Oracle: Leadership Challenge Series Program

A Case Study

INTRODUCTION

The future of leadership development in our geographically diverse, virtually-connected business world has already arrived at industry leader Oracle Corporation, an enterprise software company that develops, manufactures, distributes services, and markets database, middleware, and application software worldwide. Following the trend in higher education where online learning has become a core ingredient of today’s educational model, Oracle has created an effective learning platform that meets the needs of the company’s on-the-road sales team and establishes a virtual delivery system that will be ready for next generation leaders as well—those who take interactive technology for granted and who instinctively learn in online environments.

With aspiring leaders scattered around the country, full travel schedules, and the universal pressure to control training costs while maximizing learning effectiveness, Oracle turned to a program design strategy that successfully blends on-the-ground collaboration among peers and virtual classroom learning—all built upon the evidence-based practices of The Leadership Challenge, the international bestseller from authors Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner.

This case study describes the unique approach developed and implemented at Oracle:
  • A business results-focused leadership development program that seamlessly melded an existing leadership model into The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®
  • A program design that exploited the latest technology, wrapped around The Five Practices framework, to create a virtual learning environment that cost-effectively generated improved learning effectiveness and learner satisfaction and, ultimately, is expected to make leadership development education more accessible for anyone, anywhere.

The Leadership Challenge Series is Oracle’s successful live and virtual leadership program that incorporates experiential learning and real-time application of The Five Practices to the leader’s everyday personal and organizational challenges and opportunities. With its focus squarely on maximizing business, organization, and team performance, this blended-learning program was co-created by two key teams at Oracle: the North America Organization and Talent Development (NA OTD) team and the senior leadership and enablement team from the company’s North America Technology Organization (NATO) Sales Consulting group.

The development of what became the pilot of the Leadership Challenge Series was spearheaded by senior executive Gayle Fitzpatrick—a trailblazer within Oracle who had sponsored other leadership development initiatives for NATO’s sales consulting managers as well. And with the success of the initial program, efforts to expand the implementation of the Leadership Challenge Series has already begun to take this unique, self-paced, designed-learning experience to other aspiring leaders throughout the organization.

OVERVIEW

  • How do you cultivate The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® into the daily lives of busy sales managers?
  • How do you get these managers to embrace the Practices and make them integral to their leadership and management responsibilities, decision making, and actions?
  • And...How do you do this effectively when these leaders work virtually and the budget to deliver is limited?
Sound familiar? This continues to be ‘business as usual’ for many organizations today: develop our leaders with limited or no travel and with limited budget. Although this approach creates challenges, it is the new normal. With today’s technology and a greater commitment to leadership development, Oracle faced this reality by embracing a non-traditional approach that emphasizes the importance of leadership—an investment to strengthen and develop current leaders and to prepare the next generation as well.

At Oracle, the North America Sales and Consulting (NASC) group had been exposed to and valued the core Leadership Challenge concepts for several years. In fact, it was the organization’s executive vice president, Keith Block, and senior vice president, Rudy Corsi, who both served as catalysts for a new approach to developing their leaders. During a year-long experience with an Oracle executive leadership program called The Executive Leadership Experience (ELE), Keith and Rudy had encountered author Jim Kouzes and were introduced to The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership® model. When it came time to launch a new ELE program for 60 of the company’s most senior leaders in 2008, they called on Jim to kick-off the program. And when Keith closed the first session, he challenged everyone in the audience to “raise all boats” through leadership development.

A participant in that first session was one of North America Technology Organization’s (NATO) group vice presidents, Gayle Fitzpatrick, who responded enthusiastically to Keith’s call-to-action. Bringing together her entire group of 80 leaders, Gayle became the supportive and highly visible senior-level sponsor that the initiative needed to jump-start the program. “There are lots of leadership concepts out there today,” Gayle observed, “but nothing like The Five Practices, which are truly timeless. I also felt that continuing to work with Jim Kouzes would help us maintain momentum. And I am thrilled that this is a true blending of learning experiences for our sales leaders.”

Gayle found support for her efforts to champion this pilot program in her manager, Paul Cross, Group Vice President of NATO Sales Consulting. In addition, her peer and colleague, Steve Vakulskas, Group Vice President of Sales Consulting, valued how flexible this new leadership program could be in preparing his team of leaders to provide strategic and even tactical leadership. “We looked to this new initiative to provide a foundation for core leadership skills and, just as important, to support the management team in using their own approaches, principles, and styles, and applying them to The Five Practices,” Steve said. “The Leadership Challenge Series was not going to be a cookbook of leadership recipes, but actually the ingredients that can be shaped as you work to apply true leadership to unique situations.”

Once top-level sponsorship was firmly set in place, the program design team set out to achieve the project’s three key learning objectives: leadership collaboration, practice application, and personal commitment. Key players of the initial team included three members of the North America Organization and Talent Development (NA OTD) group: Tamara Driggers, Larry Lenox, and Elena Raymond. Working closely with program sponsor Gayle Fitzpatrick, the team also included: Dr. Gregory Anderson, Sales Consulting Director, who served as the Pilot Program Manager; Karla Massera, Communication Program Manager, who supported the design team with all program communications and session scripts for Executive sponsors; Susan Downer, Senior Practice Director for North America Sales (NAS) Communications, who served as the Program Lead for ELE; and Steve Akram, Training Director for NAS Sales Force Development. Together, this team developed what has now become known as the Leadership Challenge Series–a virtual, blended learning experience consisting of online work and both large and small group sessions where leaders engage and collaborate on applying each of The Five Practices to their individual business environment—real-time initiatives and foreseeable business and organizational challenges and opportunities.

With the North America Technology Organization Sales Consulting (NATO) team as the pilot group for the Leadership Challenge Series, the design team was able to create, deliver, and continuously improve each of the Practice sessions to ensure the success of the applied learning and application. Following that initial success, the Series was rolled out to the North America Applications Enterprise Sales Consulting group with Lee Paulino, Group Vice President serving as Program Champion and John Schmiesser, Senior Director, as Program Manager. Again, the design team took advantage of the opportunity to enhance the Series’ sessions and components, and to package the program in ways that would ensure consistency in delivery to other Oracle organizations. And the results generated from this second program launch won the praise of Program Champion Lee Paulino, who said, “This is such a great investment for us as an organization. In addition to members of my management team, non-managers as well have felt re-energized by the program. The Leadership Challenge Series has provided the principles to help forge our leaders of the future.”

And Elena Raymond, lead designer of the Leadership Challenge Series, agrees. “Thanks to special supporters like Gayle Fitzpatrick and Lee Paulino, we have been able to achieve great success with the Leadership Challenge Series,” she said. “All four elements that are so critical to the effectiveness of leadership development programs were at play here at Oracle: executive sponsorship, senior leadership involvement, participant engagement and commitment, and real- world application for both personal and organizational leadership effectiveness.”

“Already multiple groups within the North America Sales and Consulting organization are lining up, ready to initiate the Series for their teams, which should bring participation up to nearly 200 leaders within the first 18 months of implementation,” Elena added.

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