Building strong leadership teams can make or break a company. Investing in managers to help them inspire action, instill company values, increase retention, and ensure every employee is fired up to come to work can generate exponential value for the business. This investment can create a multiplier effect – a powerful cornerstone that is essential for an organization to be successful.

With over 500 global employees, AdRoll strives to build the most powerful marketing platform through performance, usability and openness. The company’s core values are embodied by its spirit animals. The owl resonates most with the values of the training and development team, as it represents “Hiring great people and helping them grow.”

Growing our people, keeping them on an Everest-steep learning curve at all times, making sure they feel challenged, motivated, pushed out of their comfort zone, and they have resources to help them learn and grow – that is the crux of our job in training. It’s a mission that is backed by our company values, and that comes through in every project and initiative we work on.

The Problem

Over the last several years, AdRoll has offered strong people development for the greater organization, and leadership development programs for its managers. However, we noticed a gap in our offerings in early 2017: While we serve our current managers well, we’ve lacked a curated, purposeful path for new managers who get promoted or join the company. Our initial solution for newly promoted managers was to enroll them into any upcoming leadership trainings; however, having them join programs mid-cohort felt disjointed and ineffective.

We needed a directive path for new managers – a cohort program where new managers could build strong relationships with leadership across departments. Where we could assess skills, provide foundational new management training, and build from there.

This is what we set out to solve for in Q2 of 2017. The project team consisted of two representatives from the people team and two representatives from the training team. We wanted to build a program that was deployed twice a year, after each promotion cycle. We also needed this to be a global solution that would work for all regions. Our goal was to see a clear improvement in manager skill sets after they completed the program.

The Analysis

Research that went into building the new manager training paths was extremely comprehensive. We gathered intel in the form of qualitative assessments from HR Business Partners (HRBPs), who have had ongoing dialogue with every manager for several years, and we looked for any themes that emerged from the conversations.

The project team also interviewed seasoned (and newer) managers on what they’d like to develop within themselves. Themes of strategic decision making, motivating teams to perform, and retaining top talent were top findings from this research.

We also went deep into industry benchmarking and research. What are similar companies doing? What’s working/not working at other companies our size, with similar cultures? Having a resource group for this type of data-generation really helps. I have a San Francisco-based monthly meet-up with peers across quite a few tech companies that is always a valuable use of our time. We learned that we weren’t alone in this gap; not many companies have established new manager ramp programs that are separate from ongoing leadership development.

Lastly, we wanted full executive buy-in for the new program, and to get their point of view on how new managers can best drive value for AdRoll. We presented a strawman proposal to our exec team, and they were fully behind the idea. They shared some of our company’s top initiatives for 2017 so that we could build a program that would help new managers drive results around these top goals.

Doing robust and varied research helped give us a strong baseline before diving into program creation. We huddled in a room (and over video conference), made sure we had plenty of whiteboard space, and set to work transforming all the inputs and feedback we’d collected into a meaningful program for new managers.

The Solution

Here’s what we came up with:

  • Timing: A three-month program, run twice each year was chosen to ensure an expedited ramp (one quarter), but would also give managers time to form relationships in their cohort, absorb material in a meaningful way, apply new skills and come back with challenges/feedback.
  • Type of training: Blended learning would occur through articles, e-learning (built internally and through Udemy), webinars, live in-person sessions, book clubs, roundtables and exec panels.
  • ROI: We’d measure success of the program through survey feedback (Did managers like it?), self-assessments built in throughout the path (Do managers feel like they are getting better at management skills?), and team/peer feedback (Do manager’s reports agree with manager self-assessments? Do HRBPs see measured improvements?).

We also wanted to create a forum for ongoing dialogue between the new managers in the cohort. AdRoll uses Slack, a messaging platform that allows you to build customized and specific channels for different purposes, as a primary means of communication. We built a Slack channel for new managers to use to discuss trainings, things they’ve tried, what’s worked/what hasn’t worked, ask questions and crowdsource ideas. This also gave us space to post new articles, blogs, book recommendations, podcasts, TedTalks, and any additional relevant content. The content itself is the meat of the program, so it was critical we nailed that piece.

The paths were input into our LMS (AbsorbLMS) so that new managers had easy, clear access to their learning path as soon as they joined AdRoll as a manager, or got promoted.

We formally rolled out the new manager learning path in July 2017, so that all new managers promoted in that cycle could partake. We also retro-enrolled any new managers from January to July of that year, so we had a big first class. During pre-rollout, we went big on communication. We made announcements to the entire company via email, Slack posts and posters around the office, so that people were aware that this was a resource for new managers, and an investment AdRoll was making in future leadership. We also made sure our recruiting team had full insight into the program, so that they could use this as a value prop when recruiting new leadership talent into our company.

The Outcome

After several months of heavy lifting, it was extremely exciting to launch in July. Rolling out this new manager learning path was a huge success for the organization. It demonstrated that we were investing in our people. It provided directive, relevant, high-touch learning to a group that can make a huge impact on our company. It established relationships that lasted far beyond the three-month training period.

Feedback was and continues to be wildly positive. The training and people teams continue to learn and iterate to ensure we are offering a best-in-class learning experience for every new manager at AdRoll. We’re proud of what we built to fill a gap, and are excited to keep elevating this path as we learn more.