Factors in Success of Leadership Development Programs

Subject: Employee Management
Pages: 36
Words: 13621
Reading time:
48 min
Study level: PhD


The present study is dedicated to the examination of success factors of the Regional Development Specialist (RDS) program in the XYZ Telecommunication Company. The program was initiated as a response to the high front-line employee turnover on the background of multiple mergers and acquisitions conducted by XYZ at the beginning of the 21st century. The lack of top-level managers and leaders as well as the necessity to employ them from outside the company, lack of succession planning, and competency mapping led to the creation of the RDS program as a means of promoting high-potential front-line employees to the higher management levels. The program presupposed equipping employees with the necessary set of leadership and managerial qualities and was a breakthrough in the contemporary leadership development theory and practice. However, certain design pitfalls and drawbacks thereof were identified, which caused its termination and beginning of improvement effort. The present study is based on the mixed method of evaluative research and surveying and gives the necessary first-hand experience of RDS participants and managers. This data is structured and segmented by areas of interest, thus giving all necessary data on the weak and strong sides of RDS. At the end of the research, a set of relevant recommendations for RDS improvement are provided based on received conclusions.


In recent years, succession planning within organizations has become increasingly important at the executive level (Charan et al., 2001; Conger and Fulmer, 2003; Tichy and Cardwell, 2002). There is a true need to ensure that performance can be sustained and continuity maintained in the wake of an executive-level departure or widespread executive team reorganization. It is essential as well to build bench strength at the top levels of an organization; however, it is perhaps equally important to build it at the lower levels of thereof (Snipes, 2005). Thus, research in the field of succession planning acquires growing importance in the present-day reality.

Traditional succession management plans focus on identifying upper management team members late in their careers when they are evaluated as ready for an executive team position. These individuals are identified by their track records of success within their respective functional areas; they have often gone through extensive management and leadership development programs, including “specialized mentoring, executive retreats, personal coaching, real-world action learning, global rotation and more” (Snipes, 2005, p. 56). These are the vital credentials needed for an individual to possess to qualify for the discussed position.

The expense of such programs can be easily justified at the top levels of an organization, particularly when late-stage high potentials are called up from the bench and can prove themselves in executive leadership positions. The expenses of extensive leadership development programs at lower levels of an organization are not as easily quantified or demonstrated. Organizations interested in implementing more robust development programs for high potential front-line employees must be able to justify how such programs might contribute to organizational success.

Yet, as might be expected due to expense and perceived lack of business need, few organizations have successfully implemented similar kinds of rigorous management and leadership development programs at the frontline employee level that they have implemented at higher levels. Even fewer academic studies have been conducted to provide insight into the kinds of organizational benefits that might come from a front-line employee leadership or management development initiative. The present evaluative case study provides insight into how one organization approached a leadership development initiative for front-line employees and what kinds of organizational benefits the company has received as a direct result of the program.

Organizational Background

The present study focuses on the leadership development program initiated in the XYZ Company from an unusual perspective. In 2002, XYZ Wireless was the third largest wireless telecommunications provider in the United States. After several mergers and acquisitions, the company faced significant challenges in the Indirect Sales Channel. Managers were struggling to find time to coach and develop their teams, managing their dealer accounts at the same time. Front-line employee turnover was rising due to the lack of coaching and a perceived lack of career advancement opportunities. When manager slots were vacated they were often filled by external candidates because there was no internal succession plan for filling those vacancies.

Through the use of channel-wide surveys, manager and front-line employee focus groups, and one-on-one meetings with channel executives, two primary gaps within the organization structure were identified. One was a lack of management bench strength and the second was the absence of a formal development program for high-potential front-line employees. Unfortunately, a great body of literature in the area of leadership and management development focuses only on the job roles, tasks, and core competencies associated with executive and mid-level management personnel. Organizations seeking to develop leadership or management skills within front-line employee ranks do not have a sufficient theoretical basis for those purposes. This was the situation faced by the XYZ Wireless Indirect Learning and Development Team (ILD).

Relying on the work of leadership development experts such as Charan et al. (2001), Peters (2001), Tichy and Cardwell (2002), the ILD team set out to create a one-year leadership development program targeted at high-potential front-line employees. The program required significant organizational investment; nonetheless, key stakeholders and team leaders were confident that the program would accomplish its goals of reducing front-line employee turnover through increased coaching and development, increasing sales and dealer satisfaction numbers. It would also help in establishing a pool of internal applicants with the skills necessary to advance their careers either within the channel or within the larger organization.

The Regional Development Specialist (RDS) program, as it came to be called, was designed to develop both management and leadership competencies. These specific competencies will be addressed in greater detail in chapter 4 of this study. The ILD team and channel executives chose to call the program a leadership development program for two reasons. First, the program was only a one-year program, and it was expected that many of the participants would be going back to their normal job responsibilities as individual contributors at the end of the program. Channel executives and ILD program leaders did not want to set the expectation solely for a management-development program; neither should the program participants expect a promotion at the end of their program participation. They did, however, agree that the program ought to be a prerequisite for being promoted into a management role within the channel. Second, individual contributors are highly valued at XYZ Wireless; Indirect Channel executives felt strongly that not every great front-line employee should or could be a great manager. There always are a large number of leadership roles within the channel and within the larger organization that do not involve direct supervision of others. The ILD team’s objective was to help prepare program participants for future career advancement regardless of whether that advancement was of a managerial or individually contributing nature.

Although the specific competencies emphasized in the program will be analyzed in greater detail in chapter 4 of this study, it is useful to note that the RDS program was structured around building five core competencies, some of which would traditionally be considered management competencies and some of which would be considered leadership ones. The five competency categories during the program’s first year were: intellectual, future-building, management, relationship, and personal. Each competency category had subcategories that further defined the competencies the team hoped to develop or enhance in program participants. There was a basic assumption within the program framework that the competencies being developed complied with the Charan et al. (2001) first phase of building a leadership pipeline which emphasizes the transition “from managing self to managing others” (p. 16). However, the focus of the RDS program was less directed at developing the direct supervision aspects of managing others (things such as managing time, attendance, and performance metrics); more emphasis was made on the leadership aspects of helping others improve their performance through formal peer-to-peer coaching, action planning, and teaching. The inner structure of the RDS program, its elements, and factors that contributed to its success are hence the major focus of the present study.

Research Problems

The core problem of the present research is to analyze the structural peculiarities and theoretical basis of the RDS program and to identify the key elements of its success. Since it represents an alternative approach to leadership development programs and addresses a substantially different group of respondents, it is of vital importance to identify the results of its implementation, detect its strengths and weaknesses as well as the extent of its success at the initial stages of employee promotion, that is, at the low levels of management. Historically, leadership development initiatives within organizations have either focused on executive-level personnel or high-potential mid-level managers. This evaluative case study aims to provide insight into how one organizational unit designed and implemented a leadership development program for high-potential “early-stage” employees. This study will also explore how that program has evolved and how the outcomes of the program have been evaluated by the organization and by program participants.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the present study is to investigate and describe the RDS program creation process and to identify the basis of the program that provided its success and contribution to the leadership development area. Another purpose is to analyze implementation and evaluation strategies thereof to evaluate their effectiveness and reasonability. Finally, the overall impact of the program will be assessed at all levels using surveying the participants and using their first-hand impressions. Recommendations for improvement will also be made. This study falls within the category of evaluation research, thus it uses mixed methods and an evaluative case study approach.

Research Questions

The primary research question for this study is: “From a Training and Performance Improvement (TPI) perspective, what improvements can be suggested to the ILD team that will affect the ongoing development and implementation of the XYZ Wireless leadership development program for front-line employees?” In addition to the primary question above, secondary research questions the present study aims to answer include:

  1. What steps did the ILD team take to design and implement a leadership development program for front-line employees?
  2. What organizational resistance did the ILD team encounter in the process of initiating the RDS program?
  3. How do RDS program participants feel about their time in the program both during and after the program?
  4. Did the RDS program meet its stated business objectives in its first year?

