How This Manufacturer Developed an Award Winning and Effective Leadership Program

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Feb 7, 2018

Note: Sriram Rajan is Head of Organization Development at SIG Combibloc Obeikan. He was awarded the “Mark of Excellence” as HR Professional of the Year for the MEA region in 2017 in recognition for his work developing a leadership training program for his company. This article describes the program.

At a recent interview with CIPD that focused on sharing some “nuggets” with individuals who aspire to be HR professionals, one of the questions I was asked was, How do you identify and hire the best people?to which I said, “It’s never about hiring the best people, as much as it” about bringing out the best in the people you hire.”

This begets the obvious question: “So, how do you bring about the best in people?” The answer, when you ask this question of most HR professionals will be an obvious one too, “By investing in them.” Glance through the 2017 ATD report, and one would imagine that most organizations have got this right – there has been a consistent increase in the overall learning budget, across most organizations in the last 5 years.

But that’s just the “how much.” What unleashes full potential in organizations is when they move beyond the “how much” to the “how,” or in others words, when they invest as much of their thought (maybe a little more) along with the dollars to develop people.

Leaders have been at the epicenter of people and business success (or the lack of it). With that reality not changing in the near future, it is no wonder that 20% of the learning budget is invested on Executive/Managerial/Supervisory development. So just how and what can organizations do, to get this training right?

Here’s the secret to our “thought recipe” that we (SIG Combibloc Obeikan) invested in building our Leadership Acumen. The program was a winner in the “Innovation in Learning and Development” category at the MEA HR Summit in 2017.

“Lego” all the voices

Amongst the many things HR professionals can learn from kids, one of them is building a Lego – the skill of piecing it all together and appreciating the power of the collective. Just that in our case, the Lego pieces were employee data available through different sources. The team started by putting all the pieces together – 360 surveys, voices from the employee engagement survey, feedback from the performance appraisal data, exit interview and more. What we were looking for was not data to validate cause, but causes that lead to the data looking as it did.

Themes began to emerge when we started correlating the data. The two that stood out were: 1) Leadership walking the talk and 2) Belief in organizational values and culture. What employees saw was not an absence of the two, but the inconsistencies, with some leaders walking the talk while others didn’t. What they sought was unison – a calibrated leadership language – which in turn became the bedrock for all the content that got designed.

Skill to build the will

That which we are willing to do, we enjoy. When done with compulsion, it’s never done as well. Developing people is no different, and what defines the success of a development initiative is not the strategy or the content alone, but the equity and buy-in you build into it. What becomes equally important hence, is your “skill to build the will.”

Our strategy around this was two-fold:

  1. Involve the leadership in the content design (high level overview)
  2. Articulate the commitment the program needed for a leader to successfully graduate.

While the first point ensured involvement with participants giving design inputs, the latter ensured there were no surprises – thereby minimizing threats. 85% of the participants have graduated this far and the “Leadership Induction Sessions” are now institutionalized for every cohort we run.

Beyond the classroom

Assuming an individual takes 30 leaves in a year and another 15 days (approximately) on national holidays, he/she spends, on an average, about 215 days at work. Of this, the average time people spent in the classroom learning in 2016 was about 34 hours. That’s no more than .4% of an entire year spent in formal learning. By that logic, 99% of learning opportunities lie outside the formal learning environment.

With the “conscious appetite to learn” related to the opportunities available, much of the success lies in “formalizing the informal” or in other words, designing frameworks that sustain learning beyond the classroom. For every training module, learning was sustained through a 2-month phase of on-the-job learning before bringing the participants back into the classroom. With 4 key modules, the journey was spread across 10 months, where participants spent time on 1-on-1 coaching, peer learning sessions and implementing specific concepts on the job, which they thought were most relevant for their teams. What this did, therefore, was not build skills alone; these practices started moving paradigms, thereby transforming the culture.

We measured impacts

I’ve heard a million people say, “What gets measured gets done.” But how often do we measure the implications of what doesn’t get done? How often do we pause to ask, “Just what drives performance — penalizing people for their inaction or going the extra mile to educate them about the implications of their inaction as well”?

Building on that logic, the program was designed to measure commitment, thereby impact. From basics around on-time assignment submissions to impact case studies of on-the-job learning to implications of not doing what one committed to do, insights and feedback were formally tracked and shared at the start of every module. Holding people accountable aside, this design ensured that peers learnt from each other’s success and more importantly the lack of it.

Microlearning made a difference

People want “more of less” or in other words, learning is increasingly becoming “chunky / bite sized.” With the learner behavior being no different in our scenario, mobile learning became a formal part of the program. So we gamified all key leadership concepts in the curriculum and participants consumed learning literally wherever they wanted, whenever they wanted. We then tracked to see what this lead to, and some of the results we saw were astounding – participation rates of 99%, knowledge shift of 25% and behavior shift of 23%. Success stories like these were not just reported but also rewarded by the way of identifying “champions” in every cohort.

All strategies aside, the most powerful insight for me personally comes in the team’s journey of chasing the cause. In doing so, they didn’t worry about the consequences, for the consequences chased them.

So while organizations can and should focus on hiring the best, it is no more than an event – but bringing out the best in the ones you hire, is a conscious journey.

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