RPM International Builds a Culture of Feedback

RPM International logo
CLIENT:RPM International Inc, a $7.3 billion, multinational company with subsidiaries that are world leaders in specialty coatings, sealants and building materials, is known for such market-leading consumer brands as DAP, Rust-Oleum and Kwik Seal.
LOCATION:Headquartered in Medina, Ohio
SIZE:17,300 employees

Client Profile & Challenge

Consumers and professionals around the world trust RPM International’s brands to protect and preserve homes, workplaces, and even iconic landmarks like the Statue of Liberty.

But company leaders know it’s the people behind those products who make the $7.3 billion multinational company the success it is today.

“Our CEO likes to say, ‘We don’t make anything at corporate headquarters. All the making happens at our respective companies,’ ” says Randy McShepard, Chief Talent Officer at RPM. “Let’s be clear about that.”

Once a small, family-owned business, today RPM’s respective companies comprise a complex network of 80 business units and four operating groups. And with 17,300 associates working in more than 120 global facilities and the corporate office, effective communication can be challenging.

So when communication cropped up as a top concern on employee surveys a few years ago, CEO Frank C. Sullivan took note. Sullivan, whose grandfather founded the company’s forerunner to RPM in 1947, believes success depends on valuing the worth of every associate and their combined contributions. RPM’s core values — transparency, trust and respect — are foundational to its culture of doing business the right way for the right reasons.

“With a company our size, he was becoming more concerned about whether he really understood the pulse of our employees. Did he really know what they care about?” McShepard notes. “Are they loving coming to work every day or are they flight risks just waiting for the next opportunity because they don’t necessarily have strong connections or communication with their leaders, their peers, and the corporate office? While this type of assessment had been done at the group level, it had not been done across the entire company in comprehensive fashion.”

CCL Case Study: RPM International Builds a Culture of Feedback


RPM International turned to a trusted partner, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL)®, to meet its communication challenges head-on. The two had worked together before with positive results.

And CCL had just the right fit: a highly immersive and practical program called Better Conversations Every Day™ that is designed to build a coaching culture of feedback within all levels of an organization. Participants learn core behaviors and practice the types of candid conversations that build stronger relationships, fuel collaboration, and enable better business outcomes.

“When we were introduced to the Better Conversations Every Day model, we thought, if CCL is offering it, it’s probably worth taking a close look at. And that ended up being exactly the case,” McShepard recalls. “CCL gave us all the support that we needed to be bold enough to try to build a program from the ground up.”

RPM launched the program in 2020, starting with senior officers at corporate headquarters and the four operating groups.  Their enthusiasm for the BCE experience quickly cascaded throughout the company, McShepard said.

“All of the leaders got excited about it. So it wasn’t a tough sell to then go to our operating companies to say, ‘OK, this is what we now want you to do.’ “

Early on, RPM worked with CCL to get its own people trained as facilitators so the program could be scaled company-wide. These associates participated in CCL’s train-the-trainer certification process consisting of a series of asynchronous study lessons and three group sessions – including practice sessions delivering program content, followed by coaching and feedback. The training is designed to help internal trainers improve their facilitation skills, become intimately familiar with the program content, and gain confidence to deliver it by hands-on practice.

Shelly Wilson served on the company’s Global Organizational Leadership Development (GOLD) Team at the time and volunteered to be the in-house coordinator of the initiative.

The 8-hour workshop, offered in-person or live online, takes place several times a year, with 24 to 36 employees taking part in each session. Participants are broken into groups of 4 that each work with an assigned coach. They are grouped with associates they do not work for or with to encourage openness and vulnerability. Everyone is asked to bring real-life work issues to the table for the practice sessions.

Associates learn the skills necessary to grapple with difficult issues candidly. One such tool is CCL’s research-backed Situation-Behavior-Impact (SBI) model, which is proven to reduce both the anxiety of delivering feedback during challenging conversations and the defensiveness of the recipient. The method is simple and direct: capture and clarify the situation, describe the specific behaviors observed, and explain the impact of those behaviors.

“SBI is such a powerful tool, and it ties so well with listening to understand and asking powerful questions. All three of those are just so important,” Wilson says. “We really push the vulnerability and trust aspect of it, and that has made a big difference because people share more. The model really works.”


The Better Conversations Every Day training has become so popular at RPM that new hires are lining up to participate in the next workshops. And RPM now is offering a 2-hour, virtual “refresher” course for associates who want to brush up on the skills they learned in the original workshop.

“We have trained 1,267 people to date and I have surveys for every single one of those,” Wilson notes. “And not one — not one — thought it wasn’t impactful and that it should not be scaled throughout the company.”

Indeed, 99% of participants report they can apply the knowledge and skills learned in BCE sessions to their jobs.

“Educational and paradigm shifting,” one associate wrote.

 “Empowering” and “Eye-opening,” wrote others.

Additional survey results are overwhelmingly positive:
of participants are better able to listen to understand.
of participants are better able to ask powerful questions.
of participants are better able to challenge and support.

These results check a lot of boxes for McShepard. “All of that tells me as the Chief Talent Officer that this is a product that our associates are pleased with, that they see clear value in participating in it and they want more of it.”

Harrison Sturdivant, Strategic Business Partner at CCL, says of the partnership, “We’ve been on amazing journey of impact in service of RPM’s vision for a better and stronger culture around the world.  Working collaboratively with the team has been an honor and continues to build on CCL’s commitment to results that matter.” 

Investing in a feedback culture has proven to be a wise decision for RPM, McShepard says. So, too, is partnering with CCL.

“There’s a lot of great leadership organizations out there that do this work, but the professionalism and the precision that we’ve experienced with CCL puts them at the top of the heap in our book,” he says.

“We’re proud of our partnership with CCL and proud of how far we’ve come with BCE and the impact that is making on our company.
What more can we ask for?”

Participants Say

“CCL gave us all the support that we needed to be bold enough to try to build a program from the ground up.”

Randy McShepard

“We really push the vulnerability and trust aspect of it, and that has made a big difference because people share more. The model really works.” 

Shelly Wilson

“Educational and paradigm shifting” 

Program Participant

Partner With Us

We can work with you to build a culture of feedback which is key to improved communication within your organization. It all begins with better conversations every day, from the front desk to the corner office.

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