Research Aim

The present research aims to explore the way concepts of management and leadership development were incorporated into the RDS program initiated by the ILD team within the XYZ Telecommunication Company.

Research Objectives

The present study pursues a set of objectives that derive directly from the aim of the research. The initial objective is to assess, using mixed-method analysis tools, the measure of RDS success in XYZ Wireless, both in the first and the second years of its implementation. The RDS program will be explored in terms of its organization, planning, management by the ILD team to identify the organizational structure thereof and to compare it to the theoretical basics of leadership and management development guidelines.

Another objective posed in front of the present study is to assess the level of satisfaction of the RDS participants with the further purpose of identifying key strong and weak points of the program. The analysis will be conducted based on quantitative data received from surveys for managers and RDS participants. The present objective, in case of successful accomplishment, will give sufficient background for the final objective: producing a set of relevant conclusions on the comprehensive effect of the RDS program on the participants and managerial staff as well as recommendations on its improvement and advancement to achieve higher, more constructive and homogeneous results.

Significance of the Study

The present research holds significance for human resource development (HRD) practitioners and researchers for two key reasons. First, it combines theoretical and empirical data relating to the subject of leadership development, with both elements complimenting each other. Within the framework of HRD, best practices are often shared anecdotally among a network of professionals more concerned with measuring their bottom-line contributions than with engaging informal research projects intended to propose new theories or document “new knowledge obtained through an orderly, investigative process” (Swanson and Holton, 1997, p. 10). Second, this study may assist similar organizations in addressing analogous business problems: high front-line employee turnover, customer dissatisfaction, or the need to develop front-line management bench strength. Many of the business challenges faced by XYZ Wireless are among the most widely discussed issues for HRD practitioners, so they are the painful, challenging reality of an overwhelming number of businesses in the contemporary period.

Literature Review

Management and Leadership

Leadership as a concept, its evolution, and its relation to management are the central point of the present section in the literature review. The reason for this is that the RDS program addressed in the present study is the direct derivative of the long-standing history of management development and improvement. Though management is an inevitable necessity in any company, people at all organizational levels have organized that the external forces are inadequate in forming the intrinsic motivation for work, personal commitment to the entrusted task, appreciation of the working position, aspiration to promotion, etc. Leadership is the long-awaited complement to management that is called to find solutions to many human resource development and management problems. However, to understand the underlying significance of leadership within the managerial organizational structure, one should get a proper idea about the historical evolution of management, the emergence of leadership, and their correlation as described by various theorists.

Since the 1970s, the topic of leadership has become the prime issue of concern in business writing. An impressive number of works have been written about leadership covering all relevant fields from how to become a better leader to how to nurture leadership within organizations. Every new work gives a new definition of leadership. In the majority of literary resources leadership has generally come to be defined as the characteristics, skills, or traits which enable individuals to positively influence and motivate others to achieve specific goals (Northouse, 2004) or to create involvement and participation in organizational commitments (Schein, 2004).

Bennis (2003) defines leadership as a process of becoming that involves the ability to engage others, speak with a distinctive voice, act with integrity, and adapt quickly and thoughtfully to change. The previous definition of leadership was presented in chapter 1 of this study and covers many of the “basics” now associated with leadership through a long-term process of theoretical work in the area. There is, of course, an intense debate about leadership and the possibility of teaching characteristics and traits of a leader. One more question troubling both theorists and practitioners is whether leadership is, in itself, an innate human characteristic that can only be honed and developed through self-reflection and life experience (Bennis, 2003; Collins, 2001; Peters, 2001).

For many, leadership is defined as a certain kind of charisma and energy associated with men and women of both good and evil nature throughout history. Bennis (2003) considers Hitler as one of the worst forms of the described charismatic leader kind; someone who undoubtedly fit the definition of a personality able to influence and motivate others, but without integrity. For others, leadership means a quiet, ineffable quality of humility that all truly great leaders possess. Collins described this kind of leader as a “Level 5” leader (2001).

Understanding the historical role of managers helps explain how the perception that leaders and managers are different came to be fostered during the late 1970s and continues today. From the times of militaristic management systems of the late 1800s to the days of Taylor’s (1911) scientific management theory, the role of management has seriously changed and evolved. Managers seized being concerned about accomplishing a single goal such as building a transcontinental railroad or winning a war and proceeded to maximize human productivity and minimize costs (Burns and Stalker, 2001; Drucker, 2003).

For the period of the 1920s-1950s, the role of management changed again. As the scientific method of management gave way to a more mechanistic model, the role of management became clearly defined by hierarchy and job function (Burns and Stalker, 2001). Managers were restrained by timelines, productivity numbers, and quotas. There was little interaction between frontline managers and executive-level employees, and the majority of decisions were made at the top and handed down through the chain of command with little opportunity for feedback or dissent (Drucker, 2001). Managers were not encouraged to focus on anything but the issues within their immediate area of responsibility.

From the 1950s to the 1970s, more organic systems of management developed and the role of management became more fluid. Organizations began to recognize the importance of reducing silos and the benefits of creating cross-functional teams to tackle business challenges. Managers began to think more strategically not just about their functional areas but also about the whole business on a larger scale (Burns and Stalker, 2001, Drucker, 2001). Hierarchy still existed, however, and there was a clear line of responsibility back to the manager. It was in the late 1970s on the peak of that trend towards organic systems of management that the dialogue regarding leadership versus management began.

Since the described moment, leadership has taken its firm position in management theory and practice. For the past thirty-five years, management has, to some extent, become the junior cousin of leadership. Management is more mundane; it has existed longer. Leadership is more visionary and seems newer and more pertinent to long-term profitability. Management is drudgery; leadership is fun (Mintzberg, 2004; Peters, 2001). At least, the daily practice proves this seeming truth to be as such. Everyone seems to be talking about leadership and the need for better leaders within organizations. That discussion has, for obvious reasons, evolved into a discussion of how to turn managers into better leaders.

In the present context, it became possible to realize that though leadership had become a significant business concept, it was unable to substitute management and had to only complement and enrich it. The matter for that was that even if managers became great leaders, they still had to manage. The accomplishment of a goal does not only involve establishing mission statements and having a vision for where a company can be in five years, it is about putting practical plans into action to see that the work gets done. Thus, the ever-hot debate over the struggling priority of leadership and management found its revelation in many theoretical works in the attempt to resolve the mystery, in the works of Mintzberg as well. The author states that “leadership is supposed to be something bigger, more important” than management and shows how this idea rankles him and finds no answer (2004, p. 6). His point is that managers lead and that leaders manage and that the two are fundamentally synonymous, but the daily practice shows that the relationships between management and leadership and much more vague, ambiguous and complex.

Mintzberg’s argument stands in contrast to Zalezinik’s (2005) concept of leadership and management as two very different things and organizations needing both to succeed. Zalezinik’s work, first published in 1977, has long been held as an introduction to the dialogue about the differences between management and leadership, yet in contemporary organizations, his premise that managers and leaders are “two very different types of people” (2005, p. 73) may no longer be true. While managers and leaders may genuinely be occupied with different things, it is not true that those differing objectives cannot exist within the same individual (Peters, 2001). Ultimately, leaders and managers share similar competencies—they must both be adaptive and flexible, be aware of the whole business image and the way they fit within the organization, be considerate with others, be personally interested in the company’s results, and must be able to engender loyalty and trust (Collins, 2001; Drucker, 2001; Mintzberg, 2004; Peters, 2001).

