Building an Effective Manager Development Program
Last month, Everwise hosted a popular webinar on “Effective Manager Development at Scale” with Kim Bolton, Program Director, Leadership Development at Unum Group. A specialist in leadership and talent development, Kim creates systems that help talent reach their maximum potential, fosters an environment of trust and positivity and encourages leadership mentoring. She offered to share her expertise with our community on how businesses can build, deliver and scale an effective learning program for manager development. Here are key takeaways from the webinar:
The Tradeoff between Quality and Scale
Skilled managers are critical to the success of any organization. One of the biggest L&D challenges is delivering high-quality manager development programs at scale. Effective solutions are often too expensive for a larger rollout, resulting in a tradeoff between quality, affordability and scale. Premium learning programs, executive coaching, mentoring and high-quality leadership development institutes have tremendous impact for those who participate, yet only 10% of managers – the executives and high potentials – have access to those programs.
Many organizations provide scalable and affordable management development solutions that rely much more on low impact learning like content subscriptions and virtual content platforms. The results are disappointing and the low user engagement makes it difficult to justify continued investment.
A Program to Drive Outcomes
High-impact, scalable learning should ultimately support business outcomes that drive innovation and change, increase agility, reduce costs, execute consistently and shift strategy. In designing and executing its learning program, Unum focused on driving innovation and change and executing consistently. “Creating an appetite for smart risk and empowering each employee with the freedom to try or fail is critical to our success,” says Kim. Consistent execution was of equal importance in order to give employees something to hold onto in a rapidly changing business environment.
“What made Unum successful in the past doesn’t necessarily lead us into the future and it’s the same thing with our managers and our development programs,” says Kim. “The different needs and preferences that result from four generations cohabiting in the workplace, the rapid pace of technology and the globalization of our talent pool really combine to require very different skills of our managers and the way we develop them.”
The Learning Framework
In creating the framework for a learning program, it’s important to reach the most influential population among executives, middle managers, frontline managers and individual contributors who can help achieve the desired goals. For example, cultural changes are driven from the top and excellence in execution from frontline and middle managers.
The populations that provide the best leverage for Unum’s goals are the frontline and middle managers, a population of 1,000 managers with direct reports. “Upscaling this population that is touching and influencing all of our 10,000 employees is really the quickest way to impact a lot of key engagement levers like retention and also embedding a more modern, progressive culture,” says Kim.
The two main considerations in designing a program for this specific population were limited time and access to peers and experienced managers. “We needed a solution that met them where they were and could really be more conveniently consumed during a busy day that is full of competing priorities,” says Kim. “Creating a way to make those connections where new managers could benefit from the expertise of our experienced managers was really key not just to the success of the program overall but also to the scaling of the program.”
A Tailored and Iterative Program
Learning program characteristics can range from social to independent, personalized to standardized and intensive to continual. Unum created a program that was a combination of social and independent given their managers’ limited time and the need to be able to learn from each other; that was more standardized in order to eventually scale yet personalized to Unum’s unique values, brand promise and employee value proposition; and that was both intensive and continual in order to establish the habit of learning so that managers would acclimate to investing time in their own development in anticipation of the next phase.
Through a series of focus groups, a leadership team identified the critical behaviors for success in Unum. The initial program addresses the four basic areas of manager effectiveness upon which higher levels of competencies will be built in later stages: interpersonal skills, elevating performance, strategic decision-making and leading through change. The goal of the initial stage is to lay the foundation for every manager to lead the company forward by offering all managers access to the necessary resources.
Unum created a 12-week course for each focus area. Each class lasts approximately one hour. The program features breaks to relieve pressure and allow for makeup time. There are 10 to 20 managers per peer group, which are moderated by experienced Unum leaders. Moderators are coaches and facilitators in this space, asking questions, keeping participants on track and sharing their own expertise.
Ongoing and Iterative Process
While the virtual peer group space was designed for peer sharing and learning, the activity has also proved invaluable to L&D. “It’s almost like having a continual ongoing focus group,” says Kim. “You can assess what is resonating and where they are struggling. It also directs you to topics in which a deeper dive might be helpful in the future.”
It’s important to note this program is not fixed and can be easily updated in real time. The content evolves as the program evolves based on user feedback and the needs of the organization. “I am constantly updating this content because our environment is constantly shifting and we are encountering new challenges and creating strategies to deal with them and those need to be reflected in this curriculum,” says Kim. “We will build out more high-level competencies, using interactions in the peer group to help inform that build because we can see where people struggle, where they have questions and where there might be a need for a deeper learning experience.”
The three considerations in the design and eventual launch of learning programs at scale are business objectives in order to prioritize learning programs that drive critical business needs, target population to identify the employees best positioned to influence the business, and program characteristics to establish the elements needed to provide learning at scale. Tailoring a program with those in mind will result in more effective and scalable learning programs. Not only will the program be a success but it will also lay the foundation for every manager to be a success, which will in turn drive the company forward.
View a recording of the webinar here.