Are Your Leaders Prepared for Rapid Growth?

As part of its process during stages of rapid growth, Bridgepoint Education has promoted many people into leadership roles. To support this expansion, Bridgepoint wanted to provide these new leaders with the leadership skills they would need to manage their staff effectively and build a motivating work environment. Shannon Wellman, Director of Talent Development, quickly realized that creating and delivering a training development plan would not only provide people with leadership skills, but also build trusting relationships among the managers and directors.

“Our goal was to create a consistent language for managers and other leaders so that they could provide direction and support for their teams,” explained Wellman. “Situational Leadership® II provided the foundational skills we were looking for.”

Bridgepoint Education is a publicly held, for-profit education company that owns two accredited universities: Ashford University in San Diego, California and University of the Rockies in Denver, Colorado. Bridgepoint’s mission is to provide high quality, innovative education services to enrich the lives and communities it serves. Because Bridgepoint’s executive leadership wanted to create the same level learning environment for their people, they developed LEAP—the Leadership Excellence Achievement Program.

LEAP, a four-month cohort program, was initially for managers and directors. It includes training in emotional intelligence, temperament, and coaching as well as the fundamental skills of Situational Leadership® II.  Each cohort meets face to face for one day during the first and second weeks of each month to learn the content of a new topic. Participants spend the third week putting the learning into practice back on their jobs. The fourth week they meet again, this time in a roundtable (small group) environment to share experiences and describe the practical applications of what they are learning. The cohort design works well to build not only skills, but community among the learners. People who were previously no more than colleagues, now have closer relationships and work together as partners.

LEAP has grown to be a benefit to all of Bridgepoint as employees work together toward common goals. The program proved to be so valuable that Wellman designed a streamlined version of the curriculum specifically for senior leaders. Now leaders at all levels of the organization apply the same fundamental skills to help people achieve goals. Because they use the same leadership language, they communicate more effectively, build trusting relationships, and create an engaging work environment that helps everyone thrive.

Applying Learning Back on The Job

When Wellman realized the applicability of the SLII® language to Bridgepoint’s day-to-day operations, she decided to take it one step further. Now, individual contributors nominated by their managers are also able to receive SLII training.

“One of the biggest learnings for everyone going through SLII is that it is about giving support and direction based on a person’s development level on a specific task—not based on the person themselves. I watched the lights go on in people’s heads when they understood that they needed to provide the right level of leadership to each person for each specific task,” explained Wellman. This was a huge change in leadership style—and now it is common language for everyone. Employees know how to ask for direction and support, and leaders know how to diagnose the development level and deliver the appropriate leadership style for each person on each task.

Josiah Goodin, AVP of student inquiry, shared his experience combining the elements of DiSC temperament model with SLII. “All tenets of LEAP are fantastic, but the two that hit home for me were SLII and DiSC. I am a high D on the DiSC rating—both goal oriented and results oriented—so I find myself trying to get from point A to point Z very fast. Being able to slow down, visualize the process of determining someone’s development level, and learn how to recognize when someone moves from one development level to another was very helpful,” he explained.

Another great aspect of using SLII is incorporating the new elements of the revised edition of the program.  Participants have access to several support tools for SLII that are available online through a platform called Blanchard Exchange. They can use worksheets to help with goal setting; conversation starters for planning one-on-one meetings with staff members; and checklists for assessing the effectiveness of their communications. Also available are articles and videos leaders may share with their teams to further their understanding of SLII, as well as an app that allows leaders to diagnose direct reports’ development levels on specific tasks or goals. The comprehensive materials on Blanchard Exchange make it easy to sustain the learning and embed the SLII language into the company culture.

As for the training class, “The streamlined participant materials and engaging videos make the concepts of SLII come alive,” says Wellman. “This isn’t just a lecture course. Participants spend time practicing the fundamentals of Situational Leadership® II so that they can start applying the new skills immediately.”

Results

The results of Bridgepoint’s training effectiveness scores are impressive. Bridgepoint has achieved level three results in both behavior change and organizational impact. Just six months after training, participant scores improved by 4 percent when asked if they could confidently ask their manager for help when they know they do not have the capability to complete a specific task, and 4.67 percent when they do not have the commitment to complete a task.

The fact that direct reports and managers alike are using Situational Leadership® II language is a turning point for Bridgepoint. “Instead of using any leadership style that comes to mind, our managers all now speak the same language. Staff members know how to ask for the direction and support they need to accomplish tasks, and leaders are able to offer the right kind of help to make sure people are performing at their highest level,” said Wellman.

The power of the entire staff using the same leadership model, language, and skills not only helps Bridgepoint effectively manage its rapid growth, but also sets up the whole organization for future success.