Leadership Development

Having solid business management skills in the modern competitive global marketplace is no longer enough to succeed in one’s career; leadership is an essential element of success as well. Good leaders are not always managers, yet most managers are expected to be good leaders (Bennis, 2003; Collins, 2001; Tichy and Cardwell, 2002). Within the context of business history, the discussion of leadership within organizations is relatively new. At the turn of the twentieth century, true leadership was viewed as something innate – an intrinsic characteristic deeply embedded in gender, race, ethnicity, or political and social standing (Drucker, 2001). Leaders were compartmentalized; there were great military, political, scientific, business, religious, and social leaders, all of whom had accomplished some tremendous feat or had posited some brilliant new theory. Leadership was something that resided outside of or at the top of an organization, and management was something existing within it. It was not until the late 1960s and early 1970s that “leadership development” became the issue of concern for organizations and was systematically identified as a key to future success (Drucker, 2001; Mintzberg, 2004).

After the theoretical recognition of leadership significance occurred, immediate practical action followed. Increasingly, corporations express their need for leaders and invest billions of dollars in leadership development programs. In 2000, a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) study indicated that almost 45% of organizations surveyed had some kind of a development strategy for non-exempt employees (Collins, 2001). In 2002, a Blessing White study indicated that the number of companies planning some kind of leadership development training had increased to nearly 78% (“Leading in a Climate of Distrust,” 2002). A brief analysis of a popular “off-the-shelf” leadership development program, Achieve Global’s Achieving Results through Genuine Leadership series, reveals thirteen modules on various leadership topics, from effective listening to the basic principles of coaching (2006). Although some would say these skills fall under the purview of management, Achieve Global defines them as leadership skills. Other training programs, such as Marston’s DISC profile, seek to raise self-awareness and provide opportunities for personal growth. The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator is also used in many corporations for individual self-development and for considering how teams might interact based on the personality types within the group (Keirsey and Bates, 1978).

The described emphasis on personal growth and self-reflection follows another trend in leadership development; the concept of ‘emotional intelligence’ claims considerable attention in the present debate. According to Bennis (2003), becoming a leader is a process that occurs primarily through self-invention and reflection. Thirteen percent of organizations in a Linkage, Inc. study indicated “emotional intelligence” was one of four leadership traits that most impacted their leadership development program design (Giber et al., 2000). There is some debate as to whether emotional intelligence can be trained (Goleman, 2005). Despite this debate, many organizations still try. By structuring classroom-based training programs that provide case studies and scenarios, organizations hope participants will be better able to understand and master their “emotions (and those of others) in a way that instills confidence” and balance “perception with emotional maturity” (Giber et al., 2000, p. 442). Goleman (2005), Northouse (2004), Tichy and Cardwell (2002) disagree with this classroom-based approach and instead maintain that well-designed leadership development programs will only be successful in increasing emotional intelligence only when they allow for extended practice, feedback, and reflection.

This is one of the reasons for which the current trend in organizations is to move away from classroom-based “leadership” programs where participants are passive learners and to proceed toward action learning-based models that require participants to deal with real-world organizational challenges (Rosenbach and Taylor, 2001; see also Charan et al., 2001; Palus and Horth, 2002; Schein, 2004). Action learning is used to help participants develop better communication skills, increase their abilities to work cross-functionally, and apply innovation and creativity to solve business problems in real-time (Dotlich and Noel, 1998; Rosenbach and Taylor, 2001). For Bennis (2003), this shift toward active learning and real-world practical application of learning is a welcome change. Bennis (2003) and Mintzberg (2004) agree that the skills and qualities of true leaders cannot be taught in MBA programs or through training. “Leaders are not made by corporate courses, any more than they are made by their college courses, but by experience” (Bennis, 2003, p. 176).

Thus, as one may see, there is a huge gap between proponents of different approaches to leadership development, which provides for the creation of multiple and not always successful training programs. This fact may lead to serious incongruence in organizational results of suchlike courses, let alone the current absence of a unified approach to leadership development. The solution to the problem is not a simple one. Leadership development programs in a classroom are easy to measure with the help of traditional program evaluation models. Training organizations can get feedback on whether participants enjoyed the training and whether they learned the leadership concepts and theories presented. What they cannot measure is the extent to which leadership behaviors changed as a result of the training program. Conducting leadership development well requires a fundamental shift in the organizational culture (Rosenbach and Taylor, 2001; Schein, 2004; Tichy and Cardwell, 2002). The organization must be dedicated to providing its leaders and potential leaders with opportunities for learning for the sake of growth and change (Bennis, 2003; Prentice, 2005).

The need to change the organizational approach to management, leadership development, and involvement in leadership training is evident and requires a set of measures to be taken at all organizational levels. Changing the organizational culture to encourage genuine leadership development is a daunting task. The culture change must be both strategic and action-oriented; it is a slow-moving, evolutionary process involving both transformation and destruction (Schein, 2004). Above all, it must begin at the top of the organization. “The achievement of any mission or plan comes only with the focus and discipline of leadership from the top” (Tichy and Cardwell, 2002, p. 146). Leaders at the top of the organization must be capable of seeing the long-term value of leadership development initiatives, and they must provide laser-like focus on the kinds of program elements that truly promote learning and long-term behavior change (Bennis, 2003; Charan et al., 2001; Mintzberg, 2004; Tichy and Cardwell, 2002).

Luckily, there is a set of recommendations and practical findings that may assist any company on the path of nurturing its leadership development programs; there is a multitude of opportunities to be implemented depending on the environment, company specificity, and a set of stipulated goals. Critical components to successful leadership development include action learning together with opportunities for self-reflection and evaluation. Some strategies that have been used to implement these components include formal 360-degree feedback surveys, job rotations, formal coaching programs, and exposure to the strategic organizational objectives the company is trying to accomplish with the program (Charan et al., 2001; Giber et al., 2000; Northouse, 2004; Rosenblach and Taylor, 2001). Other components of successful leadership development programs include formal succession planning and competency mapping processes within the organization. These will be discussed in detail in the following sections of this literature review.

Succession Planning

Traditionally, succession planning within organizations has been a “top-down” endeavor. It has been intended to fill potential gaps within the executive ranks and has been based largely on previous business results (Charan et al., 2001; Conger and Fullmer, 2003; Snipes, 2005). As part of the culture-change initiative occurring within XYZ Wireless, every department and the functional area was charged with building bench strength within the organization. This initiative required that everyone from top executives to front-line managers should be responsible for helping train employees who could step into their roles in case of necessity. The ILD management team used this emphasis on building bench strength to make recommendations regarding how to handle succession planning in the Indirect Sales Channel.

Succession planning is centered mainly on finding the person potentially able to become a successor at a certain position, so the selection process is central in the present context. Generally, individuals are identified as high-potential performers due to prior business results or the perception that they will be capable of moving either horizontally or vertically within the organization (Dubois and Rothwell, 2005). The process through which individuals are identified varies widely across organizations and can include anything from current executives’ recommending key team members to formal interviews and selection processes (Boudreau and Ramstad, 2007). The more integrated the succession plan is with the organizational culture, the more likely the organization will be able to maintain it in the long run (Snipes, 2005). Unfortunately, succession planning initiatives are often hosted by one organizational team (usually human resources) and are not fully integrated at all organizational levels (Boudreau and Ramstead, 2007; Conger and Fullmer, 2003; Effron et al., 2005).

Despite the agile interest in succession planning at the present period, the field is still under-evaluated and often neglected as for its significance in the organizational working process. Succession planning becomes a part of the annual review process for most employees and is rarely talked about at any other time of the year (Charan et al., 2001). Another common concern about succession planning is that the process often stops at the executive level, leaving lower-level employees to drive their career path development with little overall organizational input or direction (Dubois and Rothwell, 2004; Snipes, 2005). This leads to increased employee turnover, decreased productivity, and additional training and development costs. The ideal succession planning or succession management process is one in which organizational roles at all levels are identified, core competencies for those roles are defined, current and new employees are evaluated against current and future competency profiles, gaps are identified and trained to, and a system is put in place to “call people off the bench” when job vacancies occur. There are different names and strategies for all of these steps, but this is a representative list based on the work of Charan et al. (2001), Dubois and Rothwell (2005), and Conger and Fullmer (2005).

