How can successful managers help move your company forward? Founded in 2000, Vistaprint is a leading online supplier of customized printed products and marketing tools. In recent years, the company has experienced rapid growth and major increase in business volume. In response to the sweeping change in business volume over the past decade, promotions were given to strong individual contributors. These promotions yielded positive results in some cases, but not in all. Employee engagement surveys, from fiscal year 2006-2008, revealed a lack of confidence in these immediate managers. The company quickly realized it needed to shift focus onto its managers in an effort to sustain the rapid level of growth it was experiencing while also growing and developing future leaders for the organization. The Global Executive Team met and discussed what route Vistaprint could take in order to address the prevalent management issues at hand.
They came to a mutual agreement and decided that if the business invested the time to educate employees and create development opportunities for managers, successful business results would ensue.
In the fall of 2008, Vistaprint began to focus on how to develop its managers, which was something new and different to the business. The learning and development team researched and created a relevant and targeted Manager Development Program (MDP) for all managerial levels. Emphasis was placed on creating a high impact development program, not just a one day training event. The learning and development team partnered with key internal stakeholders to gather requirements and conduct a needs analysis, collecting data from business leader interviews and focus groups. In addition, employee survey results showed unsatisfactory marks towards how people felt about their managers’ ability to effectively manage their teams. These different initiatives helped to ensure that the company was not only addressing the business needs, but was also building ongoing support of the training initiative and its associated skills and behaviors.
Rooted in extensive research and analysis to satisfy global organizational needs, MDP was designed with a commitment to developing mid-level managers for the Vistaprint of tomorrow, by shaping them into successful leaders that can keep pace with the company’s rapid growth. The program’s main initiative was to build foundational management competencies that strengthen the relationship between managers and their teams by enabling managers to learn about abilities such as, motivating others, and being open and transparent. Other competencies included aligning employee tasks with overall business goals, maintaining productive management practices, acting as a role model, as well as making decisions based on the company’s core guiding principles. The program was designed to be a blend of instructor-led training and e-learning, which provides a comprehensive experience for the learner. The program was constructed to take place over the course of one year, concluding with a graduation ceremony that acknowledges the participants’ hard work and dedication.
A pilot class, consisting of 24 mid-level managers from each area of the business, launched in April of 2009. Its curriculum included approximately 20 days of effort involving group and individual learning experiences through full-day classes, discussion groups, peer networking opportunities and Web-based resources. Each portion addressed current business issues, with at least 45 percent of the time devoted to “real-time” Vistaprint situations. Each session was unique as it provided managers with a reliable, safe environment for interaction where challenges could be discussed. Participants felt galvanized to embrace the challenge of becoming a stronger manager. As they engaged in the program, they learned specific skills and behaviors that could be applied to their day-to-day work and improve their effectiveness as a manager. Best practice topics included learning styles, effective listening, coaching, providing feedback, executing productive one-on-one meetings and time management. These techniques allowed individuals to effectively set the mission and vision for their organization, create objectives for their direct reports and empower them and hold them accountable to achieve those objectives.
Since the launch of the pilot class, seven more classes have rolled out as well as the implementation of an emerging manager development (EMDP) curriculum, which focuses on new managers. This program is currently in the process of being piloted and evaluated. The expectation is for MDP as well as EMDP to continue to be an ongoing interactive process for Vistaprint. The program has helped Vistaprint promote career development to prospective employees and our new hire numbers have increased dramatically since the implementation. The program has created an encouraging message that makes participants want to incorporate and even teach what was taught to them in their day-to-day jobs. Employees lobby to be accepted into the program and they want to gain knowledge on how to become an even more effective manager. Participant scores on 360 degree feedback surveys continue to rise with each new class that goes through the program. For example, recent managers’ scores on coaching and mentoring increased by 8.6 percent (on a 5-point scale) and scores on motivating others increased by 6.3 percent after the fourth class completed the MDP curriculum in March of 2011.
Truly improving performance requires a sustained effort over time. The more managers are given the opportunity to partake in the coursework, the more leverage a company has in the ability to create a lasting and effective managerial culture.
After only a year of implementing the program, a drastic change has already been seen in the number of people that are creating SMART goals, providing both the manager and the employee with the criteria needed to objectively discuss, monitor and evaluate performance; resulting in 132 promotions in 2010 alone. Since most employee goals tie in with the goals of the organization it is a significant success that employees are taking the time to create these targets which in turn act as the cornerstone of effective performance management.
As the program continues to evolve and embed itself into the company’s culture, it will continually be looked at by stakeholders for business review, feedback, endorsement and input in the delivery of the content. The Manager Development Program has laid a strong foundation to reach the company’s goal of increasing people managers’ capability to drive employee performance and engagement. As the company continues to grow, focus should remain on supporting managers and employees through quality systems, programs and resources such as MDP in order to scale as an organization and prepare for a successful future.
Jennifer Remis is a senior learning associate at Vistaprint (www.vistaprint.com ). A 2005 graduate of Boston College, Remis previously held positions at Boston University’s School of Management, Callanan & Klein Communications and Hollister Staffing Inc.
Written for TrainingIndustry.com