Chief Learning Officer magazine profiled Susan Burnett, Yahoo’s senior vice president of talent and organization development.  In it Barnett tells of when she asked herself “how learning becomes an engine for business growth, business transformation, not a transactional process.”  Apparently she did not get an answer overnight.

  • At Deloitte she created “a new talent development strategy for the firm, one with an integrated learning and development process to be delivered at Deloitte University.”
  • At Gap, Inc. she “she built the company’s first succession and career development system and refined the leadership pipeline by defining competencies and experiences needed to produce business and personal success at each level in the organization.”
  • “In her last role at HP as chief learning officer, Burnett was responsible for organization effectiveness and pulled together more than 75 training and organization development groups globally from pre-merger Compaq to create a loose federation of employees committed to developing a competitive workforce.”

What is she doing at Yahoo!?

The first plan Burnett put in place at Yahoo! was an internal development program, Leading Yahoos, an organization development and learning initiative for all leaders — a targeted 2,000 employees. The goal is to engage leadership teams in a development experience that increases effectiveness at setting measurable goals and metrics for results, creating a personal leadership brand and a development plan based on feedback, coaching for accountability, leading the new beliefs that will enable breakthroughs and leading alignment up, down and across the organization.

The two things I emphasized in the paragraph above are noteworthy because they align with two of ISPI’s performance standards.  First, because the focus is on results (ISPI’s first performance improvement standard).  Second, the goals are measurable.  ISPI’s tenth performance standard is evaluation of the results.  You can’t evaluate the results if you don’t have a mechanism for measurement.

David Windley, chief human resources officer at Yahoo!, says “The most powerful parts of this program are how we’ve developed team beliefs and an alignment of objectives on how to change the culture and behavior of teams to execute against goals, goals we didn’t have in place before, as a team.”

So, is it working?

Leading Yahoos participants have higher employee engagement scores on career development by 9 percent compared to their peers who have yet to complete the program, by 6 percent for performance and accountability and 5 percent for decision making and manager effectiveness.

The results listed above are an investment in future growth.  To realize the growth potential people must buy into the program.  This requires trust in leadership and in each other.  Apparently Yahoo! stakeholders believe in what Barnett is doing.

Blake Irving, head of products, is using Leading Yahoos to drive the product changes he wants to drive as he develops the vision and design of Yahoo!’s global consumer and advertiser portfolio. The collaboration this brings to his team is imperative to Yahoo!’s success. You drive transformational change through human beings interacting with each other and building trust and confidence in the strategy and new direction.

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