by Lisa Hower, Discover Card

[dropcap2 variation=”purple”]H[/dropcap2]ow resilient is your workforce management team? If you lost your top three managers today, how much time would pass and how much customer dissatisfaction might you incur before your  operations were optimal?

Earlier this year, I asked myself a similar question when I struggled to back-fill two important WFM roles. While thinking through the dilemma, it occurred to me that while our team often discussed talent  development, we did not have a fully-formed strategic plan. This problem statement was transformed into a program purpose: Strategically offer development and networking opportunities along with technical learning to talented individuals in an effort to build bench strength. To this end, WOLF (Workforce Operations Leadership Fundamentals) was created. WOLF is a 12-month program beginning with six high-potential employees in the inaugural year.

You’ve noted that I italicized technical learning. This was intentional to emphasize a critical distinction between this program and all other internal leadership programs. Our goal was to distinctly and purposefully develop a program from which graduates would be wholly prepared to promote into a role with a developed technical skill set. To create the program content, we consulted with our internal Training professionals to ensure we encompassed elements of adult learning that best ensured success. Our activities were focused on: acquiring skills, applying skills, growing personal networks, and building technical knowledge. The context for learning centered on internal/ external resources, project work, structured mentoring, and creating an on-line community for participants.

Next on the list came the task of determining participant criteria. Ultimately, we landed on these seven:

  1. Strong performance in current role
  2. Strong potential for success at the next level
  3. A commitment to personal development
  4. Possession or pursuit of a college degree
  5. Completion of self nomination/letter of intent
  6. One-up management approval to participate
  7. Current member of WFM team

It was also critical to establish expectations including active participation in all program-related activities. Participants must own the commitment to learning via initiation and completion of assignments and mentoring engagements. The  mentoring aspect was critical as this element enables us to develop our key talent by leveraging the experience of our internal leaders to expand relationships beyond the current team, increase exposure to other leaders, provide an alternative  perspective on workrelated topics, and expand technical skill sets.

Using Gallop Strength Finders, we created mentor/mentee pairings where individuals have some common strengths but also where a particular strength is a bottom trait for  the mentee. As most pairings involved geographical distances, video cameras were purchased for mentees and mentors for the almost-in-person mentoring interactions. As part of the program, the full group, mentors and mentees, come together twice per month for a business book club discussion.

The curriculum was divided into four themes:

  1. Laying the Foundation
  2. Business at Discover Card and Beyond
  3. Building Your Brand
  4. Toning your Technical Skills

Learning resources include external Websites and white papers, internal training classes, one-hour learning sessions with specific process leaders, and project work. Project work is a way for participants to apply what is learned from the  curriculum, work in teams across sites, think about their current role in a different way, prepare for different roles within the organization, and provide value with an evolved skill set. Project Management includes theory as developed by  Project Management International along with actual project work with a certified Project Professional (PMP) serving as leader. In addition, we’ve built some fun into the program using experiential learning by using formats popular on the television shows Shark Tank and The Pitch.

The inaugural class is in month five of the program and participant feedback has been largely positive. Participants are polled for feedback on a regular basis to ensure improvements are applied to next year’s program which will be opened to the full Discover Card population to apply.

Success measures include:

  1. 75% participant movement within 24 months
  2. Retention of 95% of participants within Discover Card.
  3. Demonstrated ability to drive metric performance within team and beyond
  4. Successful completion of projects that benefit the Enterprise

We definitely feel that we are on the right track in strengthening our managerial candidate’s bench by developing strong, self-assured, talented, and resilient leaders to ensure successful operational continuity and customer satisfaction.

SWPP Member Lisa Hower presented a session on this topic at the 2013 SWPP Annual Conference. She may be reached at lisahower@discover.com.