L&D Best Practices: May/June 2013

Strategies to strengthen customer service and role-based professional development.


By Jeff Orlando and Karen Eber, Senior Managers, Leadership Development, Deloitte Services LP

Leading companies across America are focusing on choice. At the core of this trend is the assertion that each individual employee knows what works best for him or her, more so than a centralized HR department or an imposed management structure. In large organizations, employees now choose their preferred mobile device, customize their benefits package, and increasingly construct a work schedule/location mix that fits them. At Deloitte, a leading professional services organization, our intent is be the place “where leaders thrive,” and we’ve extended this concept to the leadership development work we do with our organization of approximately 60,000 professionals. The underlying assumption is that with the differing priorities our people have (client demands, career aspirations, and available time), there should be a set of development opportunities that limit “push” and favor “pull.”

“Push” occurs when we target and invite defined populations to required programs and events; “pull” happens when we allow people to opt in to an array of program alternatives, reflecting their own business, career, and life needs. Both play an important role. “Push” development programs act as culture creators and celebrations. “Pull” options are more flexible, intimate, and intensive.

Allowing and encouraging choice requires a high bar. Whether it’s formal learning, assessment, coaching, or other development opportunities, programs must be high quality, interactive, and engaging—or people likely will opt out. To make this model work, Deloitte has used a set of change management drivers such as:

Invest in your people. Now open 18 months, Deloitte University (DU), The Leadership Center is a 712,000-square-foot facility that houses learning programs, conferences, and events. DU has become a catalyst at Deloitte that fosters change in many talent areas, including talent management, development, succession, and leadership. To our people, DU symbolizes the high priority leadership places on development.

Don’t just pay lip service to involvement. Find business sponsors who authentically care and are willing to put their own relationship capital on the line. This support should be authentic to be effective. Sponsors aid in the development of content and become champions in soliciting support. Leaders nearing retirement, looking to give back and draw down this capital to get things done, are often a good choice.

Our C-Suite Series is a sequence of three leadership topics: Empathy, Inquiry, and Storytelling, focused on helping our professionals build strong relationships with client executives. We have involved 40 senior leaders in the process of developing this program, participating in prototyping sessions, facilitating the program, and making contributions that are visible in the final outcomes. These 40 leaders have invited their networks to participate, thereby increasing the impact of this work across the organization. We’ve backed this up with a measurement approach that reveals the enhanced outcomes our colleagues are having with their clients.

Focus on making it real. Our business does not afford much time for academic theory. We excel when we sequence and package leadership concepts into usable insights that may be applied immediately. Our greatest success has been when we take leadership concepts that are common sense and help participants apply them as a common practice.

Keep the seats full. Our Essentials series comprises a set of courses that teach mastery in the leadership skills such as executive presence and negotiations that are used every day. We plan capacity below demand—filling up all the seats, and scale when our businesses demand more. Courses are filled through word of mouth and often are at capacity within an hour. This demand-driven approach encourages participants to keep their commitment to attend and participate.

Identify and deploy our best leaders. Each year, Deloitte admits a new class of partners, principals, and directors and provides a yearlong development experience to aid their successful transition. Part of the experience includes Development Coaching. Like a traditional mentoring program, we pair a more senior person with one who is more junior. We remove the typical centralized matching process and put the onus on our new leaders to choose the right mentor using selection criteria.

We believe this yields better quality matches—91 percent of last year’s class selected a mentor, with strong anecdotal feedback—and also gives us new intelligence. Over the last three years in the program, we have effectively crowd-sourced a list of outstanding mentors in the organization, based on those selected multiple times.

Follow your strengths. Our Career Retreat applies leading-edge research indicating that individual (and organizational) success occurs more often when team members play to their strengths every day. By providing activities to identify strengths and weaknesses, our people migrate their day-to-day work and career planning in the direction of their strengths, positioning them for better performance.

