In a year when businesses are slashing training budgets, Capital One Financial Corp. has done just the opposite. "We continue to invest in the areas that are necessary to see the company through the recession and capitalize on the pull-backs and collapses of our competitors. We're actually investing more in development than we did a year ago," confides Dennis Liberson, human resources executive vice president of the Falls Church, Va.-based financial services company.
Liberson credits Capital One's strong investment in training and development to its insistence that programs be strategically important and improve the organization's return on investment in human capital. "Capital One uses an information-based strategy to tailor products to our 40 million customers. We bring the same data-based philosophy to HR and training and are as rigorous in its application in what we do internally as we are in the business," says Liberson, adding that, "you can't sustain a world-class training and development function because you believe you are doing things right. You have to show you are doing something with a substantial payback." In other words, everything the HR and training functions do must deliver measurable results.
In addition to continuing to mount and maintain a full slate of employee training activities—from new employee assimilation and technical skills training, through management and supervisory training—Capital One's training and development function plays an active role in new strategic and organizational initiatives.
Last year, for example, Liberson and his team worked on a complex initiative dubbed the One Marketing Team Approach, which focused on improving the marketing and customer satisfaction orientation of information- based marketing professionals. "We needed to become more brand-oriented," he explains. His team approached the project in a characteristically holistic way. They looked at all aspects of the challenge, and in the end, created a new set of competency descriptions for market manager positions, modified the recruiting criteria, helped create a new focus description for the marketing effort, and, oh yes, facilitated seminars about the new approach.
Strategically focused initiatives are on tap for this year as well. "The biggest issue we're addressing this year is related to growth and structure. We've gone from 2,000 to 21,000 employees since 1995 with the same organizational structure," Liberson says. Consequently, Capital One is embarking on a "disaggregated business model" that expects managers who are very good functional specialists to learn to act from a broader business perspective.
"We need our line people to take a hand in team development and job self-design," Liberson explains. "Michael Porter [Harvard management guru] equates this sort of organizational change to moving the furniture all around. I guess you'd say we're going to change our structure by getting everyone into the same room to talk about where the furniture should go."
The upshot of that discussion, Liberson forecasts, will be a massive management change effort that will touch every manager at every level in Capital One and will entail everything from action-learning projects to intensive management coaching sessions. Obviously, that change requires extraordinary senior management confidence. When asked how he has managed to build that level of trust, Liberson shrugs off the suggestion that he has any magic formula, saying: "It starts with being very linked into the business, and it helps to have two bosses who believe that people are the most important strategic lever in the business."