What does it take to produce transformational learning at scale? Many sizeable organizations have struggled with the challenge of mobilizing and aligning large numbers of people in order to deliver innovative results. Inevitably, this requires building new capacity: employees need to learn what it takes to operate differently. With Dialogos’ help, a major oil and gas company was able to consolidate an array of disconnected initiatives into a single, unified global leadership program that created unprecedented alignment across first-level managers and their extended teams.
Typical approaches to this problem do not usually catalyze deep commitment from those involved. Organizational leaders declare what they want, and then seek to produce the desired results—often through the use of “programs” for learning or transformational change. Privately, employees may not take such programs seriously. (In one organization, people used the acronym “AFP”—or “another fine program”—for such well-meaning initiatives.) Often, numerous people will participate, but only at a superficial level; therefore, when measured by the scale of participation, the results of these programs are misleading.
A world-leading oil and gas company recently faced a challenge like this. The Company was emerging from a dramatic series of mergers and acquisitions, and the resulting turbulence had produced low job satisfaction surveys. Front-line managers felt under-prepared for the challenges of cultural integration and were dissatisfied with their career prospects; with more than 90,000 people reporting to them, they represented an important source of leverage for the organization. To make matters more complex, each region and major subset of the business had developed its own solution for guiding, developing, and managing front-line leaders—resulting in highly fragmented, expensive, and redundant approaches.
The CEO asked a group 12 of his potential successors to put together a transformational learning and development process for the company as a whole and, in particular, to address this problem.
Dialogos was invited to assist the senior leadership group in delivering this result. Initially, the leadership group mirrored the fragmented approach of the wider organization: they had to confront their different and conflicting ideas about how to proceed. Dialogos assisted them in producing a new level of coherence and a more aligned approach.
Our approach seeks to activate the commitment of people and access their underlying energy and drive, not merely their compliance. To do this means following a different process—one that creates the seed of genuine alignment among leaders, engages the “targets” of change in an authentic manner, and inspires previously unanticipated synergies.
In partnership with the Company’s senior leadership group, Dialogos designed and implemented a leadership development and “learning at scale” program for 10,000 front-line leaders—the largest program of its kind in the history of the company. The approach recognized people’s diversity—including their jobs, cultures, and goals—while providing necessary standardization and cohesion for a large-scale global initiative.
The Dialogos approach to this scaled learning project included the following elements:
- Drawing together a senior leaders’ sponsorship group to act as an initial “center of change” that would hold and sustain the initiative. Unlike conventional steering committees, we invited this group to be personally involved in all aspects of the process—including asking them to reflect on their own early leadership development and to model the behavior they wanted to see among their employees and colleagues.
- Developing the sponsorship group to the point that they could collaborate productively and successfully address tough issues
- Designing an extensive engagement and diagnostic process that asked first-level leaders what they needed to create breakthrough (instead of telling them); this was done in the presence of “microcosms” (their bosses and bosses’ bosses) of the system
- Bringing together representatives from each business unit and department to participate in designing the program. This helped build organization-wide ownership and resulted in the sub-units abandoning their separate efforts and pooling resources in a single focused activity
- Standardizing and creating a stable, scalable, replicable, and learning-oriented program that was translated into numerous languages worldwide. It also included building a “delivery community” of individuals who engaged in continuous learning and partnering with internal and external facilitators and leaders.
The First Level Leaders (FLL) program was successfully delivered to the majority of first-level leaders over a 3-year period. The result was a massive and very successful consolidation of the company’s many disconnected initiatives into a single, unified global leadership program that allowed for local flexibility when implemented, and created strong alignment amongst front-line leaders, their direct reports, and their bosses. The initiative became a sought-after resource for front-line leaders, and increased demand for a similar program for the organization’s 6,000 senior-level leaders.
Participants consistently rated the course an average of 8.5 out of ten. Evaluations uniformly showed that, according to both their bosses and direct reports, first-level leaders who attended the program performed more effectively than those who had not. Employees supervised by FLL-trained leaders rated their bosses higher in the areas of communication, interpersonal skills, team leadership, and general management by almost 10%, compared with non-FLL-trained leaders. Ultimately, the company delivered a far more effectively aligned program, while saving an estimated $1 million per year by eliminating redundant training programs.