Case Study in Effective Communication: Leadership in Action

Leadership is a journey, not a destination, but many leaders treat learning like a vacation destination – only to be visited once or twice a year. Fun while it lasts, great memories made, maybe even a few cocktails consumed, but then you return to the reality of your daily work life. The same goes for learning. The afterglow of a wonderful classroom experience wears off quickly and leaders find themselves falling into their old habits and routines. The good intentions and resolutions they made in the classroom are pushed aside as the demands of their clients, employees, manager and peers take priority.

It’s a natural cycle, and one that plagues any Learning & Development professional who wants to sustain learning in the workplace. Our company is no different. A couple of years ago, we found ourselves pondering how we could help our leaders keep the learning alive, without ever leaving their workspace. After some brainstorming, our answer came in the form of an organically created program, aptly named “Leadership in Action.” This program focuses on providing leadership content in bite-size chunks to leaders that they can use immediately on a regular basis. We launched the program in Q2 of 2015, at no cost other than our development time.

“Leadership in Action is a simple concept with a powerful impact to our organization.” Ryland Harrelson, EVP and Chief HR Officer, TSYS. 

Our Formula:

  • Identify a quarterly topic for leadership development. Quarterly topics are based on feedback from our editorial board, succession planning development themes and other inputs, such as what is going on culturally in the company.
  • Outline the bi-weekly topics for the quarter based on the overall topic, creating bite-size content chunks.
  • Draft the content for the quarter.
    • Identify a short story or vignette that will capture interest and attention
    • Link the key point to the session’s story.
    • Provide tools to support the key point (videos, articles, templates, etc.).
    • Survey learners for feedback. Keep a continuous feedback survey open and monitor for valuable input and suggestions for improvement.

As we executed our “Leadership in Action” content management journey, we learned some lessons along the way.

  • Be flexible. Respond to what’s going on in the organization. For example, if layoffs are occurring, and you had planned to discuss the topic of “attracting talent,” consider switching topics as you don’t want to appear insensitive and disconnected from the current reality of the audience.
  • Keep it short and sweet. Leaders are busy and too much content can be overwhelming.
  • Clearly define success, but be realistic. We want to see behavior change for our leaders as they apply the concepts to their work. But, we don’t expect that every leader will read every installment. It’s not going to happen.
  • Evolve. Listen to the feedback and keep incorporating new ideas.

And above all, be smart with your communications. You must always be thoughtful of the messages you’re deliver and the way they are delivered. You must change in real-time to adjust to unforeseen situations and continuously keep your eye on what is resonating and what is not.

Sustaining this program takes coordination, time, effort and creativity. It takes a commitment to smart communication. We have to continuously keep an eye on what is resonating and what is not. We have to make sure our messages are being well received and then adjusting things as needed. But it’s worth it. Feedback from our leaders tells us that they appreciate the bi-weekly investment in their growth. Application of the content and concepts is key to long-term behavior change – and often doesn’t happen in the classroom setting.

We have many success stories that leaders have shared. They tell us they are using the content to drive conversations in their team meetings, to prepare for difficult conversations, and to drive engagement. More importantly, they are putting their leadership in action in a very real and personal way – by making it work for them. As program sponsor Monica Ojendyk is fond of saying, “Every day, if we only help one leader be more effective – that is success.”

About the author:

Monica is the Group Executive for Global Talent Management at TSYS, with responsibility for Corporate Learning, Leadership Development, Performance Management and Talent Acquisition. A relative newcomer to Human Resources, Monica spent the majority of her 23-year career at TSYS working in various leadership roles across the business. This experience gives her real life understanding of her customer’s needs, which she believes adds value and credibility to the talent management function. Monica is a graduate of Graceland University, with a B.A. in Youth Services Administration.