Guitar Center Turns to the Cloud to Amp Up HR

Managing talent is a key consideration at any company. For a business that operates a chain of retail stores scattered across the country, the challenges are greatly magnified. Without the right set of human resources policies, procedures and technology, employee performance can lag and bottom line results can sag.

Guitar Center—which employs more than 12,000 employees and operates 264 retail locations, more than 100 Music and Arts retail locations and an e-commerce site—has adopted a decidedly upbeat approach to improving HR performance. The almost 50-year-old firm, with annual revenue of around $2.15 billion, uses a cloud-based approach to aid in onboarding, managing talent pools, providing training and addressing a variety of other employee development tasks.

“The goal is to create a more consistent and uniform approach across the organization,” says Chris Salles, director of e-learning at Guitar Center. “We aim to create a career path for every employee and provide the technology to support them. Lower turnover helps improve customer performance and keeps human resources costs down.”

In January 2014, the firm turned to Saba Software to change the traditional approach to learning and performance management. It replaced an older system with a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach called People Cloud.

The system spans all the firm’s locations, and Guitar Center managers can track, measure and view employee data along with content. The company also uses customized social tools that expand learning and performance by offering recognition badges for meeting key goals and skills.

The onboarding and e-learning systems, for instance, have eliminated binders and paper. The technology has introduced an interactive environment that improves learning and retention. Employees watch video segments, which can also be viewed on mobile devices such as iPads, iPhones and Android devices. They follow a certification path—with a checklist—that can lead them to promotions.

The system also lets supervisors rate new hires and longer-term employees to better identify needs. “We can closely track their development, along with the store’s turnover and other performance criteria,” he says.

The company uses the People Cloud platform for more than just training and development. “A significant challenge in the talent management arena is succession planning and understanding and identifying the best candidates,” Salles explains. But, in the past, the task was spreadsheet-driven, and sharing data was a problem.

“The data resided on someone’s computer on the network, people shared information informally and things were done in a somewhat subjective manner,” he reports. In many cases, talent pools were based more on perceived ability and a limited set of competencies and skills, rather than a comprehensive framework.

Guitar Center has broadened that approach. For example, it has added a crowdsourcing tool to the equation. Employees can rate fellow employees as a “Rock Star” and nominate others as a successor.

“It creates a very different picture than simply looking at analytics data in a report or on a piece of paper,” Salles concludes. “People who were not on your radar suddenly appear as potential candidates. We have created a more powerful, flexible and efficient talent management model for the company.”