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Linda Sharkey believes success lies in being open to taking risks and pushing yourself to develop new skills by gaining a myriad of job experiences. And, that’s exactly what she’s focused on delivering to employees at HP as the newly appointed vice president of People Development within HR. Linda’s team is responsible for Workforce Planning & Staffing, Culture and Diversity, Talent Management, and Career Development — all of which support the company’s People Strategy to allow employees  to win and grow with HP.

Linda — who joined HP last October from General Electric (GE) where she was vice president of Organization Development and Executive Staffing — brings more than 20 years of experience driving staffing as well as organization and leadership development for complex, diverse companies. During her eight years at GE, Linda led a host of high-impact initiatives including the cultural integration of three internal business units, establishment of a process for developing top executives and creating internal coaching processes. In an interview with hpNOW, Linda takes time out to explain HP’s career framework, reiterate the focus on staffing and talent management, and encourage employees to take charge of their development plans. She also asks employees to watch for the “Building Your Career at HP” toolkit that is being mailed to their work address in January.

hpNOW: You have more than 20 years of experience driving leadership development and staffing for complex, diverse organizations. How will you use that experience to make a difference at HP?

Linda: With any career, you need to have depth of knowledge to really drive change. You need to understand business strategy, how organizations work and the roles that leaders play in creating organizations that not only can grow effectively for the shareholders, but where employees grow too. My experience working in many different settings, from government to financial services — and now HP — gives me a well-rounded view of how to help a company consistently develop the kind of leaders who are going to really make a difference. We need leaders who have the courage to make decisions and face the changes that need to be made to help this company continue to succeed.

hpNOW: You were brought on board in October 2006 to lead HR’s new focus area of People Development. Can you give a quick overview of your organization’s mission?

Linda: At a high level, our mission is to understand proactively what’s going on in the marketplace, relative to talent and workforce changes. We must understand how those workforce changes will impact our business strategy, and then take that information inside and develop the talent to proactively address those changes at every level. I see it as looking at the whole lifecycle of an employee — from figuring out the kinds of employees we need to hire ahead of the game so that we are in front of the curve, to helping new and current employees obtain the necessary skills to continue to grow with HP.

hpNOW: You’ve been chartered with creating a talent advantage for HP and delivering world-class HR programs in support of the People Strategy. What steps are you taking to do this? Any progress to share yet?

Linda: One step is to build on the great stuff that already exists. It’s always a positive thing when you come into an organization and see that you’re not starting from scratch; that there is a great deal of enthusiasm and things that can be built upon.

Specifically, we’re focusing on the career development process and helping to link it directly to our staffing approach. We need to tighten that up so that we become a systematic staffing machine. The other piece involves understanding our talent. We will launch the talent review process in February, which will be a stronger, deeper approach than before so that we have a really robust understanding of who we have in the company and what we need to do as an organization to continue to build that bench strength. The ability to have a strong bench, strong succession plans and ready talent will make a huge difference in executing on our business strategy. There’s another key component here — you will  see us strengthening our focus on diversity, employee engagement and creating the kind of high-performance culture where talented people can succeed.

hpNOW: The People Promise is a partnership between HP and its employees. What are the key responsibilities of employees? What’s the manager’s role?

Linda: Managers are responsible for knowing their employees and giving honest, fair and effective feedback. They have to be willing to coach and help an employee continue to grow and to act upon the feedback. That’s essential. We can give managers all the tools they want, but the tools don’t mean anything unless they’re willing to sit down and have dialogues with employees and really work with them. Employees also need to proactively take charge of their careers. They need to own and direct their development by taking the time to think about their careers. They have to be honest about what their goals are, accept feedback and decide what they can do to develop. If a partnership exists between a manager who is willing to work with the employee and an employee who is willing to proactively work on their development, you have a great connection. Some people love what they’re doing now and don’t see themselves necessarily moving up the corporate ladder; others want to. We have to create an environment where people can perform, wherever they see their career passion.

hpNOW: Trends indicate that the average employee will change employers four times during their career. What’s the bottom-line incentive to stay at HP?

Linda: The bottom-line incentive to stay at HP is being able to change your career four times right here. If you think about it, you could easily be in a sales role and move into a marketing role. You could move into a sales operation role or a bigger management role — perhaps even move to a different geography. There are lots of opportunities to have different careers. In a company this large, with ever-growing product suites, the opportunities are limitless. They’re only limited by your own creativity.

hpNOW: How does what we offer to employees parallel with HP’s value proposition for customers?

Linda: We already know from research that there is a direct correlation between employee satisfaction — feeling good about working for the company, feeling valued — and customer satisfaction. There’s a business case beyond just this being a nice thing to do. It’s the essential thing to do — not only so we can build stronger relationships with our customers, but also so we can execute on our business strategy. We have to make an equal promise to our employees as we’ve made to our customers.

hpNOW: Can you explain what the career development frameworks are and how they relate to our People Strategy?

Linda: The career development frameworks are a set of tools that you can use to look at 15 different functions and 400 career roles within those functions to understand the skills, experience and knowledge needed to continue to grow in your current role or to move on to another one. The career roles are not individual jobs, but are a collection of related jobs. The frameworks give you a
guideline and a benchmark to compare yourself against and see what you personally need to do to continue to grow. Growth can happen in many ways — it can happen by increasing your capability in your current role or by taking a lateral move, which may help you develop an additional competency or prepare you to move to broader roles up the ladder. The career development
frameworks, along with some action planning tools, are being sent to all employees on a CD to help you assess your own career and action plans. That way, you can commit to developing a plan for yourself that you update on a regular basis.

hpNOW: Can you provide further information on how we are creating a more disciplined approach to talent management? What can employees do to ensure they are well represented in the process?

