This is a case study about how Mindscaling collaborated with a globally distributed company over the course of a year to develop a premier leadership curriculum to change the way their managers think, and act. Starting in December 2017, together with our client, we designed, wrote, produced, built and delivered every aspect of a blended management development learning solution. Because this is an ongoing collaboration, our client preferred not to be identified yet.
The project started simply enough. We met with our client in New York City, and spent the course of the morning reviewing their Global Employee Satisfaction Survey, and Global Management Engagement Survey. The results were telling. The client’s leadership team had been concerned about their managers having the mindset and skills to attract, retain and develop talented people. Now they had the data to support their concerns.
Spend a Lot of Time Understanding the Problem
While the managers in our client company prided themselves on their problem solving, customer-focus, and creative brilliance, their teams seemed to be languishing. Team members under some of these leaders said that they sometimes felt ignored, neglected, or diminished. It seemed that while the team managers were doing great work, they weren’t necessarily doing a good job of harnessing the collaborative efforts of their own teams. It was almost as if some team managers were trying to do the work of the entire team on their own. As a result, team contributors felt left out, with little opportunity to make meaningful contributions.
In the employee survey several key themes began to emerge:
Not-so-great managers were often detached and unavailable, while…
Great managers would build new opportunities for growth within their team members’ existing roles.
Not-so-great managers failed to listen to team member concerns and ideas, while…
Great managers constantly ask for input and feedback
Not-so-great managers avoided responsibility for helping to solve problems, while…
Great managers give voice to employee concerns and show confidence in employee abilities
The candid testimony and feedback from survey participants expanded our understanding of the trends among managers in the firm.
Gather Global Stakeholders
Before we proposed any solution based on what we were learning, we gathered the global HR team together, in person, to gain their insight and solicit their input. The in-person collaboration turned into a tense and spirited all-day workshop that brought out many ideas toward constructing a powerful solution. The relationships from that working day endured, and the collaboration remained solid through the design process. The exercise together allowed buy-in from the global HR representatives, all contributing to the solution design.
Consider the Audience Carefully
With hundreds of managers scattered in time zones all over the world, we had to construct a learning solution that everyone could access considering how geographically dispersed they were. This meant that live, interactive events, or workshops, would be more difficult to schedule and manage.
These managers also work in high pressure environments with time constraints and constant demands. It’s not that they don’t have time, or interest, to develop themselves professionally, it just isn’t built into their daily work schedule. We needed a solution that could work contextually right in their native environment, a solution which had the expectation that everyone would actively participate.
The solution had to be easily accessible, short, punchy, and actionable. In other words, we needed to give people something to practice and do, which was also relevant to their work.
Make the Solution Culturally-Specific
This company is populated with smart, motivated, younger people on a mission to make a difference. They also pride themselves on being creative, with an eye on design and content excellence. We knew whatever we built was going to be highly scrutinized and evaluated. If it didn’t pass their meticulous attention for design integrity, no one was going to bother engaging in the content we created. Considering the global demographic informed the decisions we made regarding voice, tone, host talent, and language.
Engage Executives in a Visible Way
Not only did we have the buy-in and urgency from the HR managers, but we also enlisted the CEO and the senior leadership team, and convinced them to lend their own personal voice to the project. It took some scheduling, but we managed to create a time and place to film the executives together in a 45 minute round-table discussion talking candidly about their own personal journey to leadership, why they practice these ideas every single day, and why – as a leader – it’s so important to develop strong relationships with every single team member. Then we distilled the video down to a 10-minute TED-like talk on why constantly growing as a manager and leader matters. For continuity, all of the content and commentary in the video was aligned with the curriculum we were developing.
Design Great Content
We’re lucky at Mindscaling to have Eleanor Guare, and her team of writers and designers. Eleanor brings decades of instructional design experience to her work. Having written and produced learning content on a variety of material, she brings her depth of knowledge to the core topics we chose to focus on. In this project our content focus was Leading Project Teams, Having Meaningful Conversations, and Giving Valuable Feedback.
Enlist Awesome Project Management
On any long-term project, with a variety of moving parts, you have to have an excellent project manager, otherwise you can start hitting guardrails. Thankfully we have Rachel Jollie on the team to keep everything on track. She understands technology, learning design, and has a knack for anticipating resource needs at just the right moment. If you remember the character Radar, from the TV show MASH, you’ll know what I mean. Rachel seems to know what we need before we know it ourselves.
Be Open to Change
During the collaborative project over the past year, we have consistently scheduled two different kinds of regular meetings. The first is a familiar weekly project management meeting in which we go over the deliverables, address obstacles, review project status, and check our progress against deadlines. It’s a pretty typical stay-on-track kind of meeting.
The second kind of meeting is different – it’s a creative meeting. We call it “meeting in the kitchen. “Meeting in the kitchen” means it’s time to focus on a particular problem or stage of the course development, and cook up new solutions. It’s often a discussion about how to approach a piece of learning content, or how to structure a workshop or learning asset.
Importantly, it’s an opportunity for our team, and our key client stakeholders, to share thinking on the latest content development stages, and actively collaborate with our customer in a hands-on development meeting. Bring your apron, because in these meetings we’re going to cook up new ideas, and test our assumptions.
Relentlessly Pursue Quality
During the course of the project, we had no fewer than two dozen candidate on-camera personalities we were choosing from to get just the right person, tone and message. In fact, we wound up re-recording the material at one point because our original choice didn’t quite hit the mark. In the end, we also re-recorded all of the voice-over narration to get the voice that would land right for the audience. From the voice-over talent to the spot-on branding, to the games and activities in the courses themselves, everything needs to look right, feel authentic, and be pitch-perfect in phrasing.
“I have never met a problem that cannot be solved by improving quality.”– Yvon Chounaird, founder of Patagonia
Prepare the Audience
We can’t emphasize this enough. If we want people to engage, listen, learn, participate, collaborate, and then practice new ideas we give them, we have to set that expectation right up front, and often. We knew it would be critically important to let managers know that this leadership development journey was coming, and they were expected to actively participate. To socialize the program, we enlisted a pilot cohort to go through the experience first. In this way, we could not only test the content and experience, but also create a lead group who would share their experience with their colleagues and further the dialogue and expectation that we had created something special and designed expressly for them.
“The biggest misconception about communication is that it happened.”– George Bernard Shaw
A Note About the Importance of a Personalized Approach
Our client had many learning assets and resources you might expect at a multi-national firm. They had purchased off the shelf content – books, courses, micro-courses, videos, etc., from a variety of big-name learning vendors you will all recognize, cataloged all of those resources carefully in their Learning Management System, and marketed them internally as available learning resources.
Those generic resources got limited use – some more than others – mostly because the people and culture in this company felt those resources didn’t fully resonate with their work. We did, however, selectively curate some of the content they had already purchased, and embedded it with the curriculum we produced.
This is a concern we have heard voiced repeatedly. Ultimately, our client wanted a solution that was custom-designed and produced, so it addressed the need and culture of their company.
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