To ready a new generation of leaders, organizations need to develop managers who inspire employees at all levels to stretch, grow and innovate to meet customer needs. When creating learning programs to build these skills, using data and leveraging partnerships are key to a successful outcome.
In 2022, leading construction equipment manufacturer Caterpillar launched an enhanced global front-line manager development program to build core leadership capabilities. Through intentional program design, thoughtful stakeholder communication, and robust implementation planning, Caterpillar is on pace to reach 80% of its global front-line manager population within the first two years of deployment.
Designing for Impact
As Caterpillar’s business has evolved over the years, so has the way people learn. For adult learners, it is vital they feel ownership of their development and confident the learning can be immediately applied to their day-to-day work. That is why Caterpillar began its front-line manager development journey with an enterprise-wide needs analysis to understand what our learners needed most from a leadership development program. Through this analysis, the design team identified the most relevant topics for our front-line leaders’ development, how they wanted to learn and barriers to their learning.
- Clear content direction: Learners identified the same development needs across leadership demographics no matter how the data was sliced.
- Blended, mixed-modality learning is critical: Learners indicated they needed expert facilitation, peer interaction and coaching. In addition to these modes of connecting with others in real-time, they also wanted meaningful on-demand opportunities to apply their learning on their own schedules and in the flow of their work.
- Flexibility is essential, but so is standardization: The program needed to be flexible to meet the evolving needs of the business yet standard enough to ensure that learners’ needs were met, and program implementation was seamless.
The design team leveraged this data to create a spaced-learning program comprised of six modules facilitated via in-person or virtual classroom for cohorts of 20 front-line managers over 13 weeks. Peer learning groups and online support materials are embedded within the program. The design encourages application, along with peer networking and coaching for reinforcement.
The Power of Teamwork
With a solid program design, the deployment team was ready to develop the standard work to bring the program to learners. With a front-line manager population of approximately 7,000 leaders globally, creating an implementation plan anchored in learner experience was vital while minimizing the burden on constrained resources. To do this, Caterpillar created shared ownership through a matrixed deployment process with global team members focused on standard processes, including a visible demand plan, and local team members focused on individual cohort deployment. In 2022, Caterpillar delivered 142 cohorts to over 2,800 front-line managers worldwide in seven languages.
Though the total cohort volume was high, local deployment teams would only be responsible for implementing a few cohorts. Thus, the global program team recognized it was unrealistic to expect local partners to deeply understand the program components. Through a partnership with our vendor, Development Dimensions International (DDI), Caterpillar developed standard work to ensure the program remained consistent and that local teams could easily deploy and adapt it as needed to their regional, business, or demographic contexts.
Support for cohort implementation includes:
- A standard cohort planning template with a timeline.
- Detailed job aids for each team member based on their role in program implementation.
- Identified decision points and opportunities for cohort-level content tailoring.
- Communication templates for participants, available in multiple languages.
- Vendor-led project management support for cohort deployment
Moving From Stakeholder Support to Endorsement
Senior business and human resources (HR) leaders acknowledged the need for an enterprise-wide front-line manager development program. However, there was a healthy skepticism about whether one program could meet the diverse needs of our global workforce. For the program to truly be successful, stakeholders needed to buy in. Analyzing data and sharing it with key stakeholders have been critical elements in building endorsement throughout the program’s lifecycle. The design team was able to drive consensus and support from stakeholders that one program could meet the development needs across leadership roles, tenures, and working environments using objective data from the needs analysis and an extensive content analysis process.
When demand was initially collected, Caterpillar estimated it would deliver 40-50 cohorts in 2022; that number tripled as the year progressed. Following the first 10 cohort deployments, the project team provided a stakeholder report, leveraging data to tell a compelling story about the program’s progress. Feedback from learner reaction surveys, focus group themes, and HR professional testimonials inspired stakeholders to encourage their teams to make wider use of the program. Data were also provided to identify obstacles and highlight improvement opportunities, which engaged stakeholders in problem-solving and built a shared sense of ownership. With objective data in hand, clear communication, and shared ownership, stakeholders became program advocates, removing barriers and aligning resources needed to scale the program rapidly.
Caterpillar designed and deployed an enterprise-wide front-line manager development program, which achieved rapid expansion and high learner satisfaction by using data-driven decision-making and sharing ownership with learners, internal teams, external partners and stakeholders.