Fortune magazine has again ranked QUALCOMM as one of the
Best Companies to Work For. The company ranked 14 on the recently
released 2007 list, improving on its no. 23 ranking a year ago. In
2005 and 2006, the company was recognized by ASTD as one of a
handful of companies to have earned its BEST Award for those years.
use of storytelling (as described below) was especially noted.
Whether your organization calls it "employee orientation,"
"onboarding," or something else, one of the universal challenges
for corporate learning and development is acquainting new hires
with the company: its policies, procedures, places, and people.
Also crucial is communicating key concepts of corporate culture - a
much more difficult task, but one that's worthwhile for giving new
employees a true taste of the entity they've joined.
San Diego-based QUALCOMM has adopted an age-old technique of human
communication - storytelling - and adapted it in a whole new way to
serve the company, its culture, and its nearly 12,000 employees
that brings everyone together in a joint sharing of experiences.
That information is collected and then leveraged for the benefit of
new hires to demonstrate, more poignantly than any training session
ever could, what it's really like to work at QUALCOMM.
The initiative is called "52 Weeks," and QUALCOMM Learning Center
employees feel that it's one of their most innovative programs.
It's a compilation of 52 short stories, selected and written to
share the company's history, the factors that make it successful,
and the direction it's heading in the future. 52 Weeks is
distributed weekly via email, starting when an employee joins the
company and continuing throughout the first year. Each new employee
receives one story per week. Organized chronologically, the stories
begin with the company's founding and continue to present day.
Onboarding a key focus
"We have focused heavily on onboarding,"says Tamar Elkeles, vice
president for learning and development. Since cost of turnover is
high for new employees, we want to make sure that new hires have
realistic expectations about what it takes to succeed at QUALCOMM."
The stories describe what it was like when resources were scarce,
when pulling all-nighters was common, and when the company first
deployed its technology. Each story retells not only a piece of
company history, but demonstrates how the corporate culture was
formed, with a strong focus on employee engagement and retention.
Several of the stories cover the challenges of making the first
cell phone call, the first all hands meetings in the parking lot,
and the creation of the chip division.
Readers quickly learn that innovation, doing whatever it takes, and
camaraderie are strong QUALCOMM values. Incumbent employees can
also opt to receive the stories by registering on the 52 Weeks
Through the stories, they can relive exciting experiences, funny
incidents, or critical corporate milestones to which they
contributed. 52 Weeks not only communicates corporate culture and
values, but reinforces and extends the excitement of working for a
company that is always innovating.
QUALCOMM's turnover rate averages 4 percent, which is "unparalleled
in this industry," according to Elkeles. As an entrepreneurial
company populated by academics - mathematicians, and scientists
with advanced degrees - QUALCOMM staunchly preserves a culture that
is fluid, innovative, flexible, independent, and unbureaucratic.
Indeed, one of the 52 Weeks stories related the genesis of the
closest thing the company has to a dress code: the chief
scientist's edict that there be "no shoes with ears." (He issued
his dictum after seeing a QUALCOMM employee traipsing the halls in
Within that context, Elkeles says, employees are encouraged to
create the jobs they want. In her 15 years at the company, Elkeles
and her 30 Learning Center employees have worked hard to ensure not
only that learning and development has a seat at the table, but
also that "we are able to call the meeting," she says. Learning
Center professionals are deployed as internal consultants, creating
annual learning plans for each division that spell out in detail
how business issues will be solved.
A Story to Tell
Experiences and information are collected and then leveraged for
the benefit of new hires.
Learning Center representatives explored training options and
evaluated other factors influencing the potential success of the
initiative. The resulting intervention included the creation of a
five-step process outlining customer expectations; clear, visual
work instructions depicted graphically on wall charts; a two-day
program featuring customized case studies and real-world examples;
and a process that outlines information flow to ensure that
problems are corrected efficiently. The results of the intervention
- decreased defects per million
- increased customer satisfaction and retention
- decreased test time and rework
- increased use of Corrective Action reports within the division
- improved root-cause analysis by integrating lessons learned
from earlier situations.
QUALCOMM is a company without a lot of bureaucracy but with a lot
of planning. Unlike many other award-winning organizations,
QUALCOMM doesn't cascade goals or implement a Balanced Scorecard
approach. (Those would be difficult to do in an organization
without job descriptions.)
"Performance goals are linked to the business," says Elkeles. "We
measure division performance and corporate performance." The
company's highly academic management team understands the value of
education and demonstrates a "tremendous commitment" to employee
learning and development; Elkeles says she has never been asked to
cut her budget or quantify return-on-investment. Even so, employee
learning and development is managed with maximum efficiency,
representing annual expenditures of approximately 1 percent of
payroll. Elkeles outsources the majority of training delivery,
content design, online learning, and facilitation.