Building Leadership Skills for All Employees
Like all federal law enforcement agencies, the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) faces a unique dilemma: mandatory retirement at age 57. With tenure and experience walking out the door, people were being promoted to fill vacant positions. The agency needed a leadership development program that would help prepare these individuals to assume their new leadership roles. Since 9/11, law enforcement has endured many challenges including terrorism, security, and a struggling economy that triggered budget cuts. Combining those factors with mandatory retirement created a critical need to not only capture knowledge of tenured leaders but also prepare the leaders of the future. According to Greg Campbell, deputy director of the USPIS, “Leadership plays an important role in the development of individuals and in the vision and morale of the organization, so we knew we needed to act quickly.”
After looking at several options, USPIS selected The Ken Blanchard Companies as a partner. They worked together to design a comprehensive training course for the Leadership Academy that aligned specific training programs with the core competencies that had been identified as crucial for development. Campbell explains: “When we rolled out this training with 40 future leaders, it was key for the Blanchard staff to understand the importance of the initiative. These participants represented the future of the USPIS. We needed the Blanchard consultants to be completely dedicated to providing the best training experience and continually looking for methods to improve the program. They did not let us down. In fact, the experience has been so positive that we use Blanchard trainers to deliver the programs instead of sending our staff through Training for Trainer programs. Blanchard trainers bring a level of expertise that has been honed over years, so they provide an experience that can’t be duplicated.”
The customized curriculum includes training in Situational Leadership® II, Building Trust, Challenging Conversations, and other core topics. Once a month, participants come together for one week of training, then go back to apply the new skills on the job for the rest of the month. At the end of three months, the leaders have completed three full weeks of training and have had time to practice and improve their new skills with staff members.
One exciting aspect of the training is how well the programs work together. Campbell believes that trust is a key element of leadership—and using Blanchard’s Trust program along with SLII® provided a comprehensive skill set for leaders. “We found the SLII® and Building Trust programs to be a natural bridge for providing leaders with the skills they need to be effective,” says Campbell.
Situational Leadership® II teaches managers that each person needs a different level of direction and support depending upon their development level on a given task or goal. SLII® provides a common language employees can use to ask for what they need from their manager—and managers can use to help each employee achieve their goals.
Trust is core to how people work together, listen to one another, and build effective relationships. Blanchard’s Building Trust program uses the simple yet powerful ABCD Trust Model™ to teach the four elements of trust:
Able: Demonstrate Competence
Believable: Act with Integrity
Connected: Care about Others
Dependable: Maintain Reliability
“These two programs are designed to work together to help improve communication between leaders and the people they manage while building trustful, engaged relationships,” explains Campbell.
The Next Phase
The initial program was so successful, USPIS is currently designing a curriculum for all staff with tracks for firstline and midlevel managers in addition to the executive program. “We have a strong culture and we wanted to build on that,” says Campbell. “Once we trained the executives, we realized that to maintain our culture we needed to train the entire staff to close the skill gap. Everyone needed to understand the SLII® language.”
USPIS has 1400 agents and 1353 employees divided into three work groups—professional, administrative and technical staff, a uniformed police force, and postal inspectors (federal agents). As a way to build camaraderie and a sense of community with all employees, each training class includes people from all three work groups. “In order to support our value of people being our most important asset, we needed to train everyone. Anything else would be incongruent,” Campbell explained. “The integrated classes sustain our culture and ensure that all employees are trained in the same leadership skills.”
After the initial face-to-face training, participants have access to a Blanchard coach for mentoring. “The mentoring portion of the training is gaining momentum as participants realize that if they need assistance with a particular issue, they can just call a Blanchard coach and ask for specific help,” says Campbell. There is also a virtual platform that houses several articles and tools people can use to refresh skills and continue learning.
Results Beyond the Classroom
Campbell is pleased with how quickly people understood the principles and applied the learning to their jobs. But an even bigger surprise was the impact the new skills had on the personal lives of participants. “We didn’t just create leaders with this training, we changed people’s lives. There was not one training session where someone didn’t leave in tears—and that was a good thing. People came to the sessions to be a better leader and they left a better person—father, mother, sister, brother, parent. They embraced the idea of leading with heart—and that kind of leadership goes beyond the workplace into life at home.” He described a situation where a leader was struggling with an underperforming employee. After his training, the leader approached the employee with a servant leadership mindset to see how he could help. He learned that the employee was going through significant stress at home and just needed her boss to understand her challenges. Blanchard training provided the leader with skills in communication and building trust that helped the struggling employee return to a high performing status. The leader was able to create a safe environment where both employee and leader could perform at a higher level.
Tips from a Pro
Campbell says any organization or agency considering a training initiative should remember these tips:
- “Don’t just focus on future leaders or executives. Make learning available to all of your people so that you will have bench strength and a culture that is consistent. Starting the training with top executives indicates that you are serious, but it is critical to train everyone. If you are willing to invest in your entire staff from the beginning, you will always have a pipeline of future leaders.”
- “Build on the culture you have instead of trying to change everything. Change implies that something needed to be fixed. If you have a great workforce, you don’t need to change them—you need to give them additional skills and continue to grow what is already good.”
- “Build a curriculum for your own environment. We conducted benchmark studies of training solutions in other agencies but didn’t find anything that helped us with our specific needs. What we have developed with Blanchard is customized to our core competencies and aligns with our culture.”
- “Survey your employees for insights into what is working and what needs improvement. USPIS uses the Employee Work Passion Assessment from Blanchard to measure the satisfaction levels in twelve key areas. Results from this assessment will help us target training more specifically.”
Founded by Ben Franklin, the United States Postal Inspection Service is one the oldest federal law enforcement agencies in existence. They have a long and successful history—and their enlightened attitude about the importance of creating better leaders will ensure their continued future success.