Keogh then devoted resources to helping employees get the tools they needed to do their jobs. She implemented HP University for management and employee training, to increase the value of employees rather than just replace them when their skills became obsolete. She also instituted reward programs that honored actual accomplishments, not friendships and process-gaming skills.
One interesting change involved redefining the "HP Way" into something closer to the old Marine slogan "Adapt and Overcome." Employees who wanted to fight bureaucracy used to leave or get pushed out. Now, that same process is saved for those who block people trying to get their job done.
For instance, one new woman executive generated a massive amount of complaint email because she refused to be blocked by stupid HP "process" - or folks who made a living out of using their authority to blackball her efforts. Typically, she would have left in disgust or been fired. Instead, HP motived the folks in her way to change, with the implication that she was doing the job she was hired for and they weren't. HP employees are again learning to adapt and overcome. This will be critical to their future.
HP is again becoming a great place to work. Keogh and Whitman deserve a lot of credit, but this credit also goes to the other leaders in HP who have embraced this important change; those who didn't are either gone or looking for jobs. That, too, is important to a turnaround.
HP Remains in Transition, But Signs Point to Success
Now, HP remains a company in transition, only about half way through its turnaround. Still, profits are up sharply, along with its valuation. HP has replaced forced ranking with the Net Promoter metric. The company has made some impressive progress - and at the heart of that progress is turning HP back into a place where people feel proud of the company and want to work there.
This represents an impressive amount of progress over what remains a relatively short time for a large, complex company such as HP. I remain in awe that HP put someone as capable as Keogh in charge of HR, since that function is often run as a compliance organization. Keogh showcases that HR can be strategic - and that employees, when treated as a strategic asset, can make a material difference to a firm's success.
Now, if HP can ever figure out how to fight in the market as a company and not a collection of divisions, it'll have something truly impressive. That lies in HP's future.
For now, though, my hat's off to Whitman and Keogh for not only doing right by employees but being a shining example of why taking care of employees should be far more important than it often is. They realized that HP's people are critical to the effort to make HP a true power again. As their success mounts, I hope other firms learn from their example, to the benefit of customers, employees and investors.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.