Since 2004, Schindler Elevator Corporation has been partnering with Penn State's Management Development program to deliver two unique training programs for its field managers.
The program is built on a foundation of action learning, high student-leader-instructor interaction, and peer support. Senior leaders from Schindler and Penn State faculty design and deliver a curriculum consisting of two one-week courses: Schindler University 101 and 201. This partnership has contributed to improved customer satisfaction and employee engagement ratings as well as operational excellence and strong financial results.
In challenging economic times, Schindler Elevator - the North American operating entity of the Swiss-based Schindler Group - has maintained its focus on the development of key management personnel. By recognizing that investment in training programs, retention of key managers, and quick ramp-up development of new managers are critical, Schindler is well-positioned to meet market needs when the economy improves.
"Equipping our field managers with the knowledge and skills to execute our strategy is critical to Schindler's success," says Bill Fiacco, executive vice president of field operations for Schindler. "We must be prepared for all market conditions. Through focused management development programs such as Schindler University, we are able to not only develop our team, but also create communication channels between senior leadership and field management."
The challenge facing Schindler
Field managers hold responsibility for many operational aspects of Schindler's business - from sales to installation of products in new construction to providing high levels of customer service through equipment service contracts. They can manage anywhere from 15 to more than 150 employees, depending on the size of the field office. In late 2004, Schindler recognized that its diverse field management team could benefit from refresher training and emphasis on strong execution skills so that it could continue to drive growth and achieve strong financial results.
Field managers were identified by Schindler's senior leadership team as critical to the growth and future success of the organization. Schindler sought to enhance the performance of existing managers and create a systematic process to quickly elevate the performance of new hires being brought into the positions from both internal and external sources.
The Schindler senior leadership team made the commitment to invest in a customized, progressive management development curriculum named Schindler University to focus on skills that will produce operational and people leadership. The foundation of the curriculum is based on the belief that strong operational and people leadership will lead to satisfied customers, engaged employees, and strong financial results. An executive steering committee identified the specific foundational skills critical to this approach: coaching, leading a team, business planning, and business and financial acumen.
After a thorough search process, the executive steering committee selected Penn State's Management Development organization as its partner of choice based on its reputation, ability to customize the curriculum, and willingness to create an integrated program utilizing Schindler senior leaders and Penn State faculty as teachers.
Diane Roberts, Schindler's manager of learning and development, has been directly involved in the development and deployment of the Schindler University programs. "By choosing to partner with Penn State, we immediately had access to its leading-edge research and expertise," she says. "Its interest and willingness to learn our business, understand our needs, and partner to craft an outstanding integrated curriculum by utilizing their faculty and our leaders has resulted in a program that is not only well received and recommended by participants, but has had a positive impact on our business results."
A partnership with Penn State Management Development
Housed within Penn State Business Solutions, Management Development provides management education and supervisory development programs to a wide variety of organizations. With seven full-time faculty members and more than 30 professional associates, Management Development creates and delivers a wide array of educational offerings through face-to-face and blended approaches. Critical success factors in its programs include the use of individual assessments and the design of client-centered experiential learning activities.
Through a series of exploratory meetings, interviews, and planning workshops, PSU MD and Schindler crafted Schindler University 101. The integration of Penn State Management Development faculty and Schindler leaders, working together on the design and delivery of both the 101 and 201 courses, has proven to be a key component in the curriculum's success. Guiding the design of both Schindler 101 and 201 is a strong emphasis on experiential learning and the seamless transfer of learning into the workplace.
This has been accomplished through the development of unique Schindler scenarios, case studies, and structured small group activities. The final piece in the learning process is an after-class assignment. In the Schindler University 101 program, participants must construct their own regional or district business plans within three months of the course and present them to their regional vice presidents for review and approval.
The classroom environment also contributes to the program's success. Class size is limited to 16, with multiple instructors and a class demographic purposefully mixed by tenure and geography to further enhance the learning experience. All field managers are sent to both 101 and 201 programs, regardless of experience, to allow for level-setting and the creation of a common language and foundation.
Lastly, but just as important, is the campus environment at Penn State in State College, Pennsylvania. Being on campus and away from the office allows participants to focus, network, and learn. The out-of-office experiences have been carefully designed and facilitated to enhance learning and strengthen relationships among the participants. This relationship has transferred back to the workplace.
"The collaborative nature of this project has truly been unique and allowed our faculty team to see the positive sustainable impact of well-designed and executed management development programs," says Jeff Hand, assistant vice president of Penn State Business Solutions. "The commitment of Schindler's senior leadership team to this program is evident through the time they have devoted to the design and delivery of the courses."
The relationship that evolved between Schindler and Penn State has transformed from a client-vendor relationship to one of collaborators who work together to create positive learning experiences. Schindler leaders have firmly placed their footprint on the program through their involvement in the design and delivery of the program and the follow-up that takes place after the program.
Penn State's Management Development program has worked to create a total learning experience that includes classroom learning, post-program coaching, and a commitment to developing a deep understanding of the Schindler culture and organizational values that are integrated into the program.
Programs are based on a core set of principles focused on the creation of customized learning solutions that include a variety of personal assessments, experiential learning activities, and project-based learning that drives learning into the workplace. Pre- and post-program readings and assignments have extended the learning beyond the classroom and solidified the program's impact.
"The partnership with Penn State has allowed the Schindler management team to focus on improving operational execution while Penn State continues to help us to develop the skills and competencies of the field management team," says Gary Saxon, Schindler's southeast region vice president and co-facilitator for the Schindler University 201 program.
"They have partnered with us to develop specific course material, teaching methods, and styles that fit our needs and demands. The material is molded around the daily demands from our industry, making it immediately applicable for our managers. We have seen the material implemented, followed up, and used in our personal programs for career development. We are a better company as a result."
Critical success factors
The involvement of Schindler's senior leaders is the critical success factor in this program. Just-in-time evaluations conducted at the conclusion of the courses indicate the importance of senior leadership involvement in the program and send a clear message that the courses are important. They also provide opportunities for senior
leaders to interact with the participants in a variety of settings.
"This type of investment in our people does not cost, it pays," says Brad Baker, Schindler's northeast region vice president and a Schindler University 101 presenter.
Fiacco opens each program with a state-of-the-company presentation and then facilitates a discussion with class members around current issues facing the organization and his expectations related to participation in the courses. Additionally, region vice presidents deliver portions of the program and lend their expertise and experience in showing real-world application of topics discussed.
Results and looking forward
To date, all incumbent field managers have completed the 101 program and approximately 25 percent have completed the 201 program. The 101 program continues at least once per year for new managers and the 201 program is held multiple times per year so that all managers can attend.
"Since the introduction of this program, we have seen increases in our employee engagement survey ratings and improvements in many operational metrics in a very tough economy," says Roberts. "The attendees benefit so much from the expertise and experience of the PSU-Schindler facilitators and have been able to quickly apply their new skills back on the job - for their own benefit and the benefit of the company."
Plans are under way for the development of a 301 course. The strategic direction of the organization is influencing the curriculum for this program as well as a survey of 101 and 201 participants, which will be used to guide the curriculum. Looking to leverage PSU-MD's capabilities for blended learning, the integrated development team
is considering all methods for extending the learning for freeing up face-to-face time for additional experiential learning activities.
"Our relationship with Penn State and the resulting programs has benefited Schindler in more ways than I can count," Fiacco concludes. "By leveraging PSU's expertise, we are able to jointly produce and facilitate networking and peer support. This program has helped us build a stronger field management team that is prepared to face our changing market demands."