At Pipsa, learning is not a softhearted buzzword to make people feel better. It's a tough-minded strategy to make the business more competitive. That's why PIPSA's first Chief Learning Officer (CLO) came from the finance department, not human resources. In 1995 Raul Cicero, 41, became CLO to establish learning cells and create courses in leadership, conflict resolution, and teamwork. He began his career with the company in operations and became a member of the financial-planning staff.
"I'm not in the clouds," he says. "I have a real job with real problems."
If you come from HR, people think you just sit behind a desk. I've been on the front lines. That's critical if people are going to accept my role, which is not to teach but to create an environment where people want to learn."
How do you create an environment where people want to learn?
By linking what people learn to how the company performs. Cicero and CEO Villarreal have declared that learning cells should structure their activities around specific priorities. When learning cells meet, they focus on four agenda items: working (How can we work more efficiently so we can spend more time thinking?), learning (What have we learned in the last 30 days?), teaching (What new knowledge did we create and share?), and applying (How did we translate what we learned into becoming more competitive?). They also focus on how to affect the four key variables that drive performance: increasing speed, reducing downtime, raising the percentage of products that meet quality standards, and improving customer-satisfaction measures.
Cicero believes that if you can demonstrate direct connections between learning and company performance, you will increase everyone's appetite to learn.
"People have to believe that the time they spend learning is productive," he says. "They also have to believe that what they do matters. If you don't make that call in accounting, we won't have enough money. If you don't answer the phone quickly, a customer may leave. All employees should feel that they're doing the most important job in the company."
A version of this article appeared in the October/November 1997 issue of Fast Company magazine.