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Jeanette Graebener: Engineering an Inventory of Minds at SAIC

Jeanette Graebener loves her job. Now, as the vice president for corporate education at SAIC and chief learning officer for SAIC University, with the responsibility of educating more than 43,000 people worldwide, her passion for her work and the strides s

April 28, 2004
Related Topics: Succession Planning, Talent Management, Technology, Blended Learning, Mentoring, Metrics, E-Learning, Learning Delivery, Leadership Development, Measurement, Technology
“I love this company, and I love all the people that I work with,” Graebener said. “When I get up in the morning, I don’t mind coming to work. It’s amazing.”

Even more amazing are the successes SAIC has enjoyed under Graebener’s leadership. SAIC is the nation’s largest employee-owned research and engineering company, providing information technology, systems integration and e-solutions to commercial and government customers. Graebener put her experience developing curriculum and training materials and conducting training programs for government agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Army, the U.S. Navy and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to work. Since she became chief learning officer in April 2003, the company’s learning arm SAIC University has increased learning by 46 percent over the previous year, training more than 150,000 program attendees around the world.

“I think my greatest success is that I’ve had such great support from our senior leadership and our business leaders at SAIC,” Graebener said. “I’ve been able to assimilate a top-notch training-and-development team both internally and externally.”

According to Graebener, SAIC’s training philosophy is also part of the company’s vision, centering on the idea that the maintenance of a quality workforce demands a significant and continued investment in education and training.

“SAIC University is virtual and functions as an umbrella structure to link education and performance enhancement initiatives within the company. The existence of SAIC University demonstrates visible corporate support for employee-owners with the services and programs necessary to realize goals, achieve outstanding performance and meet customer needs,” Graebener said. “The bottom line is that we have commitment from our senior leadership. They realize that in order to have true performance for our customers and meet our customers’ needs, we really have to focus on the essential technical and business competencies needed to support our mission and align those goals with the development and objectives of our employee-owners.

“When you talk about retention and recruitment, people want to work for a company where they know that they’ll be continually developed, and you can’t attract other applicants from other companies if you don’t have a strong professional development program. People demand that now,” Graebener said. “I think a couple of years ago when the dot-coms went away and training was sort of put on the backburner as it usually is in many instances, SAIC didn’t do that. In fact, they committed more and more to training and development and really saw it as being important to get through that critical period.”

Training at SAIC is constant. The company offers more than 200 instructor-led courses per year in a variety of discipline areas, including business management, program project management, proposal development, contracts, procurement and technical training and certification. There is also a significant e-learning contract that offers more than 2,000 courses via the Web to all SAIC employees accessible anywhere, at any time. Employee-owners have access to a virtual library with 4,000 titles for research, and online mentoring is conveniently available should they run into a problem. A large number of the instructor-led courses are taught by SAIC employees who help pass along the company’s processes and methodologies, though SAIC will bring in outside vendors should the need arise.

“For those things that we need outside expertise in, we bring in vendors, we bring in universities, we bring in certification programs, technical training,” Graebener said. “We bring in whatever we need and don’t have the expertise for. We’re totally blended learning. We do a lot of training via data exchange, video teleconferencing, we do audio streaming.”

SAIC University also offers a number of on-site master’s degrees and undergraduate and graduate certifications. SAIC has had a partnership with George Washington University for the past six years and has put a number of people through systems engineering graduate certificate master’s programs.

“We’re a brain trust,” Graebener said. “SAIC doesn’t sell widgets, we don’t have a product that we sell. We sell our intellectual property. We’re an inventory of minds, and we do that by managing large- and small-scale projects, and so we have a need for systems engineers. Our company is so committed to that, they award vesting stock to those individuals who complete those programs and we have a number of schools and curricula that are approved for those programs. As they complete a master’s degree in that program they are awarded $5,000 investing stock. There have been millions of dollars spent on that. That’s significant, the money that has been spent on that, and we have a very high retention rate because of the program.”

In most enterprise learning and training situations, the cost of educating employees is an issue, but not one that will affect SAIC’s employee-owners. “We have a budget that I receive each year that takes care of courses that we offer internally, and the corporation pays for the e-learning and the virtual library. There is no cost back to any employee for that, and when we bring in vendors and courses that aren’t in our normal schedules, there’s a cost share associated with that. We pick up some of the costs, we charge back to the business units. We don’t have any kind of system where our employees pay us for their training.”