Competency Mapping

Competency mapping in organizations is a relatively new phenomenon. An outgrowth of the knowledge management dialogue that began in the 1980s, competency mapping logically became the next step in identifying what exactly distinguished high performers at all levels of an organization from their less successful peers. According to Dubois and Rothwell (2004), traditional human resource (HR) management has been conventionally based on the usage of job descriptions largely focused on job-task requirements and minimum qualification criteria. Management by job description rarely focuses on measurable or outcome-based performance expectations.

Competency mapping offers a significantly improved, innovative approach to management, assessment, and advancement. Competency-based HR management, on the other hand, focuses on the specific traits and characteristics that are outcome-based. Competency mapping is the process through which these traits and characteristics are identified, modeled, and assessed using objective, scientific practices (Dubois and Rothwell, 2004). Theoretically, competency-based HR management “stimulates productivity and uses human talent to the best competitive advantage” (p. 11).

Nonetheless, despite the seemingly convincing benefits the competency approach offers, some opponents point out the method’s weak points and strategic inconsistency. Critics of competency mapping fear that by embracing the “apparent objectivity and ‘scientific’ nature of competencies,” the twenty-first-century corporations are doing themselves a disservice (Bolden, 2005. p. 54). They see organizations attempting to focus on outcomes and “evidence-based” performance that does not provide for more subtle interpersonal and ethical considerations. By only focusing on measurable outcomes, the threat exists that the characteristics and attributes more difficult to measure (such as one’s ability to engender loyalty, build trust, and foster an environment where diversity is valued) will become less important than bottom-line results. Current thinking in the areas of leadership and organizational development holds that the business results and the way they are obtained are equally important for the long-term profitability of any enterprise (Kotter and Heskett, 1992; Northouse, 2004; Rosenbach and Taylor, 2001; Schein, 2004).

Dubois and Rothwell (2004) meet this concern by emphasizing that a competency-based approach to human resource management is not a stand-alone fix-all to organizational problems. Competency-based management must work in concert with employee development initiatives, career path programs, and succession planning within the larger organization (p. 256). Through these types of programs, other less scientific evaluation factors can be used to encourage and promote ethical and value-based performance.

Critics also operate the issue of human and organizational diversity as a barrier to the pervasive shift towards competency mapping in organizations (Bolden, 2005). There is an assumption, critics say, that there can be a one-size-fits-all approach to management or leadership competencies, and certainly books on the topic such as Leadership: 4 Competencies for Success (Portnoy, 1999) seem to indicate this is so. Advocates of competency mapping argue that true competency-based management cannot rely on bookshelf wisdom but must be based on the specific goals, objectives, and culture of the individual organization. The unified pattern will never suit two different organizations; however, choosing one theoretical concept and adjusting it to the existing organizational reality is the urgent task of leadership development initiators to make the concept fit every participant in an individual, personally adjustable way.

Conceptual Framework and Methodology

This chapter outlines the research category, approach, and design that were utilized for this study of a leadership development initiative for front-line employees. Among the items discussed in this chapter are the primary and secondary research questions, the research design strategy, and the data collection and analysis procedures. Finally, the existing limitations for the present methodology application are discussed at the end of the chapter.

Conceptual Framework

This study falls within the framework of evaluation research, uses a mixed-method, and an evaluative case study approach. Evaluation research is generally undertaken for a specific purpose and “evaluation studies are designed to yield data concerning the worth, merit, or value” of a particular program or phenomena (Gall et al., 2003, p. 543). About this study, evaluation research was the logical fit as the initial purpose of this study was to evaluate the merits of the RDS program and to offer suggestions for improvement thereof.

The secondary research questions also required a more balanced process of inquiry, one that allows for description, exploration, explanation, and evaluation. Those secondary questions included:

  • What steps did the ILD team take to design and implement a leadership development program for front-line employees?
  • What organizational resistance did the ILD team encounter when rolling out the RDS program?
  • How do RDS program participants feel about their time in the program both during and after the program?
  • Did the RDS program meet its stated business objectives in its first year?
  • From the ILD team’s perspective, how have the program objectives changed since the program was first introduced?

These secondary questions were answered more fully through the integration of both quantitative data in the form of company survey results, Indirect Channel sales numbers, and dealer satisfaction ratings. The emphasis in this study was placed on the emergent themes uncovered through the qualitative data collection process. The quantitative data was embedded in the overall research design, which provided a broader sense of the environment and the way it changed over time. Incorporate environments, the mixed method can be used to present findings based on a wider range of data collection strategies. The mixed-method can serve to communicate the bottom-line results to an organization (through quantitative means) and can further explain or clarify the context in which those results were achieved through qualitative means.

Finally, as one of three primary types of the case study (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2003; Merriam, 1998), the evaluative case study approach lent itself well to this particular study because it allowed for the documentation of specific aspects of a program through the use of non-experimental descriptive language tools. It also allowed direct interaction between the individual conducting the research, stakeholders, and participants. As evaluative case studies often occur in real-world contexts, researchers are more able to address educational problems and develop more far-reaching recommendations (Carr and Kemmis, 1986).

Research Design/Methodology

This study used a mixed-method and evaluative case study approach to evaluate a leadership development program within one organizational unit of the XYZ Company, a multinational wireless telecommunications company. The purpose of this study was to determine the extent to which a leadership development initiative for front-line employees impacted the organization and the individuals who participated in the program and to make TPI-related recommendations to the team responsible for the program (the ILD team). Program leaders within the organization measured the program’s success against specific organizational objectives. Those objectives changed from year to year based on business needs. A portion of the quantitative data included in this study was provided by the organization.

The benefit of using the evaluative case study approach for this research is that it allowed for both breadth and depth of the study, not only because of the thick description inherent in the case study design but also because of the opportunity to evaluate a variety of program components. This study combined surveys and some program evaluation data from the first year of the program because the reliability of findings and conclusions is increased with multiple information sources. The mixed-method also contributed to the reliability and internal validity of the findings. Data were collected simultaneously rather than sequentially.

Data Collection Methods

The prime data collection method chosen for the present study was a survey. Two electronic surveys were conducted; the first survey consisting of two characteristics questions, fourteen Likert scale questions, and four open-response questions was sent to 58 current and former program participants still employed at XYZ Wireless. Three separate e-mail invitations were sent over a five-week time frame encouraging participants to respond. A response rate of 48.2% (28 respondents) was achieved on the program participant survey.

The second survey consisting of eleven Likert scale questions, three Closed-Ended short answer questions, and one open-response question was sent to 70 current Indirect Channel managers who had no direct responsibility for the RDS program. The purpose of the second survey was to gauge external support for the program and was used to make recommendations for program leaders. Two separate e-mail invitations were sent over a three-week time frame encouraging managers to respond. A response rate of 55.7% (39 respondents) was achieved on the management survey. Survey participation for both surveys was completely voluntary and responses were anonymous.

Neither the company nor the participants were compensated for survey participation. The expected response rate for both surveys was 50%. Although an expected response rate of 50% may seem high, Dennis (2003) indicates that a follow-up survey communication can improve response rates. In addition, the XYZ Wireless ILD team used online surveys as a regular part of conducting needs analyses and collecting feedback. They consistently saw response rates in the 80-90% range, so a 50% response expectation was not out of alignment with what they normally received. The program participant survey did not yield a 50% response rate despite three separate e-mail invitations. Likely, the cancellation of the RDS program one week after the initial survey invitation was sent impacted the participation rate.

Methods of Data Analysis

Using multiple data sources allowed for validation and cross-checking of findings. It also allowed for the documentation of potential discrepancies between self-reported data from survey results. In any kind of case study, the use of multiple data sources is emphasized as a way of gaining in-depth insights into the case or phenomenon (Creswell, 1998; Denzin and Lincoln, 2005; Merriam, 1998; Yin, 2003).

Qualitative Data Analysis Procedures

The same steps described by Gall et al. (2003) for interpretational analysis were utilized for the open-response survey question data. The Open-Ended survey question responses were organized into a usable format. The data was then segmented, and categories were developed accordingly.

