Training Hall of Fame Outstanding Training Initiatives (May 2024)

Details of Nationwide’s Emerging Leader Certification and Sonic Automotive’s Strategic Leadership Pipeline Program.

Each year Training magazine requires all Training Hall of Famers to submit an Outstanding Training Initiative that is shared with our readers in a print or online-only issue. Here are the details of Nationwide’s Emerging Leader Certification and Sonic Automotive’s Strategic Leadership Pipeline Program.


The 2023 Emerging Leader Certification (ELC) is Nationwide’s new scalable, emerging leader certification program designed for individual contributors who want to lead people or projects. It aims to equip a larger number of associates to lead, innovate, adapt, and use digital skills (the company’s targeted Future of Work capabilities).

Program Details

The previous emerging leader program only accommodated 80 participants at a time. Nationwide’s design team was challenged with identifying a way to make the new program available to all associates in a scalable manner. The company also wanted associates to be able to join the program at any point in time, rather than having specific start times, and to have the constant availability of a cohort/partner.

Content for the ELC comes from already developed programs, including Nationwide’s Future of Work Center, Future Ready Associate Sprints, and the Institute for Management Studies live events. Associates work with their leader to choose the right learning options, depending on whether they are interested in being a people leader or a project leader. Items in the program can be completed in any sequence and in any timeframe over a nine- to 12-month period.

  • The Career Empowerment component (two hours) teaches participants to use Skills Features in Workday to baseline/track progress and update their career profile. Participants complete the Career Hub tour and self-rate their skills and encourage their leader/others to rate their emerging leadership skills in the hub.
  • The Live Forums component (seven hours) reaches large audiences with internally/externally produced content. Leader-focused forums include three Nationwide-hosted forums (Extraordinary Leadership, Extraordinary Associate, and the Leadership Speaker Series), and four Institute for Management Studies-hosted forums.
  • The Collaboration component (eight hours) capitalizes on existing engines that encourage relationship building while learning key leadership concepts. Participants strengthen connections through participation in Nationwide’s MENTORwide program (as a mentee) and by participating in a Future Ready Associate Sprint (a four-week, deep dive into a specific skill to build habits that can be immediately applied to their work).

Participants build further capability in Future of Work skills by taking two-and-a-half hours of lead/innovate/ adapt content and two hours of digital content beyond the eight-hour requirement.

The Talent Development leader for the ELC meets virtually with all participants every month to review key concepts and answer questions; breakout room discussions are conducted around particular leadership topics. The program is administered and tracked via Workday Learning. Upon completion, participants receive an Emerging Leader Certification on their Career Profile in Workday.


Some 645 learners were trained in the first year of the pilot. The program is now open to all 24,500 Nationwide associates. By increasing the strength of Nationwide’s leadership pipeline through its Leadership Development Framework (LDF) programs, particularly ELC, the company looks to positively impact business results over time, with recent results including:

  • Nationwide exceeded its 2023 goal for filling position openings internally.
  • The company saw a 20-plus percent increase in internal talent mobility across business areas in 2022-2023.

Noted one ELC participant: “The curriculum intentionally connected me with other development-focused Nationwiders I was able to learn alongside, and a mentor who provided valuable feedback during an important point in my career.”


Sonic Automotive combined two practices —succession planning and leadership development— to create a long-term process for managing its talent roster.

While previous leadership development training focused on the learning of basic leadership principles at random points in the manager’s tenure using traditional in-person facilitated classes, Sonic Automotive designed its new Strategic Leadership Pipeline Program to virtually support the development of new skills early in managers’ leadership journey using assigned independent study with integrated activities that help them quickly establish rapport with their team, identify their strengths and opportunities, and build networks of support through increased communication with leadership.

This creates an environment of continual learning through self-guided development exercises and community learning opportunities while reducing the interruption formal training can cause in retail stores.

Program Details

The Variable and Service Operations Academies were designed around Sonic Automotive’s three “Be Connected” leadership principles:

Engage: Be present, be a mentor

Serve: Be generous, be a team player

Lead: Be healthy: financially, mentally, physically

The program is delivered via online learning modules, a PDF guide/workbook, virtual video facilitation, and action learning.

The academies follow an eight-week schedule:

Weeks 1-3: Pre-training assignments

Week 4: Facilitated training

Weeks 5-8: Post-training assignments

Participants also attend an additional week of business acumen training facilitated by various divisional leaders. The program culminates in presenting a manager portfolio that outlines goals and detailed plans for managing their team and responsibilities.


The leadership skills explored and developed in these academies led to Variable Operations and Service Operations turnover reduction of 10 and 30 percent, respectively, from 2022 to 2023.

The emphasis on customer interaction and leading with a servant leadership mentality helped drive a 40 percent increase in customer satisfaction scores on the Service Operations side.

Edited by Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine, owned by Lakewood Media Group. 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.