Fred Harburg–Connecting Motorola with Learning

Name: Fred Harburg
Title: Chief Learning Officer and President, Motorola University
Company: Motorola

  • Cost savings of more than $60 million from previous leaning model design and more than 250 percent improvement in resource allocation.
  • Redistribution of training professionals from 90 percent centralized to 90 percent customer-facing in business units.
  • Cost savings exceeding $5 million from centralized sourcing efforts.
  • Successful design and implementation of a �Skill Guides� system, an automated tool for integrating development planning with Motorola�s performance management system.

Learning Philosophy: �Continuous learning is a strategic investment that represents one of the only remaining sustainable sources of competitive advantage. To maximize our investment, employee development and learning must be aligned with our business strategies and needs. All Motorola managers have a clear obligation to budget strategic development funds in areas that yield the greatest return for our business and employees they wish to attract, develop and retain.�



If you have the chance to read Fred Harburg�s resume, you�ll find a rather impressive listing of positions. Prior to becoming chief learning officer and president of Motorola University, Harburg�s past boasts organizations like IBM, Saturn, Disney, General Motors and the United States Air Force. A diverse listing, undoubtedly, with one thread connecting them all�Harburg�s proven passion for training, learning and development.

�Early on, I became really fascinated with people, performance and education, the sort of triad,� Harburg said recently in his offices in Motorola�s Schaumburg, Ill., headquarters. �How do people use education to perform, and specifically, how do they do it in the best organizations? That�s always been my passion and continues to be.�

More than just empty sentiments, Harburg�s devotion to improved performance shines through. It traces back to his Air Force days, after he graduated the USAF Academy with a bachelor�s degree and earned his MBA from UCLA. Harburg�s post-academic career started at the Air Force Academy, where he split his time between teaching organizational development and industrial psychology in the classroom and teaching young men and women how to fly on the airfield, and in the air.

Harburg has a clear philosophy about corporate education�it�s got to be relevant to the issues and engaging to the learners. That�s a one-two punch with a proven track record. In fact, Harburg traces his educational philosophy to the father of all teachers, Socrates. The Socratic method of education combines knowledge with storytelling to keep learners deeply engaged. Whether you�re teaching via classroom instruction or computer terminal, he said, those elements apply.

�The other element Socrates used was passion,� Harburg said. �Certainly the issues mattered to Socrates. They mattered enough for him to be willing to die for. Lacking passion, lacking a compelling reason for the learning and lacking real engagement, it�s pretty hard.�

Now helming what�s arguably the parent of all corporate universities, Harburg joined Motorola less than two years ago. But that�s enough time to understand the corporate culture and make a contribution. Like many high-tech companies, Motorola has seen economic setbacks recently, but those challenges have strengthened his resolve. In good times, he said, education is in demand. In hard times, it�s often threatened.

�Great corporations like Motorola mitigate that. They make a lasting commitment to education and development, no matter what the environment,� Harburg said. �But there are realities, and this company, this country, has been faced with one of the most dramatic business downturns in its history. Every CLO you interview right now, every person in education, would say that budgets are extraordinarily tight. Dealing with the need to provide higher-quality learning solutions to corporations with diminishing resources is a challenge that everyone faces.�

Since it helped pioneer corporate universities and launched the Six Sigma program many successful CEOs clamor for, Motorola has made a name for itself in corporate education. Harburg is quick to credit his predecessor, Bill Wiggenhorn, who left Motorola University with �an 18-year legacy of excellence.�

Harburg and his team are responsible for Motorola�s 100,000 employees worldwide, and education touches each one at least annually. Learning happens in Motorola�s five �communities of practice,� including Engineering, Leadership and Performance, Professional Development, Sales and Marketing and Compliance. Harburg�s staff includes leaders in each of those areas who help identify the educational needs and find the best way of delivering, which is then handled by fulfillment teams that ensure it gets done. Some training is designed and delivered internally and some externally, with Motorola�s global learning management system tracking it all.

�We literally touch all 100,000 people,� he said. �Our job is clearly to help Motorola win in the marketplace. We provide total learning solutions for people in our businesses to make a difference within, in terms of their performance in a competitive arena.

�I�m also extraordinarily proud of the people who work here. I�m proud of their commitment to education, to the development of capability in our company. It goes down to specific offerings of things that are making a difference. We�re providing extraordinary things to our people now.�

Motorola�s approach to education now is a changed model, Harburg said. Previously, Motorola University was the leading provider of learning, with courses listed in a catalog and employees required to take a certain number. The chief learning officer�s role was to provide that, in a cost-effective manner.

Today, Harburg serves more as a consultant to Motorola�s six principal businesses, helping them find and deliver performance solutions to improve the company.

�That�s a very different business than running a catalog training operation. So we are driven by the development of solutions that can really make a difference,� Harburg said. �Our desire is to ensure that we serve the businesses in a way the performance improves and our customers benefit. That�s our primary desire. Training for training�s sake has no value in our company. Rather, training so that our customers benefit.�

Technology helps Motorola University run with fewer people. Education partners like SmartForce also help. Motorola is also a member of Learnshare, a learning consortium with 14 companies�including Chevron, Owens Corning and General Motors�coming together to share best practices.

�The reason we have Motorola University, as opposed to each of the business units doing their own independent learning, is for economy of scale,� Harburg added. �So we�re able to work for the entire corporation, instead of each entity making its separate deals.�

Technology is a part of Motorola�s learning, but not the whole thing. About 35 percent of the education comes from e-learning, with the other 65 percent including instructor-led training and blended solutions that combine the best of both worlds.

�In the future, the percentage may not dramatically increase. What will increase is a percentage of all the courses will go to e-learning,� Harburg said. �We think the most promising area of e-learning is blended solutions. You ought to leave to the classroom what can best be done when you collect people together and leave to the computer the passing of pure information that can be done most efficiently that way.�

Motorola measures its learning in various ways, using traditional Kirkpatrick Level 1 and Level 3 measures. But it�s not just about return on investment.

�But more and more, we�re trying to move to the issue of �did we solve the problem.� So this is not so much ROI, which a lot of people are talking,� Harburg said. �We think that�s promising on the one hand and very deceptive on the other. A lot of the emphasis going into ROI tracking is somewhat self-defeating. We think that defining solutions in terms that can be measured in whether or not they hit the mark of performance improvement is really the way.�

For instance, and not surprisingly, education is a critical part of new product delivery. If the cycle time on a product gets reduced, that�s a clear measure of success.

�I�m blessed at Motorola, having a company that�s always been receptive to education and development,� he said. �There�s great receptiveness, but at the same time there�s great scrutiny on any expenditure. The extent to which we�re responsible to that is our success or failure. Our efforts are going toward building great partnerships with people in the business to ensure we�re meeting their needs. The reports we�re getting back are really great.�

Looking ahead, Harburg sees the possibility of more outsourcing for Motorola education, as he and company leaders look for the best ways to leverage the time and talent available.

“It used to be that the idea was if we build it, they will come. The idea now is if others have built it, let’s use it and be sure that those who come get the best possible solution,” Harburg said.

And personally, Harburg couldn’t be happier.

“I can’t think of anything more important or more exciting to be engaged in than the development of people. I’ve always been clear that this is what I wanted to do,” Harburg said. “This has been my passion since I entered the workforce. The development of people is so fulfilling, I can’t think of a better job than the job of chief learning officer. I couldn’t be more encouraging about the importance of this role or the fulfillment of such a role for people who think about what they want to do when they grwo up.”