Wolverine Worldwide Steps into SLII®
Starting as a small town footwear manufacturer in 1883, expanding into international markets in 1959, and evolving into a global lifestyle brand builder today, Wolverine Worldwide has thrived with a culture of ingenuity and innovation. Today, Wolverine’s footprint spans approximately 200 countries and territories around the world. Its family of well sought after brands—including Merrell®, Sperry®, Hush Puppies®, Saucony®, Wolverine®, Keds®, Stride Rite®, Sebago®, and Chaco®—is focused on empowering and engaging consumers in virtually every corner of the world. Each brand is committed to consumers, quality and a collective vision of building a family of the most admired performance and lifestyle brands on earth.
Wolverine’s Director of Learning and Development, Toni Freeland, was intentional about expanding this commitment by arming the organization’s leaders with the necessary tools to increase effective leadership. “A lot of organizations use a “one-size-fits-all” model for training and not only is it ineffective, but it can damage relationships and negatively impact productivity. In my career, I have watched leaders with high potential struggle in new leadership roles because of this approach,” said Freeland.
Wolverine had an existing six-month leadership development program appropriately named Boot Camp, that was designed for four levels of participants—supervisors, managers, directors, and executives. The program included courses on innovation, strategy, and business acumen. Freeland wanted to incorporate a program that would help leaders learn to develop others, assess talent, give feedback, and coach direct reports. “Luckily, we found Situational Leadership® II (SLII®), a program that addressed all four of these needs. We built a two-day SLII® session into our existing curriculum for managers and directors.”
Situational Leadership® II teaches managers that each direct report 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 it to help each employee achieve their goals.
Prior to SLII® training at Wolverine, leaders had difficulty understanding why experienced people sometimes labored with a new task. Leaders assumed that if a person demonstrated success in one area, they should easily be able to take on new and different tasks without much input, feedback, or coaching. “When they realized developmental coaching and feedback needs to be more task focused instead of only people focused, the light bulb went on,” Freeland says. “They suddenly understood that the way they work with an employee needs to vary depending on the task at hand. Now instead of thinking a staff member is just having an off day, managers look at the situation in terms of what they can do differently to help that person meet their goal. They know the amount of direction and support will change with each task.”
At the end of class, each participant completes an action plan describing how they will implement their new skills back on the job. The plan is shared with the participant’s manager as an additional level of encouragement to use their new skills on the job.
Participants also have access to several support tools for SLII®, available online through a platform called Blanchard Exchange. They will find worksheets to help with goal setting; conversation starters for planning one-on-one meetings with staff members; and checklists for assessing the effectiveness of their communications. Also available are articles and videos leaders may share with their teams to further their understanding of SLII®, as well as an app that allows leaders to diagnose direct reports’ development levels on specific tasks or goals. The comprehensive materials on Blanchard Exchange make it easy to sustain learning and embed SLII® language into the company culture.
Although the SLII® program was very successful with midlevel managers, Freeland had some apprehension about how the director-level and vice president-level participants would respond to the training. So, they conducted an SLII® pilot as part of the senior leadership program and the senior leaders truly embraced the program. “They were engaged and fully participative. They experienced the same aha moments the managers had experienced. So this speaks to the myth that people in senior leadership don’t need training—they do.”
Freeland and the senior leadership team at Wolverine inherently believe in development. It is a part of their culture and the DNA of the company. Because of that, it wasn’t necessary to build any level three or four measurements into the program. But they know from surveys and post-training interviews that 95 percent of global participants find SLII® to be extremely valuable and use it on the job either directly or indirectly. According to Freeland, “Results are hard to measure without level three or four analysis, but easy to observe. We see people having more effective conversations, giving feedback, and building trusting relationships. We find that even if an employee doesn’t apply every single skill covered in the training, but participates in the program and has a chance to network with other leaders in the organization, they end up feeling better about their teams and ultimately the organization. Anything that improves an employee’s outlook and engagement is good for the whole organization.”