Capital Power has implemented integrated leadership development programs at multiple levels.
"When it comes to leadership development, people might think I’m a fanatic,” says Brian Vaasjo, CEO of Capital Power, the 900-employee, Edmonton, Alberta-based power producer, when asked about his role in his organization’s leadership development programs.
Fanatic might be a strong word to describe the way Vaasjo has championed Capital Power’s programs for its leaders. But there is no questioning his commitment. After hearing from participants that they thought so highly of the company’s iLead leadership program that they felt their bosses could benefit from it, Vaasjo threw his support behind the idea— because he could see a clear payoff.
“From my personal perspective, good, strong people motivated in the right direction, with the right leadership, can make a significant difference to the bottom line.”
The recognition that people are “The Power” in Capital Power isn’t just reserved for the executive suite. It’s a philosophy that has guided everything from the development of a comprehensive on-boarding program (see "Starting Strong" below), to the integrated development programs targeting everyone from emerging leaders up to the organization’s senior managers, to a CEO Summit program in which all of Capital Power’s 130 senior leaders have the opportunity to interact with Vaasjo in a small-group setting.
While Capital Power’s HR leaders speak highly of Vaasjo’s support for leadership development and emulate his enthusiasm for the programs, they understand that developing leaders—and transforming the organization’s culture—ultimately demands a lot of work and a fully aligned approach.
In 2009, Capital Power was spun off from EPCOR Utilities as an IPO. With the new organization came a promising opportunity to tap into the North American power generation business, but it also brought a challenge: transforming the culture from that of a public utility into one that is more entrepreneurial and better aligned with the new company’s strategy.
“When we split off from EPCOR and we went public, we knew that the expectations for our leaders were going to be different, that the actual business strategy was going to focus on growth,” says Angela Bourbonnais, consultant, talent management.
The best way to make that transformation a reality was to develop more effective leaders.
Consultant, Talent Management
“To create a highly engaged culture, we understood the critical importance of the employee-manager relationship and acting on employee development,” says Bourbonnais. “We also recognized that we needed a program to support our developing leaders, reinforce changing leadership expectations related to our business strategy, and provide leaders with skills to increase their leadership effectiveness.”
Furthermore, Vaasjo says that the investment in Capital Power’s leadership talent is a smart long-term move that will pay off as the organization strives to attract and keep the best people.
“Over the coming decade we’re going to face tremendous competition for people and we’re going to be running into the issue of people leaving the company through retirement,” says Vaasjo. “Our drive is to create an exciting work environment, one where people will recommend us to their friends and one where we’re recognized by word of mouth as an excellent employer.”
To begin addressing its leadership challenge Capital Power’s talent champions decided to focus first on the organization’s frontline leadership levels.
“We started with our supervisors and managers because they’re the ones who have the most interaction with our employees,” says Todd Gilchrist, senior vice president of human resources and health, safety, and environment. “But we also realized many of these individuals generally have the least amount of experience in leadership and the greatest need for the knowledge and skills to be good leaders.”
For emerging and new leaders, the HR team, in partnership with DDI, created the iLead Boot Camp. This two-day program features four courses: an introductory course called Your Leadership Journey, and three tailored courses from DDI’s Interaction Management® leadership development system: Communicating for Leadership Success, Building an Environment of Trust, and Driving Change.
For veteran supervisors and managers who need to further develop the right skills to do their jobs more effectively, a separate program—iLead Core—was created. This program reinforces the same concepts and language presented in the iLead Boot Camp. The four-day, six-course curriculum includes a course on how to lead those with different personality types and five customized Interaction Management courses: Coaching for Success and Improvement, Resolving Conflict, Adaptive Leadership, Delegating for Results, and Motivating Others.
The two iLead programs garnered high ratings from participants, in part because the courses were customized to fit Capital Power’s language and culture. But a recurring theme in the feedback pointed to a need to do more.
“The programs were well received. So much so that the feedback kept coming back saying, ‘my manager needs to attend this program,’” says Bourbonnais, referring to the same comments Vaasjo heard from participants.
Responding to the need for a program for leaders at higher organizational levels, the HR team developed iLead Evolve for senior managers. Like the other two iLead programs, the four-day iLead Evolve targets level-specific skills while introducing and reinforcing the concepts and terminology that define the boot camp and core programs.