Quantitative Data Analysis Procedures

A five-point Likert scale was employed for both the surveys developed for this study and the management surveys conducted by the organization. A numeric value was assigned to each response and an aggregate mean score was assigned to each question or survey component (25 in total). The questions/components with mean scores of between 4 and 5 and those with mean scores between 1 and 2 were then cross-checked against the six categories identified in the qualitative analysis.

Validity and Reliability of Data

The reliability of the present research was assessed using inter-rater reliability. The chosen criterion concerns the reliability of similar test questions applied to two groups of respondents who are initially considered to have similar viewpoints on the issue of the RDS program because of correlated positions in the XYZ Company. The inter-rater reliability speaks about a low level of correlations between two groups of respondents and contradicts the initial argument about managers’ and participants’ having similar impressions and opinions about the RDS program. However, it shows that there is still some agreement present between the groups, and it will be explored further.

Content Validity

The content validity of the present research is proven by the degree the content of the test matches the content associated with the construct of assessing the success of the RDS leadership development program. The test chosen for the present assessment turned out highly pertinent to the content needed for accurate validity assessment, which may be seen from homogeneous results in both groups, though the results across groups differ. The content validity also rests on the theoretical review of literature about the evolution of management and leadership, their relationships, and the vision of both concepts in the business marketplace. A set of relevant conclusions from the theoretical background also contributed to the construction of a valid test checking the level of RDS success.

Face Validity

Another test validity criterion chosen for the present test shows that the Likert scaling chosen provides a fairly high result for the present study and manages to answer the key questions related to the success of the RDS leadership development program. However, it also shows a lack of scope for consideration, as too little space for self-expression, is offered to the respondents. Only one open-ended question gives less impression about the true opinion about the program; the matter for this is that respondents were limited by test response variants and never managed to explain their choices.

Limitations of Research Methodology

The present methodology contains some limitations about the results of the current research. They can affect the precision and credibility of results, thus they need to be discussed from the very beginning not to impede perception of results. First of all, the research does not contain any numeric data that would be able to support the qualitative findings. All statistics derived from the present study are the author’s calculations from the closed-ended and Likert scale questions that leave not enough space for imagination and improvisation. The Likert scale questions give a certain range of opinions but they do not justify the respondent, their rationale for answers, or the personal characteristics of respondents that affected their opinion.

One more limitation of the present methodology is the limitation in the overview of respondent ratio and the inability to conduct repetitive surveys with similar questions to check the results’ credibility. Thus, the results turn out to be personal, emotional, thus subjective and do not allow making generalizable conclusions on the overall quality of the RDS program. No outside expert opinion was available for comparison with participant and manager responses, so the result has to be referred to as the individual case of XYZ Wireless and not to the whole leadership development program.

Findings and Discussion

Case Study: Program Development Context

The XYZ Wireless Indirect Learning and Development (ILD) department was formed as part of the decentralization of the larger sales organization’s training functions. As the company grew, the training and performance improvement needs for each of the four sales channels changed greatly. In late 2002, training was de-centralized and each channel VP became responsible for building out a training organization that would meet his/her channel’s specific learning needs. The Indirect Sales Channel had 1,200 employees and more than 15,000 dealer locations.

The Indirect Channel Vice-president hired a Director of Learning and Development and tasked that person with realigning the training organization and developing a leadership development program to help reduce employee turnover at the front-line employee level, increase dealer satisfaction, and build leadership bench strength. The Director and support team immediately began both internal and external explorations to gather ideas for their program that would help them address all three issues. The result of their work was the creation of the ILD team and the generation of the RDS program, the success of which will be evaluated in further sections.

Quantitative Findings

There were two participant-specific questions, fourteen Likert scale questions, and four open-response questions. 70 current front-line and second-level managers within the Indirect Sales Channel were sent two invitations to participate in the survey five-week weeks; 39 managers (55.7%) responded to the survey. The management survey included eleven Likert scale questions, three closed-ended short answer questions, and one open-response question. Demographics questions regarding gender, age, and ethnicity were not asked. The results of their responses were thoroughly structured and analyzed according to the respondents, types of questions, and results of the survey. Analysis of findings and inferences from responses are laid out further.

RDS Program Participant Survey

Twenty-eight former program participants responded to an online survey regarding their experiences with the program. Eleven respondents participated in the first year of the RDS program, while seventeen participants took part in the program’s second year. Ten respondents were from the Northeast region, 6 from the Southeast region, 3 from the Central Region, and 9 from the West region. The survey used a five-point Likert scale with five equaling ‘strongly agree’ and one equaling ‘strongly disagree’. Table 1 presents the quantitative survey data from all surveyed program participants.

Table 1. Program Participant Survey Results.

Survey Statement Mean Median Mode Range
1 The RDS selection process was fair. 4.32 4.5 5 3
2 The RDS interview process was communicated. 4.04 4 5 3
3 The RDS program was well designed. 3.89 4 4 3
4 The RDS kick-off event helped me learn what was expected of me as a program participant. 4 4 4 4
5 The RDS program provided opportunities for me to work directly with my Regional Manager. 4.43 5 5 3
6 The RDS program provided opportunities for me to meet channel executives. 4.64 5 5 2
7 The RDS program was aligned with channel objectives. 4.39 4 4 2
8 The RDS program was aligned with company objectives. 4.57 5 5 2
9 I knew how my performance was measured when I was an RDS 3.54 4 4 3
10 Dealers were aware of the RDS program. 3.46 4 4 4
11 Dealers felt the RDS program improved the quality of communication they received from XYZ Wireless. 3.71 4 4 3
12 Dealers felt the RDS program improved the consistency of communications from XYZ Wireless. 3.75 3 3 3
13 I believe the RDS program prepared me for a leadership role within the organization. 4.61 5 5 3
14 Although I may not want to move into management, I believe the RDS program helped me prepare for a management position. 4.5 5 5 3

As indicated in Table 1, program participants rated nine out of the fourteen survey statements with 4.0 or higher. This fact indicates that on the whole program participants ‘somewhat agreed’ to ‘strongly agreed’ with the majority of the statements about the program. There were four statements (6, 8, 13, and 14) that received higher than a 4.5 mean score. Those four statements had to do with the skip-level relationship with the Regional Indirect Manager, alignment with company and channel objectives, and the belief that the program prepared participants for leadership and management roles within the organization. The fact that program participants responded very positively to these four statements is supported by the qualitative data collected and presented later in this chapter. There also were three statements (6, 7, and 8) that had a range of two, indicating that there was very close alignment in the participant responses about those statements. Those statements concerned the alignment of objectives with channel and company initiatives and opportunities to work with executives.

There were five statements (3, 9, 10, 11, and 12) that received lower than a 4.0 mean score, which indicates that program participants only ‘somewhat agreed’ or ‘were neutral’ about those particular aspects of the program. Those five statements had to do with program design, performance measurement, dealer awareness, and the quality and consistency of communications from XYZ wireless. There were no survey responses that received less than a 3.0 mean score which indicates that program participants did not strongly or even somewhat disagree with the statements. These less favorable scores are also supported by the qualitative data discussed later. There were two statements (4 and 10) that had a range of four, indicating that there were survey respondents who scored those statements on both the lowest and highest ends of the Likert scale. These two statements involved the kick-off event and how aware dealers were of the program.

Management Survey

Thirty-nine current managers in the Indirect Sales Channel responded to an online survey regarding their thoughts and opinions about the RDS program. The survey used the same five-point Likert scale as the participant survey. Table 2 presents the management survey data.

Table 2. Management Survey Results.