Not only don’t SAIC employees pay for their training, that training is partially tailored to their individual learning styles. “Those of us that are professionals in the field understand that there are many different learning styles, so we try in our blended approach to offer training and development in all of the above,” Graebener said. “For example, we’re going to do a company-wide Project Management Professional certification program. Because of cost value, different learning styles, we’re offering three different tracks. One’s e-learning with facilitated discussions, one’s instructor-led, the full-blown, go to class, sit in the class for eight hours with pre- and post-assessments, and the third track is for people who think they already know it and need a quick refresher course and go take the exam. We try to offer as many things as we can in different learning methodologies.”

With 150 locations and more than 43,000 employees worldwide, SAIC must ensure that training is at a consistently high standard. “When there’s any type of program that has a certification program, the certification is witness to the fact that they understood the information. One of the things that we’ve done in that area is look at the different scales of evaluation. We’ve basically been at Level I and Level II, It’s our goal this year to move to Level III and possibly Level IV where we do more and more follow-up to ensure that the skills that people have learned through the training are being practiced in their business unit. That is an area where we are continuing to improve.”

For Graebener, return on investment, business metrics and other measurable success factors are pertinent only after one measures customer satisfaction. Graebener points to SAIC’s lower-than-average turnover rate as further proof of SAIC’s success. “When you look at retention and recruitment, for example in our leadership program, 83 percent of people in the program are still with the company. Eighty-four percent of the employees who’ve gone through the systems engineering training are still with company,” she said. “Our turnover rate is significantly below the national average. Do I attribute that to training? Not totally, of course not. But training and development at SAIC is a component of that.”

SAIC has big things planned for training over the next five years. Graebener will start a large-scale project management professional program where in excess of 1,000 program project managers will be trained over the next year. And plans have begun to create a major leadership and training program for more than 600 SAIC divisional managers. “These are the people at the front lines working with customers, managing the contracts, and we have put together a fabulous training program with competency maps, and it’s very blended,” Graebener said. “There’s e-learning, there’s self-paced learning, there’s a three-day foundation program where new and aspiring division managers attend and learn about people skills, business skills and company skills, and for those managers who have been division managers for three years or more, a five-day practicum where they put it in place. We’ll have case studies in all of those areas and more. We’re going to be looking at other avenues to share training and development with our customers because we’ve made some significant strides in some of the disciplines, and we’re going to be looking at sharing that.“

SAIC is also looking to develop a succession planning program and more and better leadership programs for senior executives. “One of our challenges and goals is to create a successful talent pool to assume leadership roles within this company,” Graebener said. “We have now been tasked with creating leadership and development programs for our most senior levels, which is very exciting because he (CEO Kenneth C. Dahlberg) is committed to growing our own. And I think that goes along with the whole philosophy of employee ownership. Those that understand what we do should and can lead this company. So we have to make sure that we totally understand his vision and that we clearly provide the best learning to actually get that group ready over the next several years to take on more significant leadership roles.”

Name: Jeanette Graebener
Title: Vice President for Administration, Director of Corporate Education and Professional Development
Company: Science Applications International Corp. (SAIC)

  • Received International Award of Honorable Distinction for Strategic Alliances (top three out of 80 candidates) by 2003 Corporate University Xchange and Fortune Magazine.
  • Negotiated an e-learning contract that revolutionized the way employee-owners are trained. The fully hosted internet-based program is a 24x7, proactive, online mentoring and technical resource that allows employee-owners and managers to customize a learning path, attend live expert-led seminars and workshops, do skills assessments, lab exercises, pre-testing and placement exams, as well as news, articles and white papers in the designated area of interest.
  • Established certificate and advanced degree programs with leading universities around the country.
  • Led SAIC’s stock incentive program, which encourages employees to complete university programs in systems engineering in order to increase their skills and broaden their career opportunities.
  • Led SAIC’s 21st Century Leadership Mentor/Protégé Program by developing a diverse community of leaders who manage technical growth, model professional integrity, exceed customer expectations and demonstrate entrepreneurial and collaborative initiatives to grow the enterprise while serving as champions of SAIC’s employee-ownership values.

Learning Philosophy: “Human capital is our company’s most valuable asset, and SAIC views learning and professional development as strategic elements of our success. SAICU provides a flexible, business-centered, supportive environment that promotes lifelong learning. Our training and professional development opportunities are a few of the reasons SAIC’s retention rate is very high and continues to attract diverse people from a variety of disciplines. It is our goal and mission to support our employee-owners in developing, maintaining and extending the technical, leadership and professional skills needed to deliver performance excellence to their customers. Using a blended approach, SAICU facilitates education and learning so that our employees remain on the cutting edge by providing a variety of training strategies and resources to fit the professional needs and schedules of its employee-owners and customers.”

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