The iLead Evolve curriculum includes six tailored courses from DDI’s Business Impact Leadership®: Mid-Level Series: Mastering Emotional Intelligence, Making Change Happen, Cultivating Networks and Partnerships, Influencing for Organizational Impact, Developing Organizational Talent, and Handling Challenging Situations with Courage.
As with the two other iLead programs, iLead Evolve elicited feedback from participants indicating that their managers, the organization’s directors, vice presidents, and executives, needed to be exposed to the same concepts and skills.
“It just makes sense that our senior-level leaders need to be equipped with the same language, same models, and same concepts as the leaders who report to them,” says Bourbonnais, pointing to the value in senior leaders being able to support, coach, and provide feedback using an approach familiar to and embraced by lower-level leaders.
CEO Brian Vaasjo:
Creating a highly engaged culture.
To ensure iLead would take hold in the Capital Power culture and to promote a single leadership language across all levels of the organization, the HR team, with DDI’s support, created a condensed version of the two-day iLead Core program for directors, vice presidents, and executives—capping off a complete pipeline leadership development approach.
“I went through the first two-day session and it was very comprehensive,” says Gilchrist. “I think people probably thought that the courses were going to be like Supervision 101 and they’re not that at all. They’re very complete and they’re very high level in terms of quality and content.”
Capital Power’s HR team has adhered to the best practices of a 70:20:10 approach to growing leadership talent for the iLead programs, supporting the classroom courses (the 10 percent) with opportunities to learn through others (the 20 percent) to make the skills developed in training sustainable on the job (the 70 percent). The programs are supported by a structured learning journey design that specifies actions participants need to take before, during, and after training, and that incorporates development planning, support tools, and pre- and post-training assessment. In addition, Capital Power plans to offer virtual classroom refresher courses that review content and offer a forum for participants to discuss successes and any obstacles they face as they apply their new skills on the job.
One critical feature of the iLead programs is that participants go through the training in mixed cohort groups, which bring together individuals from different parts of the organization. This approach promotes networking, and also provides opportunities for participants to learn from each other and benefit from a variety of perspectives as they work together on course exercises and skill practice.
The iLead programs also receive strong executive support. An executive kicks off and closes each session, providing a visible reinforcement for how important the programs are to the organization.
“In the kick-off they talk about our leadership competencies, and discuss important challenges facing our leaders today and leadership expectations,” says Bourbonnais. “Then an executive will come back in for an hour-and-a-half at the close of the program to share their own leadership lessons and stories, discuss the importance of a leadership legacy, and answer questions from participants.”
Bourbonnais also says that seeing senior executives highly engaged in the program and acting as positive role models sends a strong message about the importance of leadership and increases employee confidence in the organization’s leadership.
Another reason for the iLead programs’ positive impact is that they are closely aligned with other Capital Power talent initiatives, including the organization’s performance management system and its on-boarding program.
A Greater Awareness
While transforming the culture is a lengthy process, more than 230 leaders have gone through iLead training. Capital Power is already seeing positive results, including a greater awareness of what it takes to be an effective leader, says Gilchrist.
“I think many of our leaders were not aware of what a leadership role at Capital Power was comprised of in terms of the skills and knowledge they were expected to have and execute on. That awareness is incredibly important.”
Participants were asked to use a five-point scale (with five being the highest score) to rate the level of their skills and knowledge both before and after training. While only seven percent of participants rated their skills and knowledge levels a four or five prior to the training, after the training 77 percent of participants rated themselves a four or five—an 1,100-percent increase in the number of participants giving themselves high ratings!
The value of the programs is also evident from participant feedback.
“This style of leadership has changed everything for me,” observed one participant. “The freedom and energy that this [training] has brought to me are incredible. I have so much more confidence and I think I am taken more seriously and [treated] with a good deal more respect because, quite frankly, I think I communicate better.”
Vaasjo is pleased with what he sees and hears from Capital Power’s leaders about the impact of the iLead programs, in no small part because he considers them an important part of the foundation of the organization’s future.
“When I think about CEO accountabilities, the biggest impact I can have on this organization is to ensure that we have the right culture, that we have the right people, that we have the right leadership standards, and that we have an ethical organization. Those will be the things that will differentiate us and create significant shareholder value. It’s a much better payoff than if I put my efforts into other areas.”