Survey Statement Mean Median Mode Range
1 The RDS selection process was fair. 4 4 4/5* 4
2 The RDS interview process was communicated. 3.85 4 4 4
3 The RDS program was well designed. 3.26 4 4 4
4 The RDS program was aligned with channel objectives. 4.08 4 4 3
5 The RDS program was aligned with company objectives. 4.33 4 4 2
6 I knew how the performance of the RDS participants in my region was measured. 3.46 4 4 4
7 Dealers in my region were aware of the RDS program. 3.44 4 4 4
8 Dealers in my region felt the RDS program improved the quality of communication they received from XYZ Wireless. 3.23 3 4 4
9 Dealers in my region felt the RDS program improved the consistency of communication they received from XYZ Wireless. 3.41 3 3 4
10 I believe the RDS program prepared program participants for leadership positions within the company. 3.85 4 4 4
11 I believe the RDS program helped prepare program participants for management positions within the company. 3.79 4 4 4

Note. * = bimodal result.

As indicated in Table 2, there were no statements that received higher than a 4.5 mean score from managers. There were three statements (1, 4, 5) that received a 4.0 mean score or higher indicating that managers ‘somewhat agreed’ to ‘strongly agreed’ with them. Those three statements had to do with the selection process for the RDS program participants, and program alignment with channel and company objectives. There were five statements (3, 6, 7, 8, and 9) that had lower than a 3.5 mean score indicating that managers only ‘somewhat agreed’ or ‘were neutral’ about them. Those five statements had to do with program design, performance measurement, dealer awareness, the quality and consistency of communications from XYZ wireless, and the belief that the program prepared participants for leadership positions within the company. There were no statements that received less than a 3.0 mean score which indicates that managers did not ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with the statements.

Nine of the eleven survey statements had a range of 4 indicating that some managers ‘strongly agreed’ and others ‘strongly disagreed with the statements. This lack of consistency in management responses will be explored later in this chapter. Only one statement, 5, (the RDS program was aligned with company objectives) had a range of two indicating close alignment amongst the managers. This indicator shows the transparency of the program objectives as created for the initial alignment with company objectives, which is understandable from the point of view of the initial intent of the RDS program.

Management Survey Closed-Ended Question Responses

There were three Closed-Ended questions and one open-response question at the end of the manager survey. The three Closed-Ended questions are included in this section because they are quantitative. Table 4 presents the responses to the closed-ended questions.

Table 3. Manager Closed-Ended Question Responses.

Closed-Ended Survey Question Response Percent
1 If you had to choose one, would you say the RDS program was more of a leadership development program or a management development program?
Leadership 76.7%
Management 23.3%
2 Do you think the RDS program benefited the Indirect Channel?
Yes 85.4%
No 14.6%
3 Do you think the RDS program benefited XYZ Wireless?
Yes 99.3%
No .07%

Participant and Management Open-Response Survey Questions Analysis

The question “If you could change one thing about the RDS program, what would it be?” was posed in both the participant survey and the management survey. It is important to note that four of the former program participants had been promoted into management roles within the channel when the survey invitations were sent. Due to the e-mail distribution lists that were used for the survey invitations and the anonymous nature of the survey, it is unknown whether those four individuals responded to both the program participant and management surveys. If they did, they would have made up 12% of the management survey population which could have had an impact on survey results. The following three tables present the findings from this question. Table 4 presents a summary of the participant survey responses.

Table 4. Question 3, Program Changes, Participant Responses.

Category Participant Responses
Better communication from ILD to the field 10
Length of the program 9
Clearly defined role 6
Management perception/awareness of the program goals 4
Reporting relationship/report to the field 4
Consistency of role across all regions 3
Less travel/more time in the market 2
Different ILD leadership 2
The fact that it ended 1
Clear measurement and reporting of program impacts 1
More connection to the field 1

Eight categories emerged with at least two occurrences in the data and three outliers with only one response each. Communication and program length topped the list of program changes for participants, while less travel/more time in the market and different ILD leadership had the lowest number of multiple occurrences. Understanding what program participants would have changed about the program is a central point in answering several of the guiding questions for this research. Table 5 presents a summary of the category coding for the manager survey responses. The categories identified are presented from the highest number of occurrences to the lowest.

Table 5. Question 3, Program Changes, Manager Responses.

Category Manager Responses
Less travel/more time in the market 9
Less focus on training 8
Reporting relationship/report to the field 6
Clearly defined role 5
More focus on management development 5
Better selection process/more local involvement 4
Consistency of role across all regions 2
Rotation back into the field 2
Length of the program 1
More ISM input into RDS priorities 1
Should have been focused on managers, not front-line employees 1
Should have had to maintain some dealer doors 1
Should have been eliminated in small markets 1
Different ILD leadership 1

Fourteen categories emerged from the manager survey responses; eight with multiple occurrences and six with single occurrences. Less travel/more time in the market and less focus on training had the highest number of incidents in the manager survey data, while the consistency of the role across all regions and rotation back into the field had the lowest number of multiple responses. Understanding what managers would have changed about the program and how that differs from how program participants would have changed the program is a central point in answering several of the guiding questions for this research. Table 6 presents the overlapping categories which had occurrences in both groups. There was no alignment between the highest number of occurrences between the two groups.

Table 6: Question 3, Participant and Manager Shared Categories.

Category Participant
Category Manager
Length of the program 9 Less travel/more time in the market 9
Clearly defined role 6 Reporting relationship/report to the
Consistency of role across all
3 Clearly defined role 5
Less travel/more time in the market 2 Consistency of role across all regions 2
Different ILD leadership 2 Length of the program 1
relationship/report to the field
1 Different ILD leadership 1

There were six categories shared between program participants and channel managers; of the six, only one, “clearly defined role,” ranked in the top three categories for both groups. Given that the question posed to both groups was, “If you could change one thing about the RDS program, what would it be?” the lack of alignment is not surprising. Program participants and managers would have no doubt approach the question from fundamentally different perspectives. Program participants most likely responded a bit more personally than did managers given that they directly experienced the program. Managers, on the other hand, approached the question from a more market-centered viewpoint. This might explain the lack of alignment, particularly with the two categories that had the highest number of occurrences for manager responses, less travel/more time in the market, and reporting relationship. The number of participant incidences for these two categories placed them in the bottom three in terms of priority order.

Discussion of Survey Responses

Before beginning the comparative analysis of findings among participants and managers, one should clearly understand the range of possible reasons for variations in answers. As one can see from the previous section, the responses of managers and participants differed greatly in similar points, which suggests a radically different position of both groups as related to the RDS program. First of all, the reason for such discrepancies may be concealed in more experienced managers have to help them produce their assessment more objectively and tightly. Secondly, the reason may be the possession of more information by managers who are still at the leading positions in the company and may have increased access to the peculiarities of the RDS program. All these suppositions should be taken into account when analyzing the nature of responses for both groups.

As the same statements were evaluated by both program participants and channel management team members, it is possible to compare the survey results between the two groups. On the whole, program participants responded 10.95% more favorably (4s and 5s) to survey statements than did channel management team members, which indicated that program participants were more apt to ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly agree’ with statements about the RDS program. Management survey respondents evaluated the RDS program 5.69% more negatively (1s and 2s) than did program participants, which indicated that managers were more apt to ‘somewhat’ or ‘strongly disagree’ with statements about the RDS program.

However, some common tendencies are still felt in both managers’ and participants’ responses. On the agreement side of the survey (greater than 4.0 and 4.5 mean scores respectively), there was no consensus between the two groups. However, on the disagreement side of the survey (lower than 3.0 and 4.0 mean scores respectively) managers and program participants were not as favorable when agreeing with statements regarding dealer awareness of the program and statements that the program improved the consistency and quality of communications with dealers.

First of all, the results show a lack of communication strategy felt by both managers and participants to a certain extent. It is not clear whether the team’s communication strategy itself was flawed or if the team simply failed to follow the plan. Either way, communication was a problem. Program participants wanted more and better communication to the field about their accomplishments in the RDS program and managers felt that the RDS role was not clearly defined. Managers also wanted the RDSs to report to the field rather than to the ILD team. At least part of this desire for a reporting relationship change is perhaps attributable to a lack of communication.

