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Preparing Mid-Managers for a Leadership Role: A Case Study – Part 1 of 4

This case study focuses on a national car rental company that wanted to prepare their mid-managers for future leadership roles. The organization was expanding operations and had opportunities for mid-managers within the next 12 – 16 months and, additionally, had to prepare for replacing a third of the senior leaders who were expected to retire within 5 – 8 years.

In the past, mid-managers who moved into leadership roles were not well prepared for the increased responsibilities. This was apparent based on:

  • Turnover rate of 40% for mid-managers moved to leadership roles, year over year.
  • Those who remained in the role took about 1 – 1 ½ years to get fully up to speed and functioning in the various aspects of the role (as most mid-managers came from experience with only one particular area of the company).
  • Surveys of those remaining in the role and those who had left brought to light that a lack of effective planning on the company’s part for individuals taking on increased responsibilities created the feeling of being “set up to fail” and therefore caused great concern and stress.

A leadership role within this organization required the following:

  • Knowledge of all of the operations
  • Understanding of finance/budgeting
  • Team leadership
  • Strategic planning
  • Critical thinking/problem solving
  • The ability to build strong networks within the company and external to the company
  • Organizational and external (customer-focused) awareness

Research showed the company that the majority of the individuals moved into leadership roles weren’t experienced enough for the position; however, with their strong backgrounds and prior experience, they likely would eventually be qualified for the role. A plan needed to be put in place to ensure that mid-managers were prepared for leadership roles.

The Path from Mid-Manager to a Leadership Role

To determine if a mid-manager was a high potential for a leadership role within the organization, assessments were done of those in a mid-management role.  The assessments included a 360 and individual interviews of those that the mid-manager interacted with on a daily or project basis. Prior to that, however, one-on-one meetings were held with each of the individuals to determine their goals and objectives. It was important to understand what they expected from the company and where they saw themselves in the next 5, 10 and 15+ years. For example, the company knew that some mid-managers were not interested in climbing the ladder to leadership roles; they were content with what they were doing. They were certainly doing a good job and the company wanted to retain them, but it didn’t make sense to put them on to a path to a leadership role when their interest lies elsewhere. Other learning & development opportunities were available for these individuals.

Once assessments were complete of the mid-managers who were interested in moving into leadership roles in the future and were identified as high potentials, the SVP of L&D, EVP of HR and the individual’s immediate manager met with the individual to:

  • Review the results of the assessment and interviews
  • Determine how to best move forward given the results
  • Develop a plan to get the individual where they need to be in order to be prepared for a future leadership role within the organization

Of the 60 mid-managers, 57 of them were interested in moving into leadership roles in the future. Of the 57 mid-managers, 53 of them decided to continue on the process after receiving results of the 360 and interviews. The 53 remaining were to be the pilot group for the new future leader development program.

Mid-managers needed to have experience in the various operations of the organizations to ensure success in a leadership role. A plan was put in place to ensure that those mid-managers on the track for a leadership role had the opportunity to move around to work for at least a year in each of the different operations of the business. The time spent in the operations included training in that area and work on high level projects.

Based on the results of the assessments and interviews, conversations with current leaders within the organization, discussions with the Board of Directors, and research based on future trends for the industry, a program was designed that would include:

  • Education to improve skills and gain additional competencies
  • Coaching – both an internal and an external
  • Strategic project assignments
  • Reassignment to other business units to gain experience throughout the company
  • Experience working with leaders on strategic plans and budgets

The Program

The program was expected to last for approximately three (3) years. (A high level overview of the program over the 3 year time period is shown below.) The participants were divided into two groups – 26 in one group and 27 in the other. The smaller groups would enable better collaboration among the participants. The groups would run simultaneously, one meeting every other Monday and Wednesday and the other meeting every other Tuesday and Thursday for the first year, during the second and third year they would meet 3 – 4 times a month. Meetings would not be solely attending courses, but would also include working on team projects and time spent with coaches.

Education programs that comprised the program and would be spread out over two and a half of the three years included the following 15 topics (not in any particular order):

  • Influential communications
  • Leading and managing virtual teams
  • Organizational and operational effectiveness
  • Interpersonal and organizational conflict
  • Change management
  • Managing remote operations
  • Strategy planning
  • Conflict management
  • Managing employee performance
  • Mentoring others
  • Managing generational differences
  • Managing strategic projects
  • Problem solving
  • Creative thinking
  • Strategic thinking

From a high level, the program looked like this:

Year 1 Year 2 Year 3

Develop Action Plan with immediate manager for 3 years

Choose a strategic project to work on during the 3 year period (in a team)

Choose an individual project to work on with coach (strategic project – expected to last over a 1 – 1 ½ year time frame)

6 courses taken during the first year of the program

Internal coach selection (paired mid-manager with executive in company) and development of plan for working with coach over next 3 years

Continue work toward completing goals of Action Plan

Continue work on team project

Continue/wrap up of individual project

7 courses taken during the second year of the program

Continue work with internal coach –  meeting on a bi-weekly basis

Select external coach mid-way through year 2 based on development plan

Move to another business unit beginning of year 2

Wrap up work toward completing goals of Action Plan

Continue work/wrap up team project

2 courses taken beginning of the 3rd year of the program

Continue work with internal coach – meeting on a 2x/month basis

Continue work with external coach

Move to another business unit middle of year 3

After the three years, the individuals would continue to work with a coach of their choosing – either internal or external – with the support of the company and would continue to move to various business units throughout the organization to get a feel for the business as a whole.

Program Evaluation

The program was evaluated every 2 months during the first year via surveys of the participants, conversations with educators for the programs, and meetings with the executives and the coaches. During the subsequent years (2 and 3) it was evaluated once a quarter.

The initial 2 month evaluation of the program (year 1) showed that some “tweaking” of the program was required, as follows:

  • Improved communication with the immediate managers of the mid-level managers to ensure their continued support throughout the three years as the program was very intensive and required significant time away from the “day-to-day” job.
  • Better support of the project teams and the individual team projects to help the groups continue to move forward.
  • An additional course was added to the program called “cultural awareness” and would be run during year 3.

Subsequent evaluations prior to the end of the first year showed that, while intense in its structure, the participants found the program to be a valuable investment of their time and were learning a considerable amount. It was believed that timelines may need to be adjusted as the program continued, but that was expected and would not impact the program adversely.

Future posts will evaluate the progress of the program after year one, year two and then year three.

Part II:  Evaluating Progress: One Year Later
Part III: Evaluating Progress: Two Years Later
Part IV:  Evaluating Progress: Year Three –  Program End

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