When Leading at the Front Line (M1) was piloted in July 2000, Novartis wanted to impact the performance of its current front line managers and to create excellent role model managers for the next generation of managers.
The success of Leading at the Frontline (M1) continues today because the fundamentals are strong, it's unquestionably practical, and the sound input and vision of Novartis' CEO and other respected leaders are built directly into its design. Time has proved this process-driven program that encompasses skill development and self-awareness to be immediately relevant to participants, business units, and functions, and inherently global and expandable.
As Neil Johnston, one of the original designers puts it: "The program retains its freshness because it is built around very strong core processes. They have become a foundation on which each business unit and facilitator can meet the needs of participants in that particular year—processes are an underlying foundation on which they can build rather than a restriction on what they can do."
The longevity and success of Novartis' M1 program offers lessons and insights for building effective, long-term management training programs in other organizations. Let's explore.
The program's design flows out of a fundamental concept called the "leadership pipeline," highlighted in "The Leadership Pipeline: How to Build the Leadership Powered Company" by Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter, and James Noel. The Novartis M1 program was co-written by author James Noel, Neil Johnston, Novartis senior management, and training specialists.
The concept of the leadership pipeline is that development is most effective when people transition to a higher level of management in an organization. Examples of this are when a person first becomes a new manager, or when a current manager is promoted to being a "manager of managers," or when he or she becomes a functional or business unit leader. People are more receptive to learning at these key transitions when changes in skill requirements, in the focus of their work, and in the way they use time, are most pressing.
M1 is offered to managers new to Novartis and internally promoted managers shortly after their promotion—within six to twelve months. This is enough time in the new position to ascertain what they don't know, but early enough that habits have not yet been formed. For many, the transition to management is a big change, especially in a science-based company. To be suddenly in charge of a group of people, and to be responsible for their performance, development, and output (as opposed to individual output) is a major shift.
M1's goal is to help people start their new position with the processes, skills, and personal awareness to do the job against clearly defined expectations. The program addresses each subject area through three steps—process, skills, and personality. The careful application of processes can enhance a manager's efficiency. If they can then improve their skills in applying the process, they can increase their effectiveness. Finally, an awareness of personality highlights how easily the manager is able to apply the skills within the process and, perhaps more importantly, to understand more clearly the reactions they receive from those they manage.
Bucking Trends, Setting Targets
The content of M1 has been tightly controlled over the years, avoiding responding to fads and "flavor of the month." M1 is tightly focused on management foundations: how to better manage their business unit, their people, their projects, and themselves to become more effective leaders and role models.
The foundations are built around selection, coaching, performance management, setting objectives, delegating work, assessing performance and giving feedback, and team development processes and skills. There is a strong emphasis on emotional intelligence and self-awareness through multi-rater surveys and individual assessments on personality, learning styles, conflict management, and potential derailers.
Central to the success of M1 is a customized approach, requiring participants to bring their current issues and situations into the classroom. Managers don't feel they're wasting their time in a five-day program away from the office, but that they're bringing the problems of the office with them to be solved. Experienced facilitators work with each associate and teach the processes and skills needed to manage those concerns successfully.
Program Description and Structure
The pre-work before the classroom phase is critical, and takes participants an average of eight hours. Before entering the classroom, participants talk with their own manager. Together they identify specific issues that are particularly relevant to their situation for the upcoming year, linked into the performance management system. These can be either strengths they want to consolidate, or challenges they want to address.
Preparation work consists of compiling materials to bring with them to the classroom, reading articles, completing individual assessments, and initiating multi-rater surveys. The mindset is "this is a practical program that ties into my job right now." It is not something they go to, listen for a week, and put the binder on the shelf the minute they're back at the office.
Participants' real situations and concerns (such as time management and performance issues) are used as a basis for teaching process knowledge and skills. The program does not use simulations, case studies, or "desert survivor" tactics. M1 works with managers' real world issues. When they finish, they have a practical action plan that can be immediately applied.
The M1 program is process-driven, as processes are culturally independent. There is a process of coaching that can be used in Japan or Germany or Brazil or the U.S. The application of the process is where the cultural differences come in. The way you coach the process in Japan can be very different from the way you coach the process in the U.K., but the underlying process can be delivered throughout the world. This is an important reason why M1 translates into multiple languages and different countries so well.