Secondly, adherence to the evaluation strategy showed itself as a major pitfall of the RDS program. Although a formal evaluation strategy was part of the overall program design, it was discontinued during the second program year. The reason given was that the program goals and objectives had changed and the evaluation strategy no longer matched those goals. An evaluation strategy, like any plan, should be flexible and should be changed if it no longer works to document results. From a TPI perspective, this is why the evaluation model proposed by Preskill and Torres (1999) is more effective for programmatic evaluation than is the Kirkpatrick/Phillips (1998) model. The linear and rigid evaluation approach outlined first by Kirkpartick in 1954 and added to by Phillips in the 1990s does not lend itself to ever-changing environmental and market influences. In Phillips’ ROI model there is one point of data analysis that falls between levels four and five (2003).

Reporting relationships have also become the issue of discrepancy between managers and participants, thus identifying the existing problem of the RDS program. From the inferences made on the survey results, it comes that both managers and participants felt a certain extent of confusion as to whom to report and in which way. Thus, it becomes necessary to turn attention to the reporting issue as well. Managers wanted a larger emphasis on management in the RDS program, which can be explained by their managerial position. However, their point makes sense looking at the direction of promotion awaiting the RDS participants – they occupy leading managerial positions, and only leadership qualities will not constitute the sufficient basis for their success at a new position. Clarification of roles intertwines with the goal-setting clarification, as together with the acquisition of the training objective one should acquire the role for its accomplishment as well.

Finally, it is worth mentioning that the only common issue that caused no objections from both managers and participants was the ILD leadership, which speaks about the program arrangement in a positive way. In the case of leadership being well-structured and effective, it is possible to suppose the program’s success at a much higher level than it would be without successful leadership elements. Thus, it comes from the present research that the program design has a set of serious pitfalls that have affected the program’s success and participant satisfaction to a different extent, but the overall idea and approach to its implementation have proven efficient. This conclusion provides a substantial basis for mistake correction and improvement introduction.

Analysis of Secondary Research Questions

Since the basic question of the present work falls within the category of recommendations, it will be discussed in the final chapter of the present study titled “Conclusion and Recommendations”. Thus, it is appropriate to start the analysis of research questions from the second question.

What steps did the ILD team take to design and implement a leadership development program for front-line employees?

The ILD team followed a standard five-phase program design format (analyze, plan, design, implement, and manage) for the RDS program. Beginning with the analysis phase, the ILD team evaluated the current situation within the sales channel and explored several key executive concerns including front-line employee turnover, pursuance of a career path for front-line employees, and dealer satisfaction. These key issues were central to the program planning phase when decisions were made in conjunction with the company’s Human Resources (HR) team about downsizing the existing professional training team, the reporting relationship of the RDSs, and the rotational nature of the program.

During the design phase, the ILD team solicited feedback from channel managers about the overall plan, program goals, and intent. In addition, four ILD team managers were hired during the design phase; they assisted in designing the nomination process for candidates, the creation of interview processes and guides. They also conducted telephone interviews with each of the nominees for the program. A quarterly evaluation process and surveys for the program were also built during the design phase. During the implementation phase, the kick-off meeting agenda was finalized, selected candidates were notified, and the entire group met for the first time for a four-day kickoff event. During the manage phase, the ILD team made day-to-day decisions that drove additional program changes, course corrections, and managed the learning process.

From the analytical perspective, the ILD team followed the basic structure necessary for implementing an effective program. However, the fact that both program participants and managers said that they only ‘agreed’ to ‘somewhat agreed’ with the statement that the RDS program was well-designed is revealing. There were several challenges with the ongoing execution of the program, including lax adherence to the formal evaluation strategy and clear communication gaps. Whether those challenges were the result of complacency, lack of interest, or lack of skills was not easily identified in this research; although the qualitative data does show to some extent that there was certain complacency on the part of the ILD management team regarding program evaluation and communication.

What organizational resistance did the ILD team encounter when rolling out the RDS program?

Much of the initial resistance to the program was because the VP of the channel chose to remove headcount from the field for this one-year rotational program that many managers knew very little about. Some managers were concerned about how they would be able to manage their dealer relationships effectively with one less territory representative. Others were concerned that the rotation would become permanent, meaning they would lose that headcount permanently. Others were resentful that the program was targeted at front-line employees versus management-level employees. There was also a concern that the program was being designed and run by the new ILD team, which had not had time to establish a reputation for itself.

Although the ILD team was instrumental in providing recommendations for how the program should be structured, it was ultimately the vision of the channel VP that led to the program’s implementation, which went a long way towards minimizing resistance from the field. It is evident from the management survey responses, however, that some of the decisions made were not wholly embraced; particularly the emphasis on training and the reporting relationship that received the second and third highest responses for the survey question “If you could change one thing about the RDS program, what would it be?” The former program manager for the RDS program summed up the question about organizational resistance the following way: “Once they [managers in the field] understood the value of the program and were able to see people functioning at this new level, they very quickly bought into the program.”

In the course of data evaluation, however, it was evident that some remnants of organizational resistance still existed despite the positive spin placed on the question by ILD management team members. 14.6% of managers surveyed said that the RDS program did not benefit the channel. Although this percentage represents only four survey respondents, it represents evidence that there were at least some management-level employees who did not feel that the program benefited the channel. When combined with the concerns about the reporting relationship raised it is apparent that there was at least some level of organizational resistance even at the end of the program. Even this small amount of resistance will be important for the ILD team to keep in mind as they seek ways to fill the gaps left by the termination of the RDS program.

How do RDS program participants feel about their time in the program both during and after the program?

Although it is difficult to define exactly how program participants feel about their time in the program, there were several aspects in this study designed to uncover program participants’ perceptions and feelings, including the survey questions “What did you like best about being in RDS?” and “If you could change one thing about the program, what would it be?” Together, these two questions allowed for reasonable conclusions to be drawn about how participants felt about their experiences in the program. One generalized supposition based on the responses was that participants enjoyed their time in the program. Another reasonable conclusion, based on the data collected, would be that participants were reluctant to see the program end. In addition to these rather straightforward conclusions, six consistent themes emerged regarding this question: team environment/friendships, visibility/exposure to executives, networking and travel, acquiring new skills, communication, and program length; they will be discussed in more detail in the summarizing section of the present research.

Did the RDS program meet its stated business objectives in its first year?

Although specific program data related to dealer satisfaction and employee turnover was not made available, some conclusions can be drawn from the qualitative and quantitative data collected for this study. The first year’s program objectives were to decrease front-line employee turnover, increase dealer satisfaction, and establish a career path for front-line employees. Based on the largely anecdotal data collected, it appears that all three objectives were at least partially met. However, each objective needs a more detailed review in the context of the present research question.

Dealer satisfaction

The median score for all but one of the dealer satisfaction-related statements in both the program participant and management surveys was 4, which indicates that those surveyed at least ‘somewhat agreed’ that the RDS program had a positive impact on dealer satisfaction. In addition, the former Director of the program stated that the channel had its highest-ever dealer satisfaction scores the year after the RDS program was introduced. “It was a 10-percentage point increase over one year or 18 months. We felt part of that was due to the RDS program.” He also said that the Vice-President of the channel “told me on numerous occasions that it [the RDS program] added a whole flavor of professionalism to the channel which, when you’re doing 55 percent of the sales volume for the company, translates into a big win.”

Career path

All three of the senior leaders of the ILD team mentioned that the position was viewed as a career path for the channel and that a high percentage of people were promoted. The Sr. Manager of the team said she could not recall exactly how many were promoted, but the former program manager and former Director both mentioned that 33% of the first-year program participants were promoted within one year of leaving the program. Initially, participation in the RDS program was a requirement for promotion to the manager level, but the channel did not strictly adhere to that requirement. The former Director stated that even though this requirement was not enforced, at least 75% of promotions into the front-line manager position within the channel came from the RDS program.



