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Preparing Mid-Managers for a Leadership Role: A Case Study – Part 2 of 4

Evaluating Progress: One Year Later

Part I of this case study discussed the background and initial steps in developing a program to prepare mid-managers of a national car rental company for future leadership roles. Part II will focus on evaluating progress of the program after one year.

Surveying done after the one year mark showed that the program was overall a valuable investment of the time of the participants and they were showing progress in the form of being able to apply their new knowledge and skills to a variety of situations. However, the intensity of the program was proving a struggle, not just for the participants but also for those they work with on a daily basis. The requirements of the program did not enable for the participants to, effectively, perform their regular jobs. That was taking a toll on the other resources in their departments and was, frankly, making for a stressful and frustrating work environment with some anger starting to show at the “special treatment” some individuals were getting while the others “picked up their slack.” Certainly this needed to be addressed.

The Learning & Development group (L&D) decided to make adjustments to the program to reduce some of the tension that was starting to bubble up to the surface.  On the positive side, because the L&D group was regularly keeping their pulse on the program and the effects it was having through conversations with the participants, individuals the participants worked with and managers, the situation was not yet out of hand and there was time to address it in a well planned manner.

Additionally, there were a few other issues that needed to be addressed in the program.

The issues to be addressed

  • Tension being created due to amount of time spent in program
  • Communication with non-participants in the program
  • Addressing issues of retention problems starting to show due to non-participation in the program
  • Support from immediate managers starting to wane

Let’s look at each issue separately and what was done to address it.

Tensions being created due to amount of time spent in program

Given the intensity of the program and the significant amount of work required of participants, it was becoming increasingly difficult for them to continue in their regular jobs.  The problem was that non-participants of the program who worked with these individuals in various departments, business units and on various projects were picking up their slack and working more to meet deadlines and help them out.  While initially this seemed like a non-issue, it was becoming increasingly more of a problem and causing stress on many key projects and within many departments.

Addressing the issue

To address the issue, the L&D group did the following:

  • Survey of participants and their managers as to how much time they were putting into the program “off hours” and issues they were seeing by trying to participate in the program and do their regular job.

The survey provided the following information to L&D:

  • Outside of program hours, on average, the participants were putting 25 – 30 hours a week into the program to meet the requirements and deadlines.
  • The participants also noted that they are seeing increasing tension between them and their co-workers and were finding it difficult to juggle the workload of the program and their day-to-day responsibilities.
  • Managers were concerned that the participants were unable to do their regular jobs and have been shuffling around staff to cover for the participants, which was creating problems with projects falling behind schedule, internal work such as reporting not being completed and some individuals working 60+ hours a week.

The solution

After reviewing the survey results with the CEO, SVP of L&D and the EVP of HR, the following was decided upon:

  • The program length would remain the same – at 3 years; however the number of courses required would be reduced from 15 courses to no more than 10.  The L&D group felt that they could combine many of the topics into other courses to reduce the time in the classroom.
  • The component of the program that required work on an individual strategic project would be eliminated.  Since the team strategic project was such a significant amount of work, it would suffice to give the individual the experience of working on a strategic initiative.  This would reduce the time required in the program.

Communication with non-participants in the program

Another issue was that the non-participants in the program were feeling undervalued within the company.  This was determined via overheard conversations and one-on-one conversations with some of the non-participants and the participants.  This was certainly a highly visible program within the company and it was understandable that those who were not part of it might feel inadequate and undervalued.

Addressing the issue

The L&D group, with the support of the SVP of L&D and the business unit managers, developed a communication (sent via email) to the organization that covered the following points:

  • Reiteration of the purpose of the high potential program and how the selection process was made.
  • A reminder that it was a growing program within the organization and certainly others would be included and those interested in being included in future programs should contact their immediate managers.
  • The plans to develop a variety of management and professional development training programs for all members of the organization to ensure growth and potential for moves throughout the organization.
  • A request that individuals speak with their immediate managers to talk about their career goals and to discuss how the company can help them achieve those goals.

