Global companies face a prevalent challenge: how to engage their international and widely dispersed business unit leaders in collaboration. The Fung Group, a $22 billion global group based in Hong Kong, is no exception.
Over the past decade, Victor and William Fung, the third generation of their family’s business, have grown the 108-year-old supply chain orchestrator through organic growth and strategic acquisitions and extending the export sourcing business into on-shore wholesaling, retailing and distribution. The Fung Group grew at a compound annual rate of 21 percent, but the focus on growth took management focus away from nurturing the cooperative learning culture that characterized the company through 2000.
In 2010, chairman, Victor Fung, made the strategic decision to refocus the Fung Group’s culture on learning. To embark on this transformational journey, the company partnered with educational institutions including the Stanford Center for Professional Development.
The Fung Group-SCPD partnership’s expanded from learning best practices to the actual execution of strategic initiatives and scaled across all business units – including all 40 economies in which the group operates – involving 800 business unit leaders, over an 18 month period.
The key objective of the Fung Group Leadership Program is to teach senior management how to absorb what happens in today’s environment, internalize it and look for ways to create value for both the organization and its customers. Its long term objective is to produce a culture of learning, which enables employees to network, share best practices and encourage cooperation across all business units.
To address these program objectives SCPD customized curriculum and delivery modalities to meet the Fung Group’s needs and incorporated the latest research on value chain management, leadership, innovation and other subjects. SCPD’s approach used a design process closely tied to the company’s needs, along with an iterative evaluation process built into program deployment that allows for repeated adjustments based on live results.
The resulting leadership development program produced a number of concrete projects successfully completed by participants.
The company measured participant satisfaction throughout the program to continually improve it with each program delivery. Those enrolled evaluated its applicability, the overall workshop experience and their confidence in their team’s ability to successfully complete projects following program participation. (Figure 1).
What made the program successful? The secret sauce was a blended learning design that interweaves three learning modalities:
- Online: The self-directed online module prepared learners for the subsequent workshop and action learning with the benefits of remote access. They learned skills such as networking across business units, collaborating across business functions and silos and sharing knowledge and information.
- Face-to-Face: A six-day workshop in Hong Kong focused on how learners should lead within their business units to achieve the goals outlined in the Fung Group’s strategic plan. Stanford University professors and the company’s executives lectured and facilitated. Learners planned projects to tackle strategic initiatives such as cross-unit collaboration, value chain innovation, sustainability and e-commerce.
- Learning in action: This modality emphasized that learning without application is ineffective. The program used a model for learning in action as a problem-solving tool to engage senior managers on projects valuable to the business.
Each team worked on a project that directly supported one of four key strategic pillars: to develop a market in China, to develop an e-commerce presence, to adopt a sustainability compliance strategy and to expand global reach. Fung Group executives acted as coaches, overseeing project teams work and selecting the best project proposal to be deployed in support of The Fung Group’s strategic goals. At the end of the program, each team presented a final report to the senior executive team.
Stanford faculty and the Fung Group partners discovered that most learners had a strong preference for video content over written material; video was more easily digestible and offered better content retention. As a result, iterations included additional online video content. Providing more videos was also instrumental to add content required to execute the final projects. For example, many leaders lacked the necessary project management skills. Hence, the leadership program added video of short segments from a longer course on project management mastery to equip leaders with the necessary background.
Leaders also learned team development required more time during the workshop. As a result, they shifted some content taught through lectures to a self-directed module to allow more time for team development.
Finally, they learned teams could not carry out the final projects easily because participants did not use an appropriate methodology. To correct this, leaders incorporated a rapid experimentation approach, consistent with the design thinking process taught at the workshop. This methodology encouraged learners to review assumptions, create hypotheses and test them in a real setting to achieve tangible results in a short period of time.
The Fung Group’s leadership program illustrates how a blended learning approach can be a practical tool for global companies to undergo organizational change.
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