Linda: One of the things employees can do is ensure their information is up to date in Taleo. Taleo is the HR staffing database, also called Job Searcher, that we are going to use to get profiles of employees’ current skills and abilities. To ensure fairness, employees need to represent themselves accurately in Taleo.

The second thing employees need to do is display strong performance. As in any company, doing your current job well is thekey that opens the door to your next job. You need to think of yourself as a brand. Figure out what your brand represents, what you want to be recognized for and what skills you’re going to develop so that somebody says, “I want that person on my team.” You’ve got to take your own career and brand as seriously as you would the branding of a company product.

hpNOW: Can you expand upon some of the programs that will be available to employees to help them “grow?” Will we have a formal “rotation” program?

Linda: Yes. We will be developing rotations through our staffing process. I mentioned that there will be a more systematic staffing process, certainly for the executive level and for all employees where we will be making matches with jobs. But, employees need to constantly look at open jobs and have the courage to apply for those that they are qualified for. They need to be willing to step out of their comfort zone and take on a new position, perhaps in a different business or related function. It is very important for an employee interested in rotating to tell their manager during Focal Point Review (FPR) and make it clear that they have the skills needed. That way, someone may tap them in the future and say, “You’re perfect for this job.” If the employee says, “I can’t move, can’t do this, can’t do that” — they need to understand that they have limited their career opportunities. This doesn’t mean employees can’t continue to grow in their current jobs, but if they’re not willing to move where the opportunities are, there will be some limitations. Additionally, as we go through the talent reviews, we will be looking for the next right role for an individual. We are going to be putting succession plans in place. And, we’re going to be using that  information throughout the year to put together slates of candidates that we will interview for these positions when they become available. It will be our intent to make sure that we have crossbusiness and cross-functional representation on these slates.

hpNOW: How does career development fit into HP’s reward and recognition strategy?

Linda: Career development is a cornerstone of employee satisfaction because it engages people around their career. Helping them reach for that next big role is a company investment. It recognizes employees who raise their hand and say, “I’m looking for more challenges. I’ve done great in my job and I’m ready for that next big move.” That’s a form of really recognizing someone for their current performance, contribution and willingness to grow.

hpNOW: If an employee chooses not to pursue a promotion into management, how should they shape their long-term career strategy?

Linda: People don’t have to move into management if that’s not what excites them. The most important thing to consider is what you’re passionate about. As an example, if I love being a technology person, perhaps I might want to build on my skills so that I am valuable in the individual contributor space around technology innovation. It doesn’t necessarily mean you have to move up and into management. There’s lots of ways to grow in your career. As another example, let’s say you are a finance person currently in audit and you would love to work in the analyst area. That’s building another financial skill, but not necessarily moving up into management. There are some people who love to manage and there are other people who don’t — there’s room for both.

hpNOW: How should an employee determine the right mix between traditional and experiential development?

Linda: Research tells us that people only learn five percent from a classroom. There are basic fundamentals of education in the classroom, but when people enter into the working world, they really learn from job experience. There is a famous Harvard professor, John Cotter, who looked at how leaders learned. He studied significant leaders for 20 years and found they increased their capability the most through the experiences they had early in the job. They were able to reflect on those experiences and take the lessons out of them. Most people really learn the most from their hardest, most challenging job. So experience is a key cornerstone. It doesn’t hurt to augment that experience with some classroom work, coaching and mentoring but experience is really how most people learn.

hpNOW: Final thoughts?

Linda: If you’re a manager, know your employee and take your responsibility to help develop them very seriously. If you want to be somebody who employees want to work for, you have to show that you are interested in them.

If you’re an employee, which we all are, take the responsibility to develop yourself very seriously. Watch for the materials being sent to you. Take the time to review them and think about how you want to develop in your career. I’ve done a variety of different jobs in different companies and it was not easy or comfortable sometimes. It was hugely scary for me to leave GE, move across the country and come to HP. I did it for the opportunity to stretch and grow personally. I encourage everybody to think about that. I understand it’s not easy to do and it can be scary. But that’s how you get to live your dream career. Related information: Go to the Career Development Resource Center Watch Linda’s “Growing with HP” video Executive extras

hpNOW: What was your first job ever? What did you learn from it that you still use today?

Linda: My first job was being a banking intern. I learned about some of the inequities in the workplace, which really shocked me after coming out of college. It made me think about how to create organizations that really are places where people can fly.

hpNOW: Of the HP products you own, which is your favorite and why?

Linda: I own several HP computers and printers, which I love and had even before I came to HP.

hpNOW: What’s the best advice you’ve been given — words to live by?

Linda: Treat people fairly and with respect. And, be honest in all of your transactions. If you do those things, you’re the kind of leader who tells the truth and people will want to work with you.

hpNOW: What’s your favorite place to unwind?

Linda: At home. We still have our house in Connecticut, and we’re trying to relocate to the Bay Area.

hpNOW: Do you have any hobbies, play any sports?

Linda: I’m a big downhill skier. I love to boat and I’m looking forward to boating on the San Francisco Bay.