Designing a Leadership Curriculum
Chamberlain Group (CGI), a market leader in access control solutions, has been delivering top quality products and providing superior customer service for more than 100 years. Until recently, they focused their training efforts on sales, process and compliance. But CGI realized in order to sustain and expand their global leadership position and continue to innovate, they would have to define the competencies needed by all staff members and then provide training in those skills to secure their future success.
“In addition to sales training we offered other training programs around process and compliance, but we had nothing that really focused on building business and leadership skills,” explains Christine Abbeduto, transformation office leader at CGI. “We have fantastic engineers and hundreds of patents, so that part of the business was performing at its highest level. Our new CEO and our executive vice president of HR began to identify competencies and narrow them down to a few we wanted to emphasize. We finally got it down to 17 competencies, but knew we wouldn’t be able to focus on all of those at the same time.”
Armed with the set of competencies, Abbeduto was tasked with developing a training initiative for high potential leaders to develop those specific skills. She researched what other companies were doing to develop future leaders, then began her search for a partner to help deliver the content. “Our criteria for selecting a partner was pretty basic. We wanted to work with people who understood our culture and would be willing to move quickly with us in an agile environment; who could provide off-the-shelf content but be willing to customize when necessary; and, of course, who would offer a fair price. The Ken Blanchard Companies met all our needs.”
Another important part of the initiative was to get CGI’s executive leadership team involved from the beginning. Each team member was interviewed to discuss where they wanted the company to be in 18 months, and what progress they expected within three to five years. “We knew 17 competencies were too many to focus on, so we worked closely with the executive leadership team to prioritize the top five things that would help us in the first 18 months,” says Abbeduto. “When we talked about competencies for the three-to-five-year timeline, we discovered some changes to the skills people would need to develop. Our leaders would need to manage change, build high performing teams, and operate in a global economy. We needed more than a short-term training plan—we needed a curriculum that would provide training in multiple content areas and prepare employees for leadership roles. So we developed a three-year cohort training program called REACH.”
Designing the Program and Selecting Candidates
Once the competencies were prioritized, objectives to support corporate strategy were established for each competency so that content could be selected. Christine Blair-Monroy, Manager of learning and development, explains the thorough process. “I held one-on-one meetings with each member of the executive leadership team to discuss the competencies in detail. I wanted to meet with each person individually instead of a group meeting because I wanted to make sure every voice was heard. Then, I collated the feedback and worked with my Blanchard team to determine what content could be delivered off the shelf, and what would need to be customized.”
With the program designed, CGI needed a method for identifying participants. They used a nine-box assessment tool to evaluate the employee’s current contribution to the organization along with his or her potential level of contribution. “We identified three differentiators to help in the selection process. The person needed to be an outstanding performer, to be ambitious, and to demonstrate an agility for learning,” says Blair-Monroy.
Participants meet once a year for intensive classroom training from The Ken Blanchard Companies in topics such as Situational Leadership® II, Building Trust, Coaching, Leading People Through Change, Giving Feedback, Challenging Conversations, and Leadership Point of View. Members of CGI’s executive leadership team stay highly involved in these classes by making opening and closing statements for each class. Additional classes on emotional intelligence, decision making, business acumen, diversity and inclusion, and organizational development are also included.
“After the classroom training, participants work with a Blanchard coach to get advice from experts and help with developing and implementing their Action Plan from the classroom sessions,” says Blair-Monroy. “To sustain the learning and make sure people used their new skills, we’ve designed a portal called REACH Exchange that contains all pre-work material for the classroom segment of the program along with post-classroom activities, articles, and videos. Participants can use a chat feature to have conversations about their learnings and experiences or ask each other questions. We host webinars throughout the year to keep the skill development top of mind.”
The lunch-and-learn sessions are a powerful element of the program. The original design was for members of the executive leadership team to come in and talk with participants, but CGI decided they should be working sessions. An executive comes to each session and either talks about successes or challenges they have had with a certain competency or deliver their Leadership Point of View. “This has become a popular part of the whole experience because it is highly interactive and this allows the REACH participants to get to know the executive team members better and on a more personal level. Also, members of each cohort form great bonds and become supportive colleagues. It is a great method for building cross-departmental teams and improving communications,” Blair-Monroy continues.
The programs from Blanchard work well together and enhance the Situational Leadership® II model, which teaches leaders how to set clear goals with their direct reports, deliver an appropriate leadership style to meet each individual’s needs, and give feedback along the way. Building Trust offers a simple yet powerful method for creating and sustaining trustful relationships with team members, colleagues, and bosses. The Giving Feedback and Challenging Conversations courses provide techniques and language to use in difficult situations to improve communication.
“All the Blanchard training programs receive rave reviews from the participants, and The Leadership Point of View program has had a huge impact,” explains Blair-Monroy. “I think it is because participants must examine their values and truly define who they are as a leader. They have to be vulnerable and courageous, which isn’t always an easy thing to do.” Some of the most powerful experiences occur when members of the executive leadership team deliver their Leadership Point of View to the cohort. The cohort participants learn more about their senior leaders and develop a new appreciation about their leadership styles.
Results and Learnings
The first class graduated from the three-year program in 2016 and 50 percent of those participants have received promotions. Of the 2017 class, 77 percent have received promotions. Turnover for the participant population has decreased by 50 percent. “The best news is that we’ve had an 80 percent increase in internal promotions, since program inception. In the past we had to do a lot of external hiring, but with this program we have been promoting more people internally. That is a win-win situation,” says Blair-Monroy.
CGI is happy with the results so far. They realize this is a journey that will continue to pay off. They have remained flexible along the way and have many learnings to share about the initiative. “The first thing we learned was that things would continually change,” said Abbeduto. “Early on, I developed a roadmap to outline what content we would deliver to support the competencies year by year. It was a great exercise to go through, but we never used it. Things kept changing and we had to remain agile to meet the needs of the learners and the organization. I’m not saying you shouldn’t prepare a roadmap, but do prepare yourself for the fact that you probably won’t use it.”
Blair-Monroy is responsible for implementing the REACH program and has a few tips to share.
- “Do not underestimate the amount of administrative work a program like this takes. The emails alone consume a massive amount of thought and time because you will need to keep in constant communication with your corporate communications team, executive team, HR department, the managers of people in the program, and the participants.”
- “Make sure the people you have in the program want to be there. Even with our selection process, we’ve had people opt out that we had selected to attend. They were happy in their current positions and didn’t want to move up.”
- “Get senior leaders involved initially and keep them involved throughout the process. This is an excellent way to honor the participants and to let them know this initiative is important to the organization. The participants get to know more about the leaders and the leaders get to work firsthand with our future leaders. It is a great team-building process.”
- “Work with corporate communications to brand the experience and use that branding on all communications, materials, and the portal. Having a separate brand lends credibility to the program and sets it apart from other communications your people receive.”
- “If you find a trainer that connects with your group, stick with that person. The trainer gets to know your people, team, and culture, which builds trust with the participants. It becomes a richer experience for the trainer and the participants.”
Chamberlain Group is proud of the investment they are making in their employees. They know the time and money spent will support their aggressive growth plans. With the help of the REACH program and The Ken Blanchard Companies, individuals are learning skills, collaboration is improving, and corporate goals are being met.