woman leader working on her laptop doing a virtual leadership development program

Client Story

How We Did It: Creating a Virtual Leadership Development Program

How one company worked with DDI to build a virtual leadership development program for all their leader levels worldwide.

Read Time: 16 min

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The Need

One global company was looking to build a leadership culture throughout the entire organization, from informal leadership roles to senior-level leaders. 

The Solution

When the pandemic forced the company to shift all development from almost completely face to face to virtual, DDI was by their side to help them create virtual learning journeys for all leader levels.

The Result

In only 18 months, the company built and implemented four learning journeys with self-directed and virtual instructor-led content targeting specific behaviors to drive their culture, and was achieving rave reviews from learners. 

In this How We Did It video, Dorothea Mueller-Stassek, consulting manager in Germany, explains how one company worked with DDI to build a virtual leadership development program for all their leader levels worldwide.

Learn how they pivoted from almost completely face-to-face leadership development to fully virtual using a blended learning strategy with self-directed and virtual instructor-led content. Additionally, see how they created a unified leadership culture and how they targeted specific behaviors to drive that culture. 

Learn how to create a learning journey for leaders


Beth Almes:

Hi everyone. Welcome to How We Did It, which is where we get to share exciting stories about how we've worked with great companies to accomplish phenomenal things with their leaders. Today I have with me, Dorothea Mueller-Stassek who's going to talk about a client who has done an amazing job of creating these virtual learning journeys that have engaged their leaders worldwide in development and really helped to push them forward. Dorothea, welcome to How We Did It.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Well, thanks for having me, Beth. It's a pleasure to be here.

Beth Almes:

Tell me a little bit about this client and the business challenge that they were facing.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah. It's a very nice story. It comes out of Europe, which excites me personally, being based in Germany. This is a Danish client and we've been working with them for 18 months, roundabout, so as long as the pandemic has been with us, we've been working with this client. They claim to be a global leading technology partner. The main industry is cooling and heating.

It was a very interesting story right from the beginning and it still is. Because the pandemic was here and they were facing a situation whereby they wanted to leave their previous leadership development vendor and chose a new one, a fresh one, a different one, and as it happens, we passed their way and we had an interesting sales cycle, was a very quick decision. 

At the same time when COVID hit, they were asking us to pivot from face-to-face into virtual. It all came together which was exciting at the time. Now we are looking back on 18 months where we've implemented four learning journeys. That is super exciting.

Beth Almes:

That's fantastic. Tell me a little bit... it sounded like when they were just starting to think about switching their approach to leadership development, they were suddenly faced with that need for virtual at the same time... what were they doing previously for virtual leadership development, and what did they want to do and change?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

They were doing nothing, Beth. The virtual leadership was not existing. The initial plan was to slowly but surely educate the organization in a true blended learning approach with some virtual learning, some face-to-face learning, but then as we know, the whole world changed and they were surprised, as we all were, with the situation. It was a very interesting start because it was not as driving the offer, but the pandemic, driving the need.

Beth Almes:

When they wanted to go virtual, what kinds of things did we help them think about as they were unveiling a true virtual learning experience? Not just a couple of webinars or things like that where we can reach everybody at home, but really, truly virtual learning that they could still do together.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah. I think the biggest challenge when an organization like this one is going from face to face into virtual is the acceptance of this being a real true change process. They were coming from an all-inclusive vendor that supplied them with one or two-day workshops. They did support them with invitations, venue booking, et cetera,  and that all needed to change accordingly.

I think the first discussion we had was, how well is the organization prepared to make that move, right? The learner as such, how educated are they to go in a zoom session or any kind of virtual classroom session and actively participate? There was that little question of how many percent of learners would switch on the camera? Think back to yourself, prior to COVID, how often did you switch on the camera? I did very seldom, right?

That was the initial conversation we had about the change process that needed to take place. Also, there was that whole discussion around... What platform? And then only on that one, we were asking them, how educated are your people to do self-directed learning? Really, at first, it was analysis of how is training done in the past, and how you envision doing it in the future.

Only after that discussion, we came to a point where we introduced, what we now call a different blended approach and blended meaning not being face-to-face and virtual, but self-directed and virtual instructor-led. That was only step three and four, so to speak. Then we came up with ideas of how we can use a learning platform, our learning platform from DDI, to support the learners, not only to have instructor sessions, but also doing things like webinars or having little support nuggets, tools that you would be using in a training session.

For example, when you think about training on feedback, we would introduce a form where you can just follow the methodology of giving positive feedback and feedback for improvement, right? This form would be available on the learning platform for access after the training. That creates sustained learning and translated learning.

So it was all here on offer from DDI. The client really needed to understand and walk their way through the change process as such.

Beth Almes:

We have these virtual instructor-led classroom sessions that people are going through as part of a more structured learning journey, a little bit more traditional, but yet virtual world, still engaging people face-to-face on camera, everything like that. But then you mentioned that about half of this was also self-led. What did the self-led part of this look like?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah. They had that big vision in their mind of boosting self-led learning. I see many organizations having that vision and also that strategy and purchasing huge learning platforms. They are very much frustrated immediately because learners don't automatically enroll themselves and do it. I think the benefit of the DDI learning platform is that there is a direct linkage, as described with the feedback training, to the training course. 

We helped them, really the learners, to A) create an interest in the content B) make it work in the classroom for them, and then the C) part is where self-led learning comes in, if it was of critical interest and impactful for them, they were able to have a microcourse to visit after the training.