Keep a pulse on what your people say. We track the number of comments we get from participants who say, “This was the best training I have ever attended,” as well as those whose comments suggest areas for improvement. Courses employ a variety of techniques that allow participants to learn in innovative ways to keep them highly engaged and plan immediate application of leadership content on the job.

Show, not tell. Modeling, video recording, and live feedback rather than lectures, specialists, and panels. It starts when you do something. Participant interviews show us they remember little about a course until they actually do something. Rather than endless agenda setting and introduction, we have participants up, interacting, and fully engaged with content within the first 30 minutes.

Do the unexpected. In Mastering Negotiations, we bring in hostage negotiators to share their experiences. In Executive Presence, we bring in an image consultant to work with each person on relevant aspects of their image. In our C-suite courses, we interviewed nationally known journalists on how to ask great questions.

These principles—grounded in the concept of choice—result in development that has personal relevance and impact. With many of the core components in place, we are exploring new areas that drive individual, team, and organizational performance. We’re seeking to discover what it means to be a leader at Deloitte, what the hallmarks of our most successful teams are, and how to assemble the constellation of strengths of our people to lead in the marketplace.


By Lori Greaves, Manager, Talent Development, Learning & Development, Choice Hotels International

At Choice, we believe strongly in promoting from within. It is our fundamental understanding that to retain top talent we must provide opportunities that allow associates to track their learning and development progress. As part of our talent development platform, the Project Mobility program focuses on providing Choice associates the ability to develop professionally and personally through an exploratory approach. Using formal and informal data collection measures, we recognize this program leads to more satisfied, motivated, skilled, and engaged employees.

By means of an application and selection process, Project Mobility allows associates to work part time in another department generally for up to three months to enhance their skills and awareness of other functions within the organization. The program allows associates to gain exposure to different roles and functions and expand their social capital, while providing timely completion of meaningful projects. The placements are varied. They can range from optimizing brochures in the Sales and Marketing department to creating a collaborative reservation system among geographically close franchisees within our Property Systems & Support team. Project Mobility assignments can be performed on-site or remotely at any one of our locations.

Using our internal Talent Development site as the portal, managers can post Project Mobility assignments, which then are routed directly to the Talent Development team to review and assess. This online form provides fields that allow the requesting manager to include all details of the assignment: type of request, start and completion dates, projected outcome of the assignment, development opportunities gained from the assignment, minimum skill requirements necessary to support the project, etc. Associates then can review Project Mobility assignments and complete the online Associate Project Mobility form where we work with our HR partners to select the associate who has similar development interests. If there is more than one associate interested in an assignment, we work with the manager to help select the candidate who could benefit the most from the program while also proving a good fit based on the project needs. In addition, we will allow the Project Manager to pre-identify a candidate based on various factors that will serve to increase the success rate of the requested project. We continue to stay connected throughout the assignment by conducting informal interviews with both the manager and the associate to ensure they each are achieving the desired outcomes. Upon the completion of the assignment, a formal satisfaction survey is submitted online to both the manager and the associate. In it, they assess themselves, each other, and the Project Mobility program, so we can continue to strengthen the program and increase the value it offers to managers and associates.

Our Project Mobility program helps leaders identify hidden talents, allows associates to explore their interests, and has been proven to increases job satisfaction while decreasing attrition.

Project Mobility opportunities have led to promotions or job/role transfers into the department where time was spent. This last year has seen a significant increase in leaders taking advantage of talent outside of their department and associates seeking professional development opportunities. There were 12 individual projects offered this last year, four times the number from the previous year. These projects allowed 21 associates to participate, as certain projects called for more than one participant. In one such assignment, the e-Brochure optimization project, 824 brochures were optimized, 56 percent of the total to that date. This particular project led to a 400 to 600 percent increase in site visits in just a three-week period. Hotels reported a revenue increase within weeks of the optimization project completion. It is evident how this type of program directly affects our goals of increasing the share of guest demand and driving reservations to our hotels.