A major portion of time in the program is spent practicing the skills learned. This is founded on proven adult learning methodology; adults learn best by doing and applying. Therefore, every time there is a process skill or personality input during the program, there is an opportunity to practice the learning. When participants return to the workplace, there is an immediate practical application with their people or in their teams.
The M1 includes an implementation phase of the learning obtained during the face-to-face session. The action plan can be included in the yearly objectives, and its successful implementation means the participant is "M1 certified." This inclusion in the yearly objectives provides the formal context to support the full integration of the M1 in the performance management system.
The facilitators of the program are there not to just facilitate, but also to use their knowledge and experience to engage participants in a dialogue. They may give specific advice on how to deal with issues. This genuine dialogue between the facilitators and participants reinforces the focus on outcomes and application.
Each day of the program, participants are asked to reflect on what they learned. They articulate these reflections to a peer in the program. This embeds their learning day-by-day. By the time they create their action plans at the end of the classroom phase, there is no doubt about the importance and relevance to their current jobs and continuing development as leaders.
Following the program, participants recalibrate their action plans with their managers, review feedback with their raters, and adjust goals back again into action. They learn a new approach, assess the relevance, practice, try it again, get feedback, and see whether it works.
The structure of the program has remained stable throughout its ten-year history, while the content of the program has been adjusted through annual feedback and updating. A ten-year period brings many social, economic, business, and political climate changes. While the framework has stayed the same, the ways the issues are dealt with reflects the needs of the current year and the concerns of the participants.
M1 was designed to be structured, but not scripted. For example, facilitators have the ability to use their language and examples against a common framework. They do not have to learn someone else's words to deliver the program. The same team of internal and external specialists has trained every facilitator. This consistency over such a long period is a tribute to the combined desire for excellence. More than 150 different facilitators have delivered M1 in various languages with a uniformly high standard of success.
The process design of the program enables facilitators to be successful. The dynamic of M1 comes from the participants. It does not depend on the facilitator to persuade participants about a great case study or management exercise. The facilitators are there to react to people's real concerns. In the classroom, the less a facilitator presents, the more value the participants gain. Concepts, frameworks, and models are introduced in short 30 to 40 minute segments. Participants then get two or three times that amount of time to absorb it, think about it in relationship to themselves, and integrate it with everything else they are learning. There's a heavy ratio in favor of personal practice, conversations, and interactions with each other.
Coaching is an integral part of the M1 programs, as every participant has at least 30 minutes of one-on-one time with a facilitator. And although 30 minutes doesn't sound like a long time, for a lot of participants this is the first time they've had access to a skilled facilitator with deep knowledge about business and being a manager. Feedback tells us participants value that 30 minutes enormously.
Normally there are two trainers for a class of 24 to 28 managers. The M1 course is offered in 13 languages. "We knew from our past experience and success the process part would work in every culture around the world. Also, we realized the program had to be designed around International English," says Johnston. "For example, we don't have any baseball, football, or cricket analogies. However, whenever you translate concepts into other languages, there are always challenges."
For example, there are many countries in the world that don't have a word in their own language for the word "coaching." Coaching is a western concept and word. While we do use the word "coaching" in the program, we were careful going into the translation. We make sure people have a model they can relate to and understand the nuances around non-native words and concepts.
Senior Manager Support
When M1 started, senior management wanted to create a foundation across the whole organization so everyone would have the experience of being led by a well-trained manager. Their support has proved critical and has been reinforced by the ongoing reaction of participants.
Although M1 is a corporate brand, it sits comfortably within the needs of each specific business unit and geography around the world. There has been much evaluation and measurement of the program over the years. From individual program evaluations, through organization level feedback to senior management teams, and company-wide follow up reviews with thousands of managers, there is little doubt about the programs immediate and longer term impact.
The more than 18,000 managers who have gone through M1 impact the lives of more than 70,000 Novartis associates every day. They recruit the vast majority of associates who will be our managers of the future. They are the key transmitters of the standards, values, and behaviors by which Novartis wants to achieve its mission. The investment in M1 is one of the building blocks that will ensure the long-term economic success of Novartis and its ability to continue to bring innovative solutions to many of the world's most pressing health issues.
Frank Waltmann is head of corporate learning at Novartis Corporation.