s driving in terms of messaging to employees and capabilities he feels are important. We’re actually working with him on a yearly meeting that he has with his top 100 leaders. In that kind of session, we’re very involved, but it’s not really a learning event. It’s a management event with a learning component.”
While leadership development gets a lot of attention at HP, the bulk of programs deal with technical knowledge, which is perhaps unsurprising for a technology-intensive company.
“On the technology side, which is actually a big percentage of our overall offerings, every time we introduce a new product or service, we need to make sure people understand where that falls in relation to the other products and services we have, and how it is relative to the competition,” Szteinbaum said. “As soon as we start shipping a new product, there have to be people in every region who know it, so if there’s an issue with the product, they can troubleshoot and make sure it’s working the way it’s supposed to.
“For certain virtual classes we’ve developed, we’ve been able to reach into the business to find subject matter experts who help train people in the field about the technical side of a product without having to travel wherever the class is taking place. They don’t lose productivity to travel, and they can get back to their jobs much quicker.”
Such concerns are important for Szteinbaum, who remembers these issues from his time on the business side. Thus, much of the measurement HP’s learning function does is related to performance outcomes that affect the bottom line.
“In the case of sales training, we’re hiring a lot of new salespeople, so one of our measures is time to productivity,” he said. “How do we help someone who joins HP go out and speak knowledgeably about our products and technologies to our customers? We also look at how we enable the businesses to ramp up the knowledge required around the world to launch the new products. We also measure TCE, or total customer experience.
“For example, if a service person goes to a customer to fix a product, do they fix it the first time, quickly and effectively? There are a number of measures that help us understand how we’re assisting with business objectives. In many ways, what we try to do is measure the effectiveness of learning using the same metrics that the business uses to assess impact for its overall objectives.”
In the coming years, Szteinbaum expects to spend a lot of time thinking about how to enhance HP’s overseas operations, as that’s where a significant amount of the company’s growth is taking place.
“What we’re working on now is how we support the needs of emerging-country growth,” he said. “We’re growing very rapidly in countries outside the U.S., hiring a lot of people, promoting a lot of people. How do we enable the managers to do a good job? What kind of tools and training are required?”
Szteinbaum just might be the ideal person to devise an international learning strategy for the company. Born in Colombia, he began working for HP in Venezuela and also had a long stint in Singapore before coming to the United States permanently.
“In my career at HP over the past 24 years, I’ve been fortunate to experience a number of different roles in different functions, businesses and geographies,” he said. “That was primarily driven by my desire to grow in my career and my interest in going to different areas. When you make functional switches, you have to be flexible to get the right opportunities.”
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