The RDS program initiated for the encouragement of leadership promotion within XYZ Wireless turned out a comparatively successful undertaking, which may be seen from several positive responses and impressions voiced in the course of surveying. People have obtained relevant skills, have felt the feedback of other participants, and managed to cooperate with their regional managers, which was evaluated as a true advancement in the career of the majority of respondents. As it has been found out from the discussion section, several factors contributed to such success as **.

There is a set of achievements the RDS program brought about for the overwhelming majority of participants, which was clearly articulated in the surveys: these issues include the establishment of a friendly atmosphere and friendly, helpful training environment, then the measure of visibility and exposure to executives, and finally, acquisition of new skills helpful in further career promotion. Each of these achievements certifies the trustworthiness of RDS and deserves separate attention.

Team environment/friendships. The present item turns out quite exceptional in the context of the current analysis. The adjectives (e.g. rewarding, great, best, incredible) and metaphors (e.g. it was like a family reunion) that program participants used to describe the friendships they had established during the program are generally not frequently used to describe work teams in a corporate context. The program participants worked well together as a remote team. The first program year participants were particularly effusive about the friendships they had developed and several referenced the experiential learning program that took place during their first night together as a key factor in helping them develop as a team.

Visibility/exposure to executives. The present theme stood out as something unique and different about the RDS program and perhaps unique and different about XYZ Wireless in general at the data evaluation stage. Although many companies may claim to have “open-door” policies and opportunities for executives to mingle with front-line employees, the ILD team intentionally created opportunities for the RDSs to meet with and work with channel and company executives. The skip-level relationship that was created between each RDS and his/her Regional Director was critical to the program being continued a second year. They were also critical to program participants’ perceptions about the program and the company as evidenced by the number of comments associated with this particular theme.

Acquiring new skills. This particular theme is where the ILD team should have the greatest sense of accomplishment. This point acquires significant importance in terms of assessing the achievement of trainees and requires the assessment of visible results. To have “acquiring new skills” emerge as a core theme, although somewhat expected, should be gratifying to the individuals responsible for the overall program design. In this sense, at least, the program was a success.

As seen from the previous paragraphs, the RDS program has made a significant contribution to the development of managerial and leadership skills for front-line employees and resulted in visible results for those who got promoted within a short period upon RDS completion. However, the summary of results achieved by the RDS arrangers is not enough to conclude the discussion of the overall RDS impact on employees, structure, and success thereof. The key to the success of the RDS program, at least on the average level as shown by the quantitative research data, has to be identified; the program ensured much advancement for the majority of participants, so the core factor that contributed to the success requires analyzing.

As the results of the present research suggest, the key to the RDS program’s success was setting clear objectives for the participants. As the ILD team developed the program, they wrote a very specific job description for the RDSs, determined how the interview process would be conducted, and developed an evaluation strategy for how RDS performance would be measured. They also set clear objectives for the program on the whole. Objectives provide the framework for the program design and implementation. Without them, it is difficult to measure return on investment and even more difficult to identify key checkpoints where program corrections can be made.

Nonetheless, the partial success was predetermined by non-perfection in the discussed field of goal-setting for the RDS program, and it may become an additional point in the recommendation list for RDS improvement. Although the ILD team had clear objectives, they never defined by what percentage they wanted to see front-line employee attrition drop, or by what percentage they wanted to see dealer satisfaction increase. They took for granted, to some extent, that the program would have a positive impact on both areas, but didn’t necessarily take ownership for precisely how much of an impact it would make. This is not uncommon in the TPI field, as many professionals are afraid if they deviate from a goal they have set, they will not be viewed with as much credibility (Phillips and Hodges, 1999; Rothwell et al., 2003). However, like with any other functional group within the business, goal setting is essential for TPI teams. The simple fact that a team has set specific goals lends credibility to their efforts. Setting clear objectives is a central theme in both the more traditional and more holistic approaches to program evaluation within TPI. Kirkpatrick (1998) lists setting objectives as the second step of a larger ten-step process to effective program design.

Despite several key weaknesses, the ILD team was able to run a program viewed favorably by participants and managers alike. Given that 85.4% of managers surveyed said that the program benefited the channel and 99.3% said it benefited the company, it is completely possible to say that the RDS program had a high level of executive and field level support to the organization. It is also necessary to remember that the RDS initiative was the brand-new undertaking for XYZ Wireless, as well as it would be for any other company starting to explore an innovative leadership development area. Hence, despite a considerable level of discrepancies and incongruence in results from managers and participants, one can state that the idea was successful in its entirety. Significant alterations, improvements, and amendments are an indispensable stage to be completed by the ILD team or any other responsible body to achieve better results in the future. The next section of the present chapter contains relevant observations and recommendations that can be utilized in the course of RDS improvement.

Recommendations for Further Research and RDS Improvement

The program was surely a success, but it revealed a great set of discrepancies and pitfalls after its completion. Since the main dissatisfaction issues concerned participants’ emotions and perceptions, the topic of improvement has acquired much more significance; it is impossible to run the same program knowing that it does not appeal to the employees and thus does not accomplish the company’s goals. Thus, the present study has adopted a critical standpoint towards the RDS program and assessed both weak and strong points thereof. As a result of survey data analysis, a set of recommendations for further RDS improvement has been worked out.

The first key issue essential for the RDS success is a further advancement in goal-setting. Any program the ILD team chooses to implement, whether it is a new training curriculum or a career-development plan involving action learning, experiential learning and many of the other program components from the RDS program should have clearly defined objectives. Communicating those objectives back to the larger organization and reviewing and reporting on progress against those objectives will be essential for long-term success. Likewise, following a more holistic approach to setting those objectives will allow for more flexibility when business needs change.

Structuring a communication strategy is one more recommendation that derives from the received results of the study. Although the ILD team developed a communication strategy as part of the RDS program design, it is evident from both the management and program participant survey results that communication was a clear gap. The lesson for the ILD team as they look to design a replacement program will be not only to define a communication strategy but also to re-evaluate its effectiveness throughout the program. An effective communication strategy must include communicating to all levels of employees within the organizational unit. One survey respondent wrote that “I wish the entire org. chart of the Indirect Channel would have understood what the essence/role of the RDS was because in many instances we were considered underworked and overpaid despite the positive results we delivered.” This sentiment was echoed throughout the data. An effective communication strategy closely adhered to and consistently re-evaluated might have minimized frustrations about communication, which should be addressed in the future effort to build a more constructive RDS program.

Adhering to a program evaluation strategy was a clear pitfall of the RDS program and it has to be addressed in the future. There is no doubt that persistent, precise, and objective evaluation has always lain within the basic level of enrollee satisfaction. With the overwhelming number of respondents doubting their understanding of the assessment scale they were subject to, they were deprived of the opportunity to establish their objectives for participation in the RDS program and were unable to conduct comparative self-assessment. This issue lessened the feedback and substantially reduced self-awareness of achieved results, which is surely a negative tendency that should be addressed in the following program improvement process.

However, the future objectives of the RDS program as not as gloomy as they might seem; much work, amendment, and improvement are highly desirable for the initiative, but the essence thereof is highly appealing for the staff, as it comes from the surveys. If the ILD team does participate in designing a replacement program, they will benefit from considering what worked well and what didn’t work well with the RDS program. They will need to look for ways to ensure that they maintain some of the strengths of the program while at the same time actively working to eliminate some of the challenges with communication and program evaluation that were evident in this study.

Limitations of the Research

The present research has a set of limitations that derive directly from the limitations preconditioned by the chosen methodology. The first limitation comes from the limited number of questions and respondents that prevents the research from being comprehensive, precise, and generalizable. The limited number of findings is sufficient for the identification of different attitudes to the RDS program of managers and participants and assessment of their feelings and personal opinions on the subject.

The second limitation is the choice of questions at which the answer should have been given; the choice lay within the framework of the author’s competence, thus depriving the respondents of an opportunity to make their judgments and tell their individual stories. Only one open-ended question was available for the respondents, limiting the focus of their attention. As a result, the researcher acquired information on self-designed questions but never made sure whether there was something else respondents wanted to share.


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