How does a decentralized leading global car company develop its high-potential leaders in emerging global markets—without breaking the bank on travel? By bringing them together using DDI’s virtual classroom technology.
Nissan is one of the world’s largest car companies and also one of the most de-centralized. With 31 production facilities in 16 countries and sales in 160 countries, Nissan has a large global footprint that demands high-quality leaders worldwide.
Among the most critical of these leaders are 60 operational leaders based in more than 10 countries that Nissan as identified as high potentials with the potential to move into demanding higher-level leadership roles in the future.
While these leaders represent multiple organizational levels and locations, and come from a variety of organizational functions, as a group they require a uniform set of leadership skills that are consistent with Nissan’s vision, values, and culture, and which support Nissan’s global business.
In addition, these leaders, who are located around the world, including in Latin America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, need to apply a common approach to leadership—a priority as these leaders figure to advance to roles where they will have greater spans of responsibility.
Nissan also wanted to provide a leadership program where that would bring the leaders together and help them to create connections with one another.
Challenges to overcome
While there were many compelling reasons for providing development to the high-potential leader population, there also were challenges, especially the geographical dispersion of the leaders, which would make it both logistically challenging and prohibitively expensive to bring everyone together for training.
Then there was the amount of time that would be required for each leader to travel to a central location. For some of the leaders, travel requirements would add days to the training that they would have to be away from their jobs.
“All our budgets for travel were frozen and we needed to do something,” says Darci Padilha, Nissan’s Africa, Middle East, and India Regional HR manager. “So, we started looking for alternatives to develop our talent.”
An innovative solution
Padilha and her team understood that even though there would be challenges to implementing a comprehensive leadership development curriculum, the advantages were too great to ignore. So, they engaged DDI to help design a leadership development initiative, which Nissan named the Global Organizational Leadership Development or “GOLD” program, to target the 60 high-potential leaders.
The GOLD program was built around a curriculum that would provide the skills Nissan’s high-potential leaders needed to be optimally effective and establish a common leadership language across locations. The program also was designed for optimal training efficiency—a must, given the modest budget that could be invested.
Rather than relying on a traditional classroom delivery approach for the curriculum, however, Padilha and DDI worked to structure the program so it could be delivered virtually, with three courses offered as self-study e-learning courses and four delivered in real-time using DDI’s virtual classroom technology.
The courses were from DDI’s award-winning Interaction Management®: Exceptional Leaders . . . Extraordinary Results® leadership development system. They included Essentials of Leadership, Setting Performance Expectations, Reviewing Performance Progress, Leading Change, Reaching Agreement, Motivating Others, and Developing Others. DDI’s innovative virtual classroom is a synchronous learning environment designed to mirror the live presentation and participant interaction of an actual classroom. Participants connect from their location via a web-conferencing platform, and experience the course as it is facilitated in real time by a DDI facilitator.
During the course, participants can ask and respond to questions, just as in a live classroom. They also can interact using various feedback tools, such as virtual white boards, annotation tools, and online polling questions. The virtual classroom platform even enables the facilitator to partition participants into small groups to complete team exercises, and engage in role plays.
Perhaps best of all is that the virtual classroom is designed to drive behavior change, just like a traditional classroom course. DDI research has shown that courses delivered through the virtual classroom are equally effective at changing behavior.
Helping participants get the most from the technology
The 60 high-potential leaders were divided into three cohort groups of 20 that met virtually eight times over a six-to-seven-month period. Prior to the first session, the participants completed a 30-minute virtual orientation session that helped them become familiar and comfortable with the virtual classroom platform.
“We did a lot of preparation work to assure that the virtual classroom would go as smoothly as possible,” says Padilha. “Before starting the program, we taught the leaders how to access and get the most from the technology.”
Beforehand, participants were mailed a binder that included all of the course materials. Accompanying the binder was a letter from a senior leader welcoming them to the GOLD program and underscoring its importance to Nissan.
The 20 leaders who made up the first cohort group hailed from 10 different countries and none of them had ever met one another. They were asked to provide photos of themselves as well as a brief introduction that were uploaded to the virtual classroom platform so that participants could associate a face with a name and voice during the course sessions.
Even though the courses were delivered virtually, the relationship-building proved real, as participants began interacting and networking with one another.
Padilha says that participants developed such a high level of comfort with the virtual classroom experience and with each other that they would even engage in off-topic conversations—with their co-participants that they had never actually met—in the time they were waiting for the course sessions to begin.
“Even though e-learning is common in Nissan, I can tell you that the virtual classroom approach that we applied in the GOLD program was viewed as especially exciting and interesting,” says Padilha.
Upon completing the initial delivery of the curriculum, Nissan worked with DDI to measure the program’s effectiveness at changing leader behavior in targeted skill areas such as listening, providing feedback, and having effective conversations. These results were compared to the average measured behavior change realized from classroom delivery of DDI leadership courses.
After going through the training, there was a 31-point improvement in the percentage of participants who said they displayed the targeted leadership behaviors (54 percent before, 85 percent after). This was almost equal to the 32-percentage point improvement that had been realized in the average classroom delivery.
Observer ratings showed an even more dramatic difference. Observers said the percentage of leaders displaying the targeted behaviors jumped by 30 percentage points (57 percent to 87 percent) after the virtual classroom training. This was much higher than the 17 percentage point average gain in observer ratings for leaders who had completed the courses in a traditional classroom setting.
A “nearly-perfect” program
Padilha says that the impact of the training goes beyond the numbers.
“When we talked with the leaders in person, we received very good feedback. The participants were motivated because Nissan was investing in them and they could apply what they learned to both their jobs and their lives.”
Said one participant in one of the course feedback surveys: “I wasn’t sure how this [virtual course] was going to be but I really liked all the interaction with my peers from all over the world.” Another participant was equally enthusiastic: “Great session, I learned so much.”
“From my point of view, I would say that this program was nearly perfect, as it addressed all of our goals we had set initially for our talent in the growing regions,” says Padilha, who plans to expand the program to a larger population of Nissan leaders.