In 1997, I was asked by the University of New Hampshire Browne Center for Innovative Learning to help develop a proposal for a comprehensive Supervisory Institute that would provide front-line supervisors in a global manufacturer the leadership training they needed. At the time, front-line supervisors were being asked to carry a greater share of leadership responsibility after years of “flattening” the organization. Most supervisors, then and now, are hired because they excel as individual contributors, but few receive leadership training for their new role.
My proposal for a 10-day institute over four 2.5 day sessions was accepted. It included topics on leadership styles, communication, team building, innovation, 360 assessment and more. As the lead facilitator of what is now a 5-day program, I deliver roughly half of the content and stay with the group while other facilitators deliver their specialty content. My role is to build a safe learning environment where participants can trust and challenge one another to grow and openly share real work experiences. Keeping the conversation flowing, I serve as a mentor and coach helping participants explore new insights and recognize and develop their personal leadership strengths. The program has inspired over a 1,200 participants to become better leaders.
• “I take my role/position more seriously and realize that I'm expected to be a strong vehicle of leadership within the organization.”
• “I realize more so now that I am expected to be a "leader." This institute was a "wake up call."
Before long each plant or business center began sending more people including mid-level and plant managers. As supervisors were promoted to higher positions, they would insist that their new supervisors go through this intensive training experience. A second Management Development Institute (MDI) was created for higher-level managers.
An evaluation after six years of Supervisory Institutes showed that the program has a significant and lasting impact on most participants. Their ability to respond to situations in a variety of ways increased, as did their understanding of the importance of recognizing and respecting differences in behavioral, learning and leadership styles of their coworkers. They encouraged and listened to ideas of their employees, improved processes through teamwork, and in many cases, this led to changes that saved or made the company tens of thousands or even millions of dollars.
• “In Fall 2002, an idea I had was implemented which cut rejects 3.5 - 4% plant wide which will save the company millions in the years to come. I had this idea because I first learned at the institute that there are many ways of looking at one problem and that listening to what others have to say may also spark other ideas to be born.”
• “$70,000 YTD scrap reduction at our facility through problem solving techniques and improved communication skills.”
• “We sustained 25% growth in the our department, increased margins by 20% and decreased inventory by 20% with less personnel by getting everyone in the department involved in improvements and competitively challenging one another.”
The Institutes became part of a new Corporate University and the Supervisory Institute, which I continue to lead, is now in its 51st iteration and the MDI is in its 23rd. The following quote is from an R&D Director who I will discuss in the next section:
• “Over a 10 year period, I observed Joe Blotnick successfully manage dozens of groups of managers through these two institutes. Feedback about Joe was always very positive. Students recalled his positive energy, proactive approach, sense of humor, and down-to-earth manner of doing business, and a thoroughly engaging classroom and teaching style. Many students reported using the tools they learned at the Institutes.”
I had the opportunity to support the work of the above R&D Director whose operation grew rapidly over a 5-year period from 100 employees to over 300. There was a need to reorganize the management team to help prepare for its future and to position the team to properly welcome one of three possible successors who had been prepared by the company for some years. There were strong chasm lines within the organization’s management team.
The Director consulted me because, as we later came to realize, my key strengths were very complementary to his own and we made a great team. Through 1:1 coaching and offsite leadership retreats, I helped him design a new structure that involved building three high level teams around strategic business objectives. Gradually the teams and leaders involved in each business initiative began to realize just how important each of their roles were in leading and influencing employees toward the center’s key goals. Their focus and commitment grew from leadership of their departments to leadership of the R&D Center as a whole.
While the parent organization generally replaces plant managers and center directors every 3-5 years, this Director stayed on for thirteen years. I helped facilitate the transition to a new Director by helping her and the new leadership teams redefine their roles and functions within a new organizational structure. The former Director shared his closing thoughts on this chapter with me …
“Joe, the transition went very well. The R&D Center has the best Director ever – and she has rapidly provided guidance to multiple people in the Center who seem energized and happy. As you know this simply delights me and allows me to move forward – without having to look over my shoulder.”
360-Degree Leadership Feedback and Coaching
We build online 360-degree assessments into nearly all of our leadership development efforts. Our 360s are custom designed and place less emphasis on numerical ratings and more emphasis on gathering valuable comments on the leadership competencies that are most relevant to the leader’s success. We also guide respondents to structure their feedback in a positive way that will encourage growth and help the leader generate new insights. Our 360s often become a very important motivator for changing behavior.
Our 360s are always followed up with a coaching session or interpretation workshop where people share their initial reactions about their strengths and areas for improvement. This is the beginning of a behavioral change process that will lead to greater confidence in themselves as leaders and a greater understanding of the impact they have on others.
Over the years, I have found that engineers, whose people skills are often not as strong as their technical and intellectual skills, find this process extremely valuable. Our highly interactive workshops combined with 360-feedback are powerful motivators for personal and professional growth.
Here are selected responses from Senior Research Engineers:
“Thank you very much for taking the time to coach me today. I am very happy I went through this training. Things changed quite a bit for me over the past year and I applied a lot of the tools that were taught during our training session. I am looking forward to this year and working on the areas identified from the 360!” Cecile
“Many thanks again for your time, advice and general coaching. This is very valuable to me! I will share my improvement goals/actions with my co-workers and boss, and try to get regular feedback from all of them, for (hopefully!) continuous improvement.” Isabelle
“It was pleasant talking to you and fun to explore myself as I reflect on how I grew over the last year. I am certainly benefiting from the training and thinking wherever I go. Thank you for the time.” Le
“Thanks so much for taking the time to review my evaluations and summarize my strengths and objectives. Your suggestions are extremely helpful. I will start practicing, and go for small wins first.” Shuang
We have many opportunities to work with organizations in situations where there are divergent views among the leadership team on how to move forward and/or people or departments who are not collaborating with one other to achieve common goals. We often hear that in meeting after meeting, the same conflicts emerge with the same few people expressing their same divergent views.
Our approach to team building is to gather information from everyone involved before designing an individualized program to address the specific needs, goals, and organizational culture at the time. We create a safe, and oftentimes fun, learning environment in an offsite team building retreat. Our strong backgrounds in diversity issues and cultural understanding help us to ensure that everyone is fully accepted, included, and interacting on a level playing field.
After presenting a summary of the results of the information gathering process, we get everyone sharing their perspectives and listening to one another. Finally we facilitate the process of synthesizing their best thinking and work collaboratively to identify the most important issues and best ways to move forward.
A good example is a statewide organization of education directors that spent nearly a year “stuck in the mud” trying to determine whether or not to expand its role for greater impact or stick to its original mission. Below is the intro of a message sent to participants from its Board President after our team building retreat.
“Here is our take-away. Overall …
• The retreat was very worthwhile.
• The facilitation was effective.
• Attendance was strong
• Participation in the survey was likewise impressive.
• Camaraderie was high!
When we reviewed all the detailed notes, we came away with the following priority focus areas …” He then listed the priority areas.