Laura Menke Arroyo on Talent Development

Laura Menke Arroyo is 1 of 4 senior leaders who has been invited to speak about people development on a panel at DELL EMC this month. Laura is a senior leader in Market Intelligence (MI) at DELL EMC working at HQ in Round Rock Texas.  She’s known for her talent in market analytics and she is also recognized as a great collaborator and people developer, and I am fortunate to be her executive coach.  There’s another way that Laura stands out.  She is Dell EMC’s first female leader for their combined MI team.

The team’s work is used across the company in many countries to steer company strategy.  People find their work so compelling that it’s natural that everyone wants to get their hands on it.  No surprise in a competitive marketplace where each division wants to improve their results as a contribution to the overall standing of DELL EMC as a whole.  In advance of her time speaking to leaders inside DELL EMC, I’ve invited her to share her views about people development with you.

Sheila: Firstly, thank you for talking with me about talent development Laura.  This is fun isn’t it?  Can you begin by saying something about what you do?

Laura: I’m happy to share what I know with other leaders who read your blog Sheila.  I lead the Dell EMC Market Intelligence Team.  We guide Server, Storage, and Networking revenue to external analyst firms representing a $150B industry.  We standardize quarterly share reporting and provide forward-looking insights of performance, providing insights into the industry as a whole and identifying opportunities of growth.

Sheila: That’s a heavy responsibility, designing and calculating market analytics across geographies and organizations when everyone counts on your team to provide measurements for performance.  The pressure of getting it right I know is immense!  What do you consider when you are hiring talent?

Laura: I personally like to build out teams with varied backgrounds.  Today I have talent from engineering, computer science, marketing, finance, and even one person with a background in archaeology.  While the different perspectives are useful for diverse views, I also encourage members of my team to continue networking in their original field too.  I recently hired a woman engineer as a data scientist and have encouraged her to stay in touch with other women engineers so that she can learn from them what innovations are emerging in her field that could have resonance with what we do.  Working with us in data intelligence will develop her skills in understanding the broader technology market and she’ll gain experience with the latest trending and models for planning and prediction.  With her technical degree in engineering and a better understanding of business and technology trends she’ll benefit from more career opportunities in the future.

Sheila: So you encourage people to stay close to their field so that they will benefit and so will the team.  That’s a great way to learn from their connections in other industries outside your own.  Is there a secret you can share about how you help people get to where they want to go with their career?  

It can’t get any simpler

Laura: I encourage people to speak up and say what they want. It’s easy to say but not everyone does it, and we can’t read each other’s minds.  Take me, for example, when I wasn’t yet a  people manager.  Way back when I wanted to make the leap into management, I had the discussion with my manager and bluntly stated that I was ready to lead.  Then I backed up my declaration with several actions that helped me gain experience to go in that direction.  For example, I set up the first day orientation meetings for Finance, where I was working at the time, securing volunteers from across the organization to make the day valuable, current and relevant.  It is sometimes harder to get folks to do something when they don’t work directly for you. Leading this well was a great transition point to becoming a people manager.

Generating a storied career

Sheila: That was a terrific strategy Laura that clearly paid off. What strategies do you use today to keep development top of mind with your team members?

Laura: We know that talent development is not a one time check-the-box event.  That’s why development is a recurring agenda item for discussion in my 1 on 1’s.  I think of a career as a series of stories that each person is creating.  Thinking of my own career as a series of stories is aspirational. I first ask myself to go back in time and ask:  what are the stories am I most proud of until now in my career? And then I segue to – what stories do I want to tell in the future?  I ask people what they want their story to be.

Sheila: I love that, and you know that I am a big fan of stories.  You and I work together using purposeful stories.  I like how you’ve shaped questions around stories to work with your team on their careers.  What other strategies have you used?

Laura: You need to be deliberate to develop people as your team gets larger.  A focus on a learning culture is vital.  For example, some of our Market Intelligence team members wanted to learn more about strategy and broader communications.  We developed quarterly readouts marrying our team with 4 other teams such as Strategy, Investor Relations, Analyst Relations and Public Communications teams.  All the teams are learning and growing from each other’s skill sets.  It broadens and deepens the linkages in the network of people and makes future career choices available as the teams work with each other.  They can now get insights about what others are working on and appreciate more about how they do their work.  It also expands the possibilities of what’s possible in delivering work where they are right now.

Sheila: I like how you baked development right into how work gets done in this cross-functional way.  DELL EMC has a fast-paced culture and like in many other workplaces, rapid change has become the constant.  How do you keep the lines of communication open in times of change?

Relationships are important.  I get to know the members of the team by spending time with them to understand them better.  Then when times change it is easier and more natural to discuss the changes because I can anticipate their concerns.  I led the 3-Year plan for the Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), working with engineers and finance professions across the organization to agree on a single approach, deadlines and the final product for our business strategy.  None of those people worked directly for me, so employing my own leadership skills such as negotiating and influencing were essential. I now know a lot more people and maintain relationships with many of them.  This is also vital to detect any early warning signs of upcoming changes that will impact our team.

Sheila: So that’s how you stay ahead of any surprises. Clever. Have you ever identified a career goal that surprised one of the members of your team?

Laura: Yes, I had a recent hire with a background in computer engineering who was working on some machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics.  I suggested that he could patent the great idea. He didn’t realize this could be part of the role and it excited him to know what he is doing is bigger than the current problem at hand.  The work he’s doing right now could live on to continue to shape decisions going forward. I suggest thinking of the ways to help your people see beyond the present to have greater impact.

What you don’t nurture, you risk losing

Sheila: Nurturing long-term thinking too.  Has there been an incident that has shaped your own philosophy of developing talent?

Laura: As leaders attracting and developing talent, you have to come to terms with the reality that your people may search out for or be tapped for other opportunities.  Recently I had someone leave the company to pursue an MBA at Cornell in order to pursue investment banking opportunities.  I fully supported his decision and even participated in a 360 feedback request from Cornell.  It was a sudden leave, and prior to his departure, I was able to fill the position for cross-over because I had a thick pipeline of talented candidates.  It’s something I learned early on to do.

Sheila: Keeping the pipeline evergreen.

Laura: Yes, exactly. I learned that early as a manager.  When the Integration of Dell and EMC Market Intelligence was moving at full speed, I had just developed the Dell MI team.  With the integration, I needed to shift focus to our new storage line of business.  Having already developed leaders on the team, I was able to bring the new team into the fold and together we were able to take on the challenge of becoming a single voice of industry performance for the Infrastructure Solutions Group.  We combined our analytics and insights into a defined framework for competitive deep dives and insights housed on a combined portal for easy accessibility.

Humpty Dumpty’s lesson to talent

Sheila: A lot was going on at the same time and I can see how you used that to your advantage. Last question for you Laura. How do you identify a high potential team member with lots of headroom?

Well, high potential team members have high energy and optimism.  They seem restless in search of improvement. I see an inquisitive nature and desire to question assumptions and move to make things better.  I lead a complex area with industry disruption.  We are constantly questioning assumptions and are being challenged. We take things apart and put them back together for best results.  So a telltale sign is when someone pulls things apart and can put them back together in a new way.  In my experience, people that show this type of curiosity are a great fit for broad roles across Dell EMC.

Sheila: Thank you Laura. I know that you have much more to say on the topic of people development. I love working with you and am excited as I know you are about speaking on the panel. Thank you for having this exchange!

Laura: This was great! Thanks Sheila. Talk with you next week.