Our core value, accountability, is the guiding source for all we do at Choice. We are each accountable for our individual and shared successes. Professional development, through programs such as Project Mobility, is a core strength that provides associates the opportunity to explore their goals and gain personal and professional insights about themselves. Our aim is to continue to provide associates the ability to move, grow, learn, and develop within Choice, while holding ourselves and leaders accountable to assist them in their efforts.


By Lindsey Alt, Redwoods Manager, DaVita Inc.

One of the country’s largest dialysis providers and a Fortune 500 company, DaVita is a place defined by a unique culture, industry-leading clinical outcomes, and outstanding financial results.

DaVita’s leadership team is dedicated to and passionate about developing teammates—the term for employees in the DaVita Village—and building the foundation for the company’s future.

Among the key components of DaVita’s commitment to leadership development is the 10-month Redwoods Resident Program, a nontraditional rotational program that strives to support new leaders in growth with strength and longevity and to shape leaders who will help create DaVita’s future. The program participants, or “residents,” not only learn the clinical and operational aspects of DaVita, they also learn powerful lessons in personal leadership.

The Gift of Time

The resident program attracts MBA graduates from top business schools across the country. Many of those who join the resident program have no experience in dialysis—instead, they bring top analytical skills, broad experiences, and a passion for our mission and values.

The first step of the resident program is to fully immerse these new teammates in DaVita’s core business. In their local areas, as well as traveling in a cohort to key locations across the country, residents meet and learn from a vast variety of teammates, including individual contributors, peers, and senior leaders.

From a weeklong clinical immersion class to hands-on experiences in dialysis centers to real-world case studies, residents spend approximately 360 hours in individualized, active shadowing and 170 hours in more structured learning activities. Since the program’s inception, one area of focus has been creating enough structure to guide the residents while still allowing for learning experiences customized to future roles within DaVita. Addressing this challenge has been critical in empowering the residents to drive their own experiences and yet obtain the learning that is critical to their future success.

Lessons in Self-Awareness

A second critical facet of the resident program is the focus on leadership. DaVita offers valuable leadership programs to all of its teammates and residents. Additionally, each resident is matched with a seasoned executive as his or her mentor, and this structured relationship often is cited as a highlight of the program, creating a relationship that can carry on for years after program completion.

While these mentors can provide advice on business topics, the true value in these conversations is the focus on the resident as a human being and who they want to be as a leader at DaVita—and in life. The mentor relationship is purposefully designed to create a safe space for the resident to be supported, as well as challenged, and to meet those demands with courage and passion.

Residents are called on to bring that passion back to the program. As the program ends, residents reflect back on each portion of it and provide detailed feedback to the program leadership. This feedback leads directly to action: By reflecting on what worked for them and what didn’t, residents help shape the program for the following year and are called on as “buddies” and partners to future classes of residents.

Making It Real

A third element of the resident program is a four- to five-month leadership practicum in which the resident takes on full responsibility for the operations of a dialysis center as a facility administrator. And while it’s called a “practicum,” the responsibility is very real: The role of a facility administrator (FA) is widely acknowledged as one of the hardest jobs at DaVita and requires the resident’s head, heart, and hands every day. Managing the financials, connecting with a new patient, partnering with a physician, teambuilding with the staff, or cleaning up the parking lot are all normal parts of any given day for an FA.

The value of learning about DaVita’s core business is matched only by residents’ learning about themselves. Each day is an opportunity to bring the theories learned in business school to life, and each day is an opportunity for residents to practice and refine their own leadership style. Residents report this experience as life altering, humbling, and empowering all at once.

Implementing a practicum of this nature requires support at all levels—the local vice president, the peer FA group, the Redwoods leadership team, and many other clinical and business leaders partner to ensure the support structure in place will allow residents to succeed.

This collaboration of resources has some amazing results as we see residents advance into corporate and operational leadership roles. Residents are promoted more often and have a higher retention rate than their peers who did not go through the program, with nearly 25 percent of residents reaching the VP level to date. We also see that these program graduates tackle new roles with a purpose, a spirit of giving back, and a unique perspective about our patients, our teammates, the DaVita Village, and the communities we serve—and live in.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.