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How We Did It: Building a Successful Remote Leadership Training Program

The Need

One large global company started to see lower engagement scores from its managers and then high manager attrition. A new CEO was brought on board, spurring the company's leadership development focus.

The Solution

The company's face-to-face leadership development program pivoted to fully remote leadership training with DDI's virtual classroom after the pandemic forced managers to work remotely.

The Result

The face-to-face program earned high marks from managers, improved engagement, and caused a positive shift in management capability, but the virtual equivalent of the same program earned higher scores in almost every category, even behavior change.

Virtual classroom outperformed face to face in almost every category. So, it's true, people like it, and it does deliver at least as good, and as we have seen in many cases, even better behavioral change than face-to-face development.

Bill Hester, Strategic Account Manager - Europe, DDI

In this How We Did It video, Bill Hester, strategic account manager with DDI Europe, shares how one large global company worked with DDI to build an extremely successful manager development program. While the program kicked off face to face, the pandemic forced the company to quickly pivot to remote leadership training instead.

Learn how DDI's virtual classroom offering allowed the company's development efforts to continue to see positive results, even in the midst of a rapid shift to remote work. 

Learn how DDI's virtual classroom offers an engaging, instructor-led leadership development experience so leaders can successfully learn together, regardless of location. 

Transcript: 

Beth Almes:                        

Hi everyone, and welcome back to How We Did It where we get to talk about the incredible work we're doing with some of our favorite clients around the globe. Today, I have Bill Hester here with me, and we're going to talk about a really big company that did an incredible job of switching to a virtual leadership development program. 

And while it was spurred on by the pandemic, they have seen incredible results of bringing together some of their more geographically dispersed offices now that they've been able to employ a virtual approach to their leadership development. Bill, thank you for joining us today.

Bill Hester:                          

It's my great pleasure, Beth. Nice to see you.

Beth Almes:                        

So, tell me a little bit about the company and what prompted them to go virtual with their program.

Bill Hester:                         

Sure. Well, this is a very well known global FinTech company. Most people would've heard of them, around about 7,000 people in up to 30 countries. They're very, very geographically spread and over the years, they've been very inquisitive. They're made up of lots of companies, lots of legacy cultures, and some very, very sort of, hairy backed subject matter experts in there. Some interesting characters, they struggle to really integrate as a business. 

But having said all of that, they have a really strong business model. So, with so much money rolling in over the years, there hasn't really been the burning platform to bring everything quite together. It's almost like they could be successful without needing to worry too much about that kind of interconnectivity and strong internal leadership but the cracks were starting to show. So in 2018, there was an engagement survey that showed that their, they call it their line manager index was three points below their global benchmark.

There was also very high attrition people were dropping out a little bit filling the leaking bucket case, and also some evidence of a lack of willingness to kind of manage performance and give feedback. It seemed as though they really needed to get the checkbook out than have conversations and of course, competitors nipping at their heels in their business and ever-growing shareholder expectations. So, it was clear that this could not continue forever.

Beth Almes:                        

So, how did they start down the path for a virtual program? Was that part of their program as they were looking at this in 2018 or did they have to shift their approach as so many of us went to remote and hybrid work options?

Bill Hester:                          

Yeah. Well, quite right. Absolutely not, it did not start as a virtual program. In fact, in 2018, they brought a new CEO in who unsurprisingly looking around decided that the strategy would be very much about a one-group strategy. And so, suddenly leadership development came to the board and was called out as a core strategic objective and this was the point at which we were really called into to engage. 

So, what we wanted to do was to try to find a way through implementing various different programs to drive engagement amongst their people, more of a developmentally minded culture, and an inclusive culture through stronger leadership. So, really we set about to build this global program for them and of course, it was all face-to-face to begin with.

We started out with a set of very clear objectives to ensure that managers had a collective understanding of their accountability and performance to people to build that feedback culture that has been missing you mentioned before to try and create a connected network of managers across the group with just the reasons that you highlighted and also to create a clarity of management responsibility for engagement, performance, and development. So overall, really this was about embedding the core values and behaviors in this client's management practices.

Beth Almes:                        

So, you had these skills set out of what was going to really form their leadership culture, how the behaviors they were expecting from leaders, and it was all being done in person. 

So, what happened with the shift to virtual? How did they manage that and how did DDI work with them to rapidly pivot their programs that they didn't lose the progress they were making?

Bill Hester:                          

Sure. So back in 2019 before the pandemic hit, we had about 300 or so people go through this face-to-face version of the program. It's called manager excellence as it happens and it was receiving really positive feedback. It was going very, very well. We found that participants were rating like the content applicability very high so it was like 4.4 out of five. Facilitation was nearly 4.6 out of five. And overall we were getting 4.4 out of five for the program as a whole and it was contributing to a shift in management capability. 

So, in the 2019 engagement survey, we saw already a move. So, the manager index had gone up by seven points and was now three points higher than the global norm. And then, of course, 2020 happened and we all know we were all there at that time. So, there was suddenly a significant challenge because the program had been going really well.

We had programs in midflight. We had a large number of managers still to participate and to meet the global commitment. Now, the thing is that we, DDI as their partner a few years ago, took a decision to invest heavily in virtual classroom and we built all of our programs in virtual classroom, and it was looking like a really bad business decision because nobody was buying it. 

