Chadd Mikulin is the Vice President of Engineering at FlightAware. For over fifteen years, he has helped grow and promote leaders in the organizations of which he’s been part.
Since I wrote the two posts (here and here) concerned with growing leaders in the FlightAware organization, a number of things have changed, two of which are that FlightAware fully embraced remote work and was also acquired by Collins Aerospace.
These things had a couple effects on the course. First, it made it even more crucial that new managers to the organization, or those wanting to pursue management, are taught the skills that it takes to be effective leaders. One can no longer count on leadership through osmosis since the workforce is remote and there aren’t opportunities to be around your people all the time.
Second, it’s given us an opportunity to spread the course out across the larger organization. We’ve done this by including Collins employees in the program and training new individuals on how to teach the course. Both of these steps have ensured that the quality of management in the organization remains high, and makes it faster to have the practices adopted across Collins.
The course has evolved some over the three years since we last wrote about it. We’ve trimmed the content from the source material down a bit, changed the order of some things, and added some self-generated content that addresses some common questions that we were getting from participants.
How did we know what to change? We asked. At the conclusion of each iteration of the course, we send out an anonymous survey to the participants. We ask about what they liked (and what they didn’t) about the source material and the format of the course. We also ask if there was anything they wish we’d covered or anything they think should be removed.
The input given from each survey helps to inform and refine the next iteration of the course. Just like in our software, we’re always iterating to get to a better product.
Changes to the Course
I said the course has evolved over the past three years, so what actually changed? First, we cut it from ten sessions to eight and made it weekly. This made it a little easier to schedule and isn’t as big a commitment of time. It doesn’t sound like that big a change, but it was meaningful.
Second, to make up for the shortened schedule, we combined some of the video lessons and reduced the material. We now ask the participants to watch lessons one and three of the Effective Manager Video course in the first session. This gives them a good introduction to the material and the timeline on how they should implement the system in one session instead of two. We also removed chapters one and three of The Effective Executive from the reading list. These are still worth reading, and we encourage everyone to finish the book on their own time, but something had to go to reduce the course by another session. The chapters that we did keep in, time management, hiring, and figuring out how you can have the greatest impact on the organization, are important concepts, and were often brought up as the most important from the folks taking the survey.
Lastly, we added some content that we generated ourselves on topics that were frequently asked for: career paths, succession planning, and annual reviews. We tried to keep this material more general and less like a how-to. We’re interested in the theory and concepts, after all, they can read the specifics of how to do the thing in our process documentation repository.
Overall, the changes made to the course were small but meaningful.
Train the Trainer
As I mentioned above, we’ve had an opportunity to spread the program across the larger organization. One way we’ve accomplished this is by training others on how to conduct the course. This, too, is an eight-week endeavor that mirrors the lessons outlined before. We’ve created lesson plans that summarize the material, give discussion prompts, questions to gauge understanding, and exercises that the instructor can give to the participants to help with practice.
Teaching someone to teach is a new concept for me, so I’ve relied, again, on a post-course survey to refine the approach and material. We’re about to graduate our second set of new trainers, and soon we’ll have six individuals that can teach the course. That will allow us to teach about 65 people next year, and we’re continuing to add more trainers.
It’s been a great way to introduce our methodology into the larger organization and has been really well received. There’s a great opportunity to influence the future of the organization because having good leaders is crucial to retaining and growing the workforce.
Keep on keepin' on. We’re going to continue to refine the course, based on feedback, and continue to train more trainers. We want to be able to spread the methodology as far and wide as possible.
I’m also working on the next course that will be for managers who are looking to grow their managerial skills further. I’m thinking of it as more of a 300/400-level course where the current one is a 100/200-level. It will cover topics that are beyond the everyday, looking to more strategic work that a manager can do to make their teams/groups/departments more successful. Stay tuned.