Leaders Teaching Leaders

Help line managers learn about leadership skills—and find ways to use them.

By Marty Buck and Mary Martin Sep 1, 2012

September CoverMedtronic Inc. is well-known globally for creating products that treat chronic disease. Whether our customers are using pacemakers, stents or other devices, they depend on the reliability of our products to alleviate pain, restore health and extend life. To make sure we are meeting customers' expectations, we in human resources partnered with leaders in the Quality Engineering organization in 2011 to develop competencies that focus on reliability. The impact was huge, affecting the culture and the way work gets done by employees, specifically those in the Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management unitof the Cardiac and Vascular Group.While beneficial,the changes put incredible stress on our line managers in their role as leaders.

So, when a new leadership team was recently formed within theCardiac Rhythm Disease Management's Quality organization, the team leader sought ways to jump-start, then accelerate, the team's development of leadership competencies based on self-reflection and identification. A self-directed platform and leadership development program has since evolved.

The Cardiac and Vascular Group's HR professionals support employees at multiple sites. Our daily roles include HR support for the Quality and Regulatory organizations in the Cardiac and Vascular Group.

The transformation has been an exciting time for us, and developing this leadership program was particularly rewarding. We see that it can be used as a model for training thousands of leaders throughout Medtronic. The prototype cost little to develop other than our time; so far, 22 program and people managers have been involved. Here's how you can develop a similar program.

Managers want to study skill sets they call adaptability, be authentic, courage, create change, develop talent, global perspective, visionary and judgment.

Making Personal Choices

"I wanted an opportunity for my leadership team to spend time on their own development," explains Lonny Stormo, vice president for Pre-Market Quality. "In our busy day-to-day work, we don't give our leaders enough time to reflect and identify the areas of development they think are vital for their leadership development. By carving out time ... you drive commitment to the process."

The initial participants are both program and people managers within the Pre-Market Quality organization. Instead of bringing in consultants to assess our managers and give them a prepackaged course of instruction, we had participants identify nine categories of skillsthey were interested in and find necessary for leaders. They listed multiple competencies under each category.

Each attendee chose a cohort group based on their interest in learning about one category. The six resulting cohorts were given three months to learn and apply their specific competencies. They were charged with developing presentations to give to their peers based on what they learned and how they applied the competencies to their work as managers.

Medtronic Inc.

Products: Medical technology for treatment of chronic disease.
Ownership: Publicly held (NYSE, MDT).
Fiscal 2012 revenue: $16.2 billion.
Top executives: Omar Ishrak, chairman and chief executive officer; Caroline Stockdale, senior vice president of human resources; Jim McDermid, vice president, human resources, Cardiac and Vascular Group.
Employees: 40,000, with 11,000 in the Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management business unit.
Locations: 120 countries, with headquarters in Minneapolis.
Connections: www.medtronic.com/careers/index.htm, martin.buck@medtronic.com.

Creating a Structure

In creating the format for learning described below, we wanted to accommodate many learning styles. We addressed the challenge by tapping speakers, fostering discussion and using a variety of media.

Self-identification of competencies. At a kickoff meeting on Oct. 24, 2011, we reviewed the program objectives and introduced ourselves. Sitting at small tables, participants discussed "What's the best developmental experience I've ever had and why?"They reviewed the article "Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis" by Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow and Marty Linsky (Harvard Business Review, July 2009).

Participants then recorded ideas on Post-it notesas they brainstormed required leadership competencies. They then organized the competencies into nine categories: adaptability, be authentic, courage, create change, develop talent, global perspective, visionary, judgment and one additional category that was a catchall for subset competencies that didn't fit into the other topics.

Participants identified the competencies they considered vital, assessed their own skills and divided into cohorts. Each cohort was limited to no more than six to give participants a chance to speak up. Participants then outlined thesteps they planned to take to enhance leadership competencies in the next 90 days.