It really builds up that nice tension that, oh yeah, "I can go there and I can do a 15 to 20-minute little booster to deep dive into the material," and then coming back in another virtual classroom and the instructor checking back in, "Hey, have you done the micro-learning?" created also a positive learning tension... all little things which helped the learner to adapt to this new way of learning because they're coming from that old idea of, "I travel to a training, I sit there for a whole day and this is what I get, and then I travel back with my suitcase full of stuff, and I need to apply it." Now it's much more hands-on and you can really apply it as you go.

Beth Almes:

They're rolling out these fantastic blended learning journeys. Who are they rolling them out to? What was the scale of this project and what level of leaders were they really targeting?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah. Yeah. They're really targeting the whole organization as such. They have 30,000+ employees and for DDI, it's a big licensed client and there's a very special arrangement. If you ask me what exactly the target group is, it really starts from individual contributors, and we define for the client leadership as not having direct reports as a must-have, but really opening up to that wider scope of leadership.

So the individual contributor learning journey is called "Leading Myself," which I think is a very nice title to understand why it is important to have some self-awareness, how to organize myself, how to react to a conflict, how to plan out my conversations or how to give feedback, right? To colleagues or even to my boss, so that's the first level, the second level is frontline level and they call that, "Growing my Team," right? It's frontline leaders or supervisory level who are in a leadership role for the first time with direct reports, the third one is "Leading my Managers." 

Here we are talking about leaders of leaders, so really mid-level who are starting to have a more strategic view into the organization and the fourth one is called "Leading the Business," right? That talks about the divisional heads and really senior-level leadership in the executive space. We are really covering the whole pyramid, if you want to say it like that.

Beth Almes:

That's wonderful to hear because it sounds like, yes, they have it broken down by level, but this is really affecting anyone who practices leadership in any way, whether it's with their direct reports or with others. 

So, a part of that with the practice of leadership is it sounds to me like they're really building their culture of leadership and putting some of their values into the everyday behaviors that people are displaying, whether they are informal leadership roles or more informally influencing others, how have things like inclusive leadership or the foundations of leadership, how are those shaping their culture?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah. it's very precise how you put it, they really are reshaping their culture. I think what we see a lot in Europe, especially in the Nordic countries, it's a typical organization that has been doing it for years, if not decades. So, it wasn't a green field, but with the old vendor, they already touched on topics such as feedback or conflict resolution. The organization is a well educated one, what we discussed with them a lot, and that is a super successful point that you're mentioning, are the newer topics. 

For example, these days, we are talking about hybrid working, but you were asking me about diversity and inclusion, and that was a critical success, critical point for them, right? Their strategy is to follow the mega trends. Obviously, diversity and inclusion is one of those mega trends that we see across the globe at the moment.

And with that platform that I was mentioning earlier, the learning platform, we got a self-directed diversity and inclusion toolkit together and just brought it out to the clients. All of the 30,000 employees were able to access it. We were very successful to just setting an impulse in the organization to start the conversation going. I think this is what is critical, important, and needed in organizations in today's world to just create that culture or that mindset that drives things forward, and now we're talking to them on how to support that further by really creating behavior change through instructor-led sessions on diversity and inclusion.

Beth Almes:

So they've got these four blended learning journeys that are stretching across all these different levels. They are targeting some of these specific behaviors like inclusion to drive their culture. 

What's been the feedback? What's been the reaction from higher-level stakeholders in the organization, as well as the learners who are the ones who are doing this every day?

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

Yeah, boy, this was just a very exciting year and when I think about all the ups, also the downs, let's face it, when you go into rollout and when you pilot these kind of really compact...those learning journeys are 7 to 12 weeks long, so in some, we are still in the middle of piloting it. What we got from learners as feedback is, "Wow, this is totally different. We were really wanting to go back into the good old times when we meet face-to-face, but this had an impact on me. This was a really great experience." 

I think what thrills learners the most is to experience that an interactive session with an instructor can be fun, energizing, and engaging, and this is what they like. We put them in breakout rooms and they come back and they discuss, and it's a really lively situation.

That's what they really like, that they couldn't envision that in the first space. That's really good to hear. I think the biggest learning that we're taking is that change process that I mentioned first to really understand what learners need to change in terms of self-directed learning. That is still happening and we are doing it at a slower pace than we were hoping for, right?

We really need to give very specific examples of what they need to do, that learning tension from, "Okay, you go and visit that form, then you come back next time and we talk about it." They were not believing us, then the next time they came back in not prepared, and for very good reasons, they have busy schedules, so don't get me wrong of me being, no, no, no, you have to do that. 

But I think it just made very clear to me that it is an advantage to have smaller nuggets of training instructor-led, but we need to allow organizations more time and learners more time to get into that new habit of self-directed learning. It's no good to give them just a whole catalog of doing things, do less, but to do them very specifically and target to what the learning is about, then it works.

Beth Almes:

Oh, that's fantastic. I love that we're starting to see that shift in mindset of, I have some things I need to go to, and then I have some things I'm responsible for in between and really, this is part of my job. When we talk about making development a way of work, this is part of what I am responsible for in addition to all the things in my busy schedule, but I have this responsibility for learning and getting better. 

I love your story about how you're starting to see this shift, so thank you for sharing that with me today. Dorothea, it was a delight to have you on How We Did It.

Dorothea Mueller-Stassek:

It's a pleasure. Thank you so much for having me.