The solution

As first noted in the “addressing the issue” section above, the L&D group had been considering implementing management development programs for others within the organization, but had not yet gotten around to doing it.  This was certainly the kick start they needed.  The communication they sent out discussed the plans to develop a variety of programs for all employees.  A secondary communication, a month after the first one, requested support from individuals in designing additional learning & development programs.   Nearly 50 individual contributors and managers offered their support for such an initiative.

Address retention problems of non-participants

This issue was very much tied to the one discussed above.  A handful of individuals (approx. 10) had given their notice and had moved on to other higher-level jobs in other organizations, in some cases competitive organizations.  There were murmurs throughout the organization that others were starting to look for new jobs.  This was a serious concern for the organization and certainly something that needed to be addressed rapidly.  Simply because these individuals were not in this high potential program did not make them any less valued and necessary within the organization.

Addressing the issue

The EVP of HR sent a survey to all employees within the organization to understand their engagement level.  Questions included:

  • Do you have the opportunity to do work that utilizes your skills, experience and knowledge?
  • Do you regularly receive feedback on your performance?
  • Do you feel cared about as a person – not just how you do in your job but how things are going for you personally?
  • Do you feel as if your manager encourages you to develop professionally and personally?
  • Do you feel as if your opinions are valued within your department/business unit?
  • Do you regularly talk with your manager about your progress?
  • Do you have enough opportunities in your role to continue to learn and develop?
  • Does your manager talk to you about your goals?
  • Does your manager support your career plans?

The EVP of HR explained that the purpose of the survey was to develop a plan to better support the goals of all employees to ensure their success within the organization and the ability for them to continue to grow and develop their professional skills.

85% of the employees responded to the survey, which was considered successful by HR and the CEO.

The results of the survey showed that, given all the publicity around this high potential program, many employees felt like their needs were being unmet.  They felt that so much effort was put into this program, for a small group of people, that there was no bandwidth left to ensure the professional development of others within the organization.  It was noted in comments on the survey that the individuals did feel that a good effort was starting to be made in the plans by L&D to develop additional learning programs for all employees.

All valid concerns and concerns that the CEO and his executive team knew needed to be addressed sooner rather than later in order to ensure that employees were retained.

The solution

In addition to the additional learning programs being developed as discussed earlier, the following was planned to address this issue:

  • Changes to the performance evaluation process to be a more regular feedback-oriented event that occurred quarterly rather than once a year.
  • Increased investment in L&D to help roll out the additional learning programs sooner and to have a greater impact within the company.
  • Options for employees for sharing ideas, knowledge and information and for mini learning opportunities through the implementation of:
    • Breakfast sessions
    • Lunch & learns
    • A collaboration portal
    • After work activities

Decreased support from immediate managers

This issue was also tied to the first issue discussed earlier in this post – tension being created due to the amount of time spent in the program.  Immediate managers, although being kept in the loop regarding the program, were having to increasingly manage unhappy employees who were not part of the program.  They felt as if they were unfairly pushing on their other staff members to keep up with a workload because the participants of the program were unable to pull their weight on other work and projects.

Addressing the issue

The SVP of L&D and the EVP of HR met with the managers from the various business units to discuss the situation and brainstorm solutions.  It was certainly considered a valid concern as the managers felt their hands were tied in addressing the issue with their employees and were definitely feeling frustrated that they could not do more.  Certainly it distracted from their work if they needed to consistently address complaints and concerns from employees.

The solution

Certainly, changes to the program, as described earlier, would help to address the issue.  It was also believed that providing new learning & development programs for other employees would also address the issue since part of the concerns with other employees was their perception that the company did not care about their development.

Where necessary, managers were provided part-time contract support to help in the completion of projects for their business units.   In some situations, given the amount of projects needed to be completed over the next couple of years for some business units, approval was granted to hire additional staff to meet needs.  Since the company was in a high growth mode, it was felt that the additional staff would be required at some point in the future and it made sense to bring them in sooner rather than later to address current needs.


This wrapped up the year one evaluation of the program.  All in all, the program was considered to be moving along successfully and an impact was already starting to be seen within the organization.

It was determined by L&D that regular meetings with various business units, along with quarterly surveys of select groups of employees (so as not to keep surveying the same individuals too often) would help L&D and the executives to keep a pulse on the organization and ensure addressing of issues before they became serious.

Part III of this post will focus on Evaluating Progress: Two Years Later

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