We'd spent all of these millions of dollars and the stuff was sitting on the shelf and then suddenly in 2020, we instantly found ourselves as market leaders in virtual classroom. And so, it meant that we had this stuff really ready to almost overnight to convert this client to virtual classroom. The trouble is though, because the program was delivering impact, everybody was worried about the impact of turning to virtual classroom. Would we really get the return on this significant investment?

If we suddenly switched to virtual, would we be able to create the right learning environment? Would the credibility of the program be lost? And there was a real job to convince the business that the virtual program would have the same equivalent level of impact as what we've been doing in the classroom. So, there was a lot of very rapid consultation that went on and the client luckily decided to make the switch. 

So, we reconfigured manager excellence to become virtual manager excellence and critically, we kept all the same objectives. There were a few tweaks, so shorter sessions, some self-paced learning followed by practice labs. We added a new module around managing virtually because of course we were suddenly all in that hybrid kind of workplace, we added a producer to help those sessions run really smoothly alongside the facilitator and we had some new microcourses for a little bit more tailored on-demand learning, but the new program was launched within six weeks and within that year, we saw another 400 people come through during 2020.

Beth Almes:                        

So, I love that this client not only added some content, they switched to digital, but they really focused on the virtual classroom part. We've heard from a lot of folks who, when they go to remote learning or digital learning, it all becomes self-paced, "I'm doing this all by myself in front of my computer screen." 

So, as they did the virtual classroom and they were actually engaging with each other through virtual means, but they were all live together, how was the feedback from leaders about that and did they still see the same skill development as they did before?

Bill Hester:                          

Yeah. Well, obviously we were looking very closely at this because there had been so much concern about would it really work, but not only that, but of course, shifting into this new reality required a lot of resilience and belief from all of us, but also obviously strong partnership and collaboration, but I'm pleased to say that our client was absolutely delighted to receive not just equivalent, but even more positive news from participants following their participation in the virtual classroom. 

So, we saw the level one evaluations go up to about 4.5 out of five, the virtual program. It had been a 4.4 for the pre-COVID sessions. So, it took us all by surprise, Beth. We love virtual classroom, you know that, but we hadn't quite expected to see it reporting out even more highly, but there was still a question in our minds.

I'll be completely honest here, which was, if people had been worried about virtual classroom to begin with and then showed up and found that better than expected, maybe there was a little bit of an effect of, "Hey, this is not so bad. This has exceeded my expectations because I was expecting something somewhat less." 

So, although we were finding that the level one results were better, there was still that kind of residual doubt, did it really drive the same level of behavior change as in-person training and that was the real question that was still on our minds.

Beth Almes:                        

So, not enough to just say yes, people enjoyed it, which is good. That's great when you hear that feedback of, "Yeah, we loved it. Yes, we felt connected, but did it then end up delivering the same behaviors we were looking for, the skills?"

Bill Hester:                          

Well, that is the question, Beth. And interestingly for this client, we were not able to collect just level one data, but actually to collect level three data. So, we were able to deliver DDI's impact evaluation in both 2019 and 2020. So, we had a perfect natural study, the same population, the equivalent content in two adjacent years, one using all face-to-face and one using all virtual classroom, okay? 

And we were able then to go back, not just to the participants, but to the people around them. So, their peers, their line manager, their customers, and so on. Almost like a 360 to look at the actual impact on the behavioral change and we were able to do a direct comparison between face-to-face and virtual classroom. 

And again, virtual classroom outperformed face-to-face in almost every single category. So, it's true people like it, and it does deliver at least as good and we have seen in many cases, even better behavioral change, more market behavioral change than face-to-face.

So, for anybody who's left wondering whether virtual classroom is kind of like the necessary evil or the option that you do because you can't do face to face anymore, have no doubt. It absolutely does work, it does change a leader's behavior and we've seen that through this natural study.

Beth Almes:                        

So, now as we are looking at situations where people could go back to face-to-face learning if they want to, or they can continue virtual learning, how is this client looking towards the future? What are they valuing as they look ahead and have more options ahead of them?

Bill Hester:                         

Well, of course, we're all expecting the pendulum to swing back the other way. We can't wait to go out and get on the plane and get round the table again. But I have to say that this client unsurprisingly is predicting a blended future. And in fact, not just this client, almost all of the clients that I'm talking to these days are predicting more of a blended approach. 

So, we suspect that people will probably come together to form, to meet, say hi, form those initial important bonds, but then the midsections of programs once the group has normed and formed, then we'll see much more of a use of virtual classroom for the kind of the key content sections. 

Then maybe people coming together at the end in order to celebrate. Not only do we expect to see those programs continue to perform really effectively, but of course we're cutting down on travel, we're cutting down on time away from the job. All of our clients are serious now in terms of their commitments towards the environment and reducing carbon emissions.

And so, this is yet another way. We don't have heavy boxes of materials that are being shipped all over the world anymore. Everything is happening virtually and digitally. And so, we are really excited about this prospect and we expect to see, and of course, this client expects it to be a big part of their future as well.

Beth Almes:                        

Bill, this was an incredible story. Thank you for sharing this client's journey to take their program into the virtual and hybrid world and not just continue and meet expectations, but to really excel in this new environment. Thanks for sharing your story.

Bill Hester:                         

Always a great pleasure. Thank you for your interest, Beth.