Accelerating sustainable business results through transformational change — at a pivotal time — requires a business partnership that is flexible and adaptive. In the case of the Center for Creative Leadership’s relationship with Mars Corporation, that partnership took the form of a program called Accelerated Leadership.

“What has made the Accelerated Leadership Program (ALP) an incredible home run is that you typically think of professional development dollars and time as something that will pay off over the long run,” Mars’ Global Director of Leadership Development Kristin Colber-Baker explained. “The compelling surprise is that you can do unbelievable professional development like ALP while still generating ROI in the near and long term.”

ALP came at a critical time for Mars, a 100-year-old family business that manufactures confectionary, pet and other food products, and animal care services. The company needed to increase the number of “ready now” leaders for senior leadership positions and accelerate the promotion rate of high potentials to fill the senior leader talent pipeline.

The home run that Colber-Baker mentions didn’t happen overnight. A sustainable partnership that evolved over time enabled ALP to have a measurable impact on Mars’ talent pipeline challenge and ROI on the business overall. This story outlines the journey.

 

The Challenge: Addressing a Severe Talent Drought

In 2006, Mars was growing both organically and through acquisitions faster than its talent management pipeline could develop leaders. Additionally, Mars was changing its management strategy from a geographic leadership model to a segmentation model in order to better manage its diverse holdings. The 10-year growth model at the time estimated that Mars would need to double its senior leader pipeline, growing from 400 to 800.

A review of the top 1,000 jobs crystallized the issues that general managers across the organization had noticed — middle managers were not ready to take on senior level positions. As the company expanded, more leadership roles would open up, and the leaders who filled them needed to be mission-ready with a firm understanding of Mars’ culture and values.

Mars’ hiring strategy had brought in talented, high-potential leaders, but the existing talent management pipeline encouraged leaders to stay in their positions for 3 years. With a goal of maintaining an 80% internal promotion rate, Mars realized it was on the brink of a severe talent drought. The processing time for mid-level leaders couldn’t keep up with the pace of Mars’ projected growth.

“These mission-critical roles were positions that we couldn’t afford to leave open,” explained Colber-Baker. “We needed to prepare high-potential leaders more quickly for senior management positions that required successfully leading others and driving organizational change initiatives.”

Mars’ Chief Learning Officer was tasked with finding a solution to rapidly develop leaders just below the mission-critical level and prime them for the next leadership role. While each region previously had its own leadership school and related program through Mars University (Mars U), developing leaders for these mission-critical positions was now a global challenge and required a centralized approach.

 

The Solution: Accelerating Leaders Through Transformational Change

To make high potentials mission-ready for their next leadership role, CCL and Mars committed to ALP in 2007.

The program builds on Mars’ internal program and is structured around a 4 stage Eco-Change Model that takes participants through the process of classifying, cultivating, converting, and cascading organizational change.

Classify: Participants learn to map their change ecosystem by doing ethnographic research and conducting experiments.

Cultivate: Participants prepare themselves to impact their environment by learning their strengths and weaknesses of leading change.

Convert: Participants multiply their change effects by influencing key stakeholders across the business.

Cascade: Participants use storytelling or storyboards to spread their changes system wide and accomplish a significant milestone, which they then share with Mars’ senior executives.

 

Outcomes and Lessons Learned

In total, 348 participants in 19 cohorts have gone through the program. The following are concrete ways in which these individuals and Mars as a company have benefited:

  • There’s been a 20% increase in Mars’ promotion of ready senior leaders in the past 5 years, largely due to the impact of ALP.
  • ALP alumni get promoted to senior-level positions at twice the rate than similarly identified high potentials who have not attended the program.
  • The earnings generated by the transformational change initiatives have resulted in a 7.1 payback ratio.
  • For every leader Mars sends through ALP, the business can expect nearly $300,000 of incremental earnings.
  • Since Mars began tracking the financial impact of transformational change in 2014, ALP alumni have generated nearly $15 million in incremental earnings for the business. This doesn’t take into account the financial impact prior to 2014.
  • 9,396 key stakeholders have been influenced by ALP alumni — an average of 27 stakeholders per participant.
  • Over the last 5 years, the program has averaged a rating of 4.88 (on a rating scale form 1 to 5) on outcomes. Additionally, senior leaders have been able to gain visibility to similar challenges faced by their peers across the globe. They can then leverage their insight into this network to combine efforts and streamline results.

To learn more about Mars’ tremendous success with the Accelerated Leadership Program in partnership with CCL, download the full case study below.

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