Companies grow, and people are promoted who must develop their leadership skills. It’s a pattern as old as business itself. Yet for many organizations, it’s become an elusive rainbow they chase through changing circumstances. Whether those be changes in revenue-driven priorities or who the key decision makers are, these circumstances tend to work against effectively and sustainably developing leaders.
At Procore Technologies, all of this was coming fast and all at once. In just a few short years, Procore, a construction management software company, saw company and employee growth accelerate at a rate by which standard development programs and approaches could not sustainably keep up.
Two concepts became critical for success: Utilize an evidence-based leadership framework that served as an overarching operating system regardless of vendors, and begin with frontline leaders. It would have been quite easy to follow the more traditional method of starting a leadership development program with executives and senior leaders, working it downward through the ranks. However, in the rapid environment of a growing software as a service (SaaS) company, this would have left leadership relying on the momentum of the program to keep up in enough time for the language and frameworks to reach frontline management. Instead, a new trend and path was forged.
A Framework for Effectiveness
In order to be effective, agility is needed. This is where organizational development and the theatrical arts share common ground. The same construct of agility is used in the art of improvisational acting: Your scene partner says or does something, and you need to react in the moment. Your instinct will most likely be to toss whatever they did aside and lean into something more comfortable for you. However, in doing so, you miss out on something truly magical – power of “Yes and.” In taking your partner’s action, agreeing to it and then adding a new layer on top, the interaction becomes an agile and inclusive experience for everyone involved.
An effective leadership development framework alongside hypergrowth works well when rooted in improvisational practices, as ambiguity is a guaranteed certainty among organizations. Senior leadership will always be in some state of change. Organizational learning leaders will come and go with model and tool preferences that vary from one to the other. To counterbalance this, Procore learning and development (L&D) used a singular framework as a stabilizer. One that would act as an umbrella for any model, tool or vendor that came along. This afforded the benefit of housing learning methodologies into a singular operating system where every leader could speak with one voice.
However, a unified leadership voice alone cannot deliver on effectiveness. Much like a singular framework acting as an operating system, a 360-degree assessment is needed to identify the voices a leader needs to hear and listen to in order to be an effective leader. Each organization must decide what will work best for them in collecting 360-degree feedback. In a state of hypergrowth, Procore chose to gather feedback on frequency of leadership behaviors. By providing leaders with feedback on how frequently and effectively they demonstrate leadership skills, they can adapt a development plan that allows them to flex in the uniqueness of their daily work, thus enabling a higher rate of success and change management.
Start on Day One
During every five-day, new hire orientation, Procore trainees receive three hours of dedicated leadership development content. During this time, every new hire participates in a values clarity exercise where they focus on understanding and distinguishing which values are most important to who they are as a person. They then engage in conversations to explore other participant’s core values. Lastly, participants compare their core values with the company’s, and assess how well their values align with the organization.
Clarifying one’s personal values serves as a strong indicator of employee engagement. By putting every new hire through this exercise in their first week, a company can increase the likelihood of developing and investing in employees who are committed to the organization as a whole as opposed to spending time and resources on those who are never truly aligned. This activity also fosters a strong connection to direct management. Fuller leadership development programs focus on values-based leadership and encourage leaders to understand and respect the values present on their teams.
In addition, an online curriculum was developed to allow anyone in the organization to advance their leadership skills. This leadership curriculum is comprised of 20 online courses with 10 focused on leadership behaviors and 10 dedicated to business acumen. Laying the foundation for developing leadership skills early on in a person’s career enables them to better position themselves for a promotion and allows them the immense benefit of knowing themselves in order to lead themselves.
Focus Up Front, Include Everyone
It is true that, for any organization to succeed, it needs strategy and direction set by senior leaders and executives. Yet, for that strategy and direction to move, it needs the willing efforts, drive and commitment of everyone who is nearest to the products and the customers. These individual contributors make up the bulk of most organizations and are led and managed on a daily basis – not from the senior leaders but from frontline managers.
Procore’s L&D team shifted all leadership development focus to these frontline managers. In doing so, workshops and lunches typically reserved first for senior leaders and executives extended invitations to frontline leaders at all levels. As a result, leaders across all levels of the organization formed strong bonds and cohorts. First-time managers were sitting next to department leaders, all sharing in the realization that every leader struggles with the same or similar obstacles. These programs foster a strong sense of camaraderie and community throughout all levels of leadership.
As one high-potential senior leader reflected, “It’s paramount that new and existing leaders go through this program and take the needed time to get feedback, have space to reflect and a cohort to look to the future with. You shouldn’t be in senior management if you haven’t completed this.”
Leader as Marketer
When you give people strong content that can be readily applied and enables leader-driven discussions in the classroom alongside an annual, quality 360-degree assessment, your leadership development program takes on an effective, grassroots approach that is bigger and better than any breakroom flyer, mass email or HR-mandated training.
Make It Stick
In the end, all anyone can do is put together a leadership development program they find effective for their company and scale it as they see fit. As more companies find themselves in constant change, the path laid out in this article can provide insight on adapting at the speed of change.
At Procore, this approach has taken hold. Leaders and their new hires are having values-focused conversations within those critical first 90 days, senior leaders are learning and developing alongside front-line managers, and program agility remains at the forefront. One senior leader summarized, “I really felt like, for one of the first times, I can take direct and actionable steps to change my leadership approach for the better and improve those around me.”