In 2004, temporary employment agency Randstad North America restructured its field workforce to add an additional layer of first-line management at hundreds of branch locations throughout the United States. "We used to have 'market managers' who oversaw an average of three branches," says Colleen Cunningham, national manager of leadership development. "They did a good job, but we decided we needed somebody daily in each branch to run it and to develop people."
The Dutch parent company, Randstad Holding NV, had recently launched a workforce planning initiative called Blue Sky, one goal of which is that 80 percent of promotions should happen internally. Though no money for the North American restructuring had been earmarked in the 2004 training budget, management never questioned the need, says chief learning officer Vince Eugenio.
The company quickly coughed up enough new funds that within two months, 175 new branch managers, almost all promoted from the ranks, had been brought to Randstad's Atlanta headquarters for a week of training focused on operational issues.
As part of that initiative, the novice managers did a SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis of their branches and developed implementation plans to carry out when they returned.
"Our training always has an applications-based perspective," Eugenio says. "It's never just about sitting in class. It's always about what you're going to do."
Training in people-management skills had to wait longer than Eugenio would have liked. But in 2005, 250 branch managers went back to Atlanta for a five-day course called "Managing the Randstad Way."
The program covered topics such as hiring and legal issues, but its main emphasis was on coaching, again with a direct focus on application. For instance, Cunningham says, the branch managers were told to "bring an actual case of one of your employees who needs coaching—the toughest situation you have."
Each manager then played himself in a role-play of a coaching conversation, with another branch manager acting as the problem employee and additional trainees giving feedback. "When they went back to work," Cunningham says, "they'd had a dry run."
Eugenio and Cunningham say their current challenge is to turn the Blue Sky workforce initiative into a full-scale career-development program that touches every Randstad employee. They are creating formal mechanisms by which branch managers can identify and help prepare the next generation of branch managers, regional managers can do the same for branch managers, and so on up to the top of Randstad's hierarchy.
The effort begins, Eugenio says, with a "transparent and clearly articulated" way to answer the question, "How can I get promoted around here, and to what positions?" That transparent system is already in place, he says.
The company's career-progression scheme is spelled out at hiring time, with compensation levels and skill requirements for various positions explained. "And all of our performance-management tools are right on the Web site for all employees to see. The appraisal documents, the required competencies, the coaching process—it's all in plain view."
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