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Great Organizations | Great Leaders

Cardinal Health Nurtures Leadership Growth

Innovative development programs care for leaders of people, projects, and processes.
Cardinal Health Nurtures Leadership Growth

Cardinal Health rigorously monitors the pulse of its workforce. With the aid of its annual Voice of the Employee (VOE) survey, the multinational health care product and service provider routinely charts manager effectiveness, inclusion, and employee engagement. In 2009 the survey data indicated room for improvement on trust and morale measures and a need to continue to strengthen basic leadership skills.

Cardinal Health executives point to the company’s history as contributing to the VOE scores. For close to 40 years, Cardinal Health was a holding company for a diverse portfolio of companies. Founded as a food distributor in 1971, the company branched into pharmaceuticals eight years later. Acquisitions followed; Cardinal Health added more than 50 businesses to its growing health care segment. Then in the mid-2000s, almost a decade after divesting its food-related interests, Cardinal Health transitioned from a holding company to an integrated operating organization.

“The pace of change in the health care marketplace is unprecedented and requires us to be innovative, adaptable, and nimble. In order to do this, we have to have the best talent focused on our customers and a culture that allows that talent to grow and develop. We want all talent to see Cardinal Health as the place they want to contribute and grow their career,” says Carole Watkins, CHRO.

As a first step, the company translated its values into actions. Cardinal Health created eight broad leadership competencies known as the Leadership Essentials, which embody its organizational leadership expectations for those managing people, processes, and projects. “We integrated the Leadership Essentials into all of our HR processes—from selection to rewards—and rolled them out with a strength-based approach that offered all employees opportunities to build additional capabilities around leadership,” says Lisa Marling George, vice president, global talent management.

Connecting Values to Development

“Through a robust needs assessment process, we uncovered that we also lacked development and critical skills at the first level of management. Given that these leaders influence the greatest number of people, we focused our initial development efforts on our frontline supervisors and managers,” says Julie Blust, director, learning management.

Cardinal Health desired training content not only to build capabilities and strengthen engagement, but also to align with its values and Leadership Essentials, and connect to its corporate mission—“Essential to care™.”

George Barrett Cardinal Health
Chairman and CEO George Barrett has been a champion of the Core Management Skills program.

The organization’s HR team found the solution it was looking for within DDI’s Interaction Management®: Exceptional Leaders Series (IM: ExLSM). Courses from the series serve as the foundation for Core Management Skills (CMS) 100, a two-day program focused on developing fundamental skills for effective workplace interactions. Topics covered in CMS 100 include building strategic work relationships, communication, coaching, and aligning performance for success.

Interest in the program grew rapidly by word of mouth; leaders completing the program at one site would share their experiences with colleagues at another. The executive team was also busy buzzing about the new program. George Barrett, Cardinal Health’s chairman and CEO, recorded a video message that introduced CMS 100. On screen, he reinforced the importance of leadership development by sharing personal stories of influential leaders who’d shaped his career.

Making It Their Own

“We were able to customize the training examples to offer real-world scenarios—things that happen on the floor of a distribution or manufacturing center, in a nuclear pharmacy or call center, out in the field, or at our corporate headquarters. The flexibility to add our own examples, based on where we were facilitating the courses, worked so well. Plus, since we began training our own trainers, the courses have a very distinctive Cardinal Health connection,” says Julie Holbein, director, global talent management.

Program participants were particularly pleased with the link between the training and Cardinal Health’s performance review process. Because individual performance is evaluated equally based on goal accomplishment, the company’s values, and the competencies comprising the Leadership Essentials, the course content really resonated with learners and advanced the goals of the organization.

“With CMS 100, we aimed to make managers more accountable for the performance of their employees through better communication and coaching. Some of our facilities have workers that span three generations,” says Enrique Alvelais, HR director. “One of the main breakthroughs we made with the program was to get our supervisors to understand that they need different leadership behaviors and styles to address the different generations. Our people with 40-plus years of seniority don’t have the same expectations as our millennials.”

