Since 1954, public and private organizations have tapped construction and engineering firm Cupertino Electric, Inc. (CEI) to design and construct first-of-their-kind electrical systems.
In 2009 and 2010, CEI employees helped position the San Jose, Calif.-based company as the highest-ranked electrical contractor on the Silicon Valley Business Journal/San Francisco Business Times “Best Places to Work” list. The high level of employee satisfaction at CEI is attributed, in part, to the company’s focus on developing and retaining talented people.
Because the future success of CEI resides within its talent pool, creating and implementing an effective leadership development program is a top priority. With this in mind CEI management tasked a core group of leaders with designing their own development program.
“We had an accelerated leadership development program in place two years ago, but last year it became apparent participants were not getting what they needed to take the next step up,” said Rose Baldwin, CEI’s director of human resources.
Positioning the work as an action learning project, eight managers in CEI’s accelerated leadership program were assigned to redesign the course for current and emerging leaders in 12 weeks without compromising their work performance.
The team worked with a facilitator to identify capability gaps and immediately recognized core capabilities in communication and problem solving needed strengthening across the management population. This lack made it difficult for leaders to collaborate effectively. These also were recognized as fundamental capabilities needed to build strong relationships and drive business value for clients.
Drawing from numerous books and articles, internal and research data and benchmarks from leading companies, including Cisco Systems, the high-potential team partnered with Harvard Business Publishing to develop the curriculum. Then the team went through the program together as they designed it, practicing skills and receiving feedback along the way, and immediately applied new skills throughout the process to heighten the learning experience and enhance the final delivered program.
“The program was designed to build a foundation of business skills,” Baldwin said. “We’re good at technical, on-the-job training, but we tend to undervalue soft skills, which are the ones that become the most important as people take on managerial roles. This new program really allows our current and future leaders to hone these skills.”
CEI leaders built on management best practices then made them more applicable to employees with company-specific examples. Leader-led forums on topics such as customer focus and business acumen tie into CEI’s core values and strategy, allowing participants to build their skills around the internal competency model as well as apply learning on the job.
CEI employs more than a thousand people, and about a quarter of them are now involved in the new development program. These include new and emerging leaders in the field, a unionized workforce and office administrative staff.
“CEI’s success over the years was built upon satisfied customers and repeat business,” Baldwin said. “Long-term customer relationships allow CEI to weather the ebbs and flows of the construction industry. Our first leader-led forum, How to Create and Keep Customers, tied together the business case and best practices for cultivating strong customer relationships to show employees what differentiates us from our competition.
“Collaboration is also essential in bridging the gap between desired results and a strategy for obtaining desired results. Leaders at all levels of the company — including our CEO and COO — are leading candid development discussions. By sharing their own experiences with the organization, senior leaders are passing along valuable lessons to the next generation of CEI’s leaders to continually improve the way we do business.”
Amy J. Zuckerman is a senior manager in the Corporate Learning Services group at Harvard Business Publishing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.