U.S. Cellular is the fifth largest full-service wireless carrier in the U.S., yet it competes successfully with its larger rivals by maintaining an intense focus on its more than six million customers. While quality products and a reliable wireless network play a significant part in forming a superior customer experience, U.S. Cellular’s 470 retail stores are particularly important. Because associates in these stores are its primary touch points with customers, U.S. Cellular must have store managers and sales managers within those stores who will help ensure that customers get the service and experience required for them to remain satisfied and loyal.
To identify those with the potential to succeed as store managers and sales managers, U.S. Cellular built a comprehensive selection process. One of the main components of this process was a DDI “day in the life” assessment center designed around the competencies required for success in the target jobs. While the assessment added an important dimension to the selection process for store managers and sales managers, the pass rate of those who went through it was a concern—just 57 percent of frontline associates passed. This was especially troubling as passing the assessment was a requirement to be promoted into a store manager or sales manager role.
In 2008, U.S. Cellular launched a new program, called Leader of the Future, which represented a new approach to giving frontline associates the opportunity, the development, and the support to advance into store manager or sales manager roles.
Frontline associates enter into Leader of the Future through a multi-step nomination process. Those accepted then go through a series of workshops where they are introduced to the specific competencies on which the selection decisions are made for the store manager and sales manager positions, and complete a curriculum of courses from DDI’s Interaction Management: Exceptional Leaders . . . Extraordinary Results® leadership development and Techniques for a High-Performance Workforce® workforce development systems. Participants are given suggestions for various application opportunities, such as leading a task force or mentoring a new associate to practice, in real-time, what they learned in the courses. In addition, the associates complete a Leader Career Battery, which identifies both individual strengths and development opportunities, and draws on the results to build their own personal development action plans
One month prior to going through the assessment center, the associates attend a session during which they are presented with a realistic preview of the assessment. This preview shows them what to expect, so they can enter into the assessment with a greater comfort level. Two days before the assessment they have check-in meetings with their leaders in final preparation for the assessment.
The percentage of associates passing the leadership assessment has increased to 89 percent from 57 percent.
Senior leadership views those who have gone through the Leader of the Future program as better prepared and a better fit with the store and sales manager positions.
The time to fill a store manager position has decreased from two-to-three months to less than 30 days.
The selection process, which incorporates both assessment and development, costs less to execute than did the previous assessment process.