Fabulous Feedback

As the number of CMS 100 graduates grew, the HR team asked leaders to identify the capability and training needs that remained. “We did balanced data mining of our talent and performance reviews, looked at gaps in succession, and conducted a 360 assessment, talking with managers, their direct reports, as well as their management teams to see how they were viewing one another,” says Blust. “This was critical to ensure the capabilities we were building aligned to our culture, were linked to our business needs to drive our strategy, and took into account the people side—employees, customers, and, ultimately, patients. DDI was of great help in our deep-dive analysis into the data.”

In response to all the collected feedback, the HR team partnered with the business and created a second, follow-up course series: CMS 200. The focus this time was on engaging and motivating employees, and creating an environment of trust. Whereas CMS 100 develops foundational leadership skills for improving manager-employee interactions, CMS 200 course content offers skills for managing teams. Once again, selections from DDI’s IM: ExLSM leadership series anchor the two-day program. To optimize learning and allow for on-the-job application, HR asked participants to allow 90 days between the two programs.

“We got fabulous feedback on the practicality of the tools in our CMS programs,” says Holbein. “The fact that our leaders received tools that they could take right out of the classroom and use immediately was something we were missing before.”

“After every class I facilitate, I give everyone about five minutes to reflect on everything we talked about and then identify two to three takeaways that they’re going to implement back on the job,” says Jill Macinko, senior consultant, learning delivery. “I think that has been impactful, and I encourage them to share those things with class members and their managers so they have some supportive accountability.”

Dramatic Increases in Manager Effectiveness

In 2013, DDI surveyed CMS 100 and 200 participants and observers (peers, direct reports, etc.) to measure behavior change—before and after training. Across the behavioral objectives of the six CMS/IM: ExLSM courses (Essentials of Leadership, Coaching for Success, Coaching for Improvement, Adaptive Leadership, Building an Environment of Trust, and Motivating Others), the percent of leaders who said they “often” or “almost always” display effective leadership behaviors rose by 49 percent. Observers, meanwhile, witnessed a 30-percent improvement in leader effectiveness on the same objectives.

Leaders also gave high marks to their post-development job performance. On a scale of 0 to 100 (with 100 being the highest rating), trainees rated their overall performance at 91 points (an increase of approximately 10 percent).

Looking at team-level results that were specifically attributed to the CMS programs, leader effectiveness and communication between leaders and team members improved 62 and 63 percent, respectively. Employee efficiency, productivity, engagement, morale, and inclusion in decision-making improved between 53 and 61 percent.

"If you look at our business results since we first implemented these programs, we wouldn't have been able to accomplish all that we have as an organization without improving the capabilities of our leaders,” says Barbara Hess, director, global talent management. “Our Voice of the Employee surveys show dramatic increases in manager effectiveness and employee engagement since the outset of these programs.”

When first launched, participation in CMS 100 and 200 was voluntary; today, it is a welcomed requirement. The programs are now being delivered outside the U.S., at sites in Canada, Malta, Thailand, China, and Latin America.

Leaders of Process and Product

Delighted by the CMS feedback from frontline leaders, Cardinal Health turned its attention to individual contributors—process and project managers without direct reports. The result was Maximizing Interactions (MI) 100 and 200. Courses were chosen from DDI’s Interaction Management®: Exceptional Performers Series (IM: ExPSM) and include: Communicating with Impact, High-Impact Feedback and Listening, Navigating Beyond Conflict, and Influencing Others. The two-day programs aimed not only to cascade the learning and language acquired by participants’ managers (in CMS 100 and 200), but also to standardize workplace interactions for higher levels of engagement, self-satisfaction, and performance. “One of the things I took away from the training was the importance of getting to know my associates better on a more human, personal level,” says Robert Moore, lead associate, warehouse operations. “I listened to their pain points, learned to disagree respectfully…keeping it neutral and not making it about me. It’s about the team, the company, and that we’re all connected.”

“I am always looking to cut waste, be more lean,” says Jessenia Gaitan, also a lead associate in warehouse operations. “Shortly after training I came up with a waste-cutting idea, but instead of taking action and instructing my teammates to follow along, as had been my style, I went to them and asked for their input. We agreed to roll it out, as a pilot, to allow us all to evaluate how it was going to impact the team and our customers. It was gratifying to see the team take ownership of the project, make it theirs, collaborate on tweaking the process, and make it even better.”

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