Cohorts chose names for their groups, identified leaders and scheduled separate meetings. Most of the cohorts meet once a month. We also hold group meetings called learning labs every three or four months. Each lab is scheduled for three or four hours, depending on how many cohorts are participating. 

Guest speakers. Medtronic's new chief executive officer, Omar Ishrak, has identified three imperatives for corporate growth: improving execution, optimizing innovation and accelerating globalization. Not surprisingly, global perspective was one skills category participants identified as being necessary for leaders.

As a result, we invited Rob Ten Hoedt, president of Medtronic for Western Europe and Canada, to speak via teleconference at the second learning lab. He offered thoughts about the key leadership competencies required to accelerate globalization. Other speakers have included Chandra Subramaniam, vice president for Cardiac Rhythm Disease Management Research & Development, and Tom Tefft, a senior vice president of Medtronic.

Literature reviews and discussion. Articles from publications such as the Harvard Business Review are included in pre-work for the learning labs. We develop and distribute questions specific to the articles in advance, and they are discussed during the labs.

Videos. Videos have been incorporated into the learning labs; one was a home video taken from inside a car at a driving school in Phoenix. Cohorts watch the videos and discuss their application. It's amazing the correlations that can be drawn between multiple cars racing around a track and leadership.

Presentations. Members of each cohort are given 10 minutes to make presentations during the learning labs. Emphasis is placed on describing "application" of skills vs. "teaching" other cohorts about specific competencies. Presentations have taken on diverse formats such as game shows, skits, and movie or Broadway themes such as "The Wizard of Oz."

We are purposely vague in telling participants how to prepare their presentations—other than reminding them that the objective is not to "teach" the other cohorts, but to share their learning experience and how they applied the competency.

At the end of each learning lab, cohorts identify the next competency area they have chosen for development and create action steps to enhance those competencies within the next 90 to 120 days.

We ask for feedback at the end of each lab to identify what worked well and what we could change. As a result of these comments, we now take and distribute notes on key findings.

Between labs, we keep in contact with cohort members, reminding them of the objective, and field questions such as where to find information on specific topics.

We credit Stormo for making this program effective by engaging his team members in their personal development. Trainers talk about the "push" vs. "pull" mentality. Are employeesasking fortraining? Do they need it and don't know it? Is the company trying to create a base line? Trainers often spend little time working with intact leadership teams, helping them identify needs based on their perceptions of where the company is headed, and then helping them identify the required competencies they think they need. This program does that.

Getting Results

So, where are we seeing return on our investment? In one example, the company recently introduced a performance acceleration process. Managers meet with each employee to discuss his or her performance during the previous quarter and to create the next quarter's objectives. Key competencies for managers include being able to give clear feedback and having courageous discussions. Members of this leadership team sought to develop such courage. One cohort chose to identify best practices in giving feedback, then used the information learned and applied it in the performance acceleration discussions.

We've received comments from many participants on their experiences and the value of the program. One said, "The honesty of the team was important and refreshing." Another noted that the team environment forces "the audience to speak up and be courageous."

We now have 22 leaders who have self-identified competencies they would like to develop, based on what they see as important for today's business environment. Members of six cohorts are learning and sharing thoughts, concepts and experience on a specific competency, then applying what they've learned in their current roles, truly accelerating their development.

Refreshing and Renewing

At Medtronic, interest in this leadership development program is high even though reorganizations happen and will continue to happen to meet business strategies; reporting relations, teams and stakeholders change; and products and processes get realigned.

With the number of competencies originally identified as subsets of our nine categories, the current participants will continue to choose competencies to explore and will attend learning labs every three or four months. Adding participants to the existing program is fairly simple. When a new leader joins the team, he or she receives an overview of the program, a current cohort list and the specific competencies they are working on. He or she chooses a competency and connects with a cohort.

One more leader on the road to self-discovery.

Marty Buck is an HR consultant and Mary Martin is an organizational development consultant for the Cardiac and Vascular Group of Medtronic Inc. in Mounds View, Minn.


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