Smith & Nephew and Skillsoft partner to develop new leaders.

January 12, 2023 | New Workplace Leadership | 5 min read

Imagine the pressure of being new to a management role. Not only is every team leader responsible for their team’s output and workflow, they are also expected to help their people develop and grow. It’s a lot to take in, which makes it so stressful for any new leader. This stress is compounded by how the new leader has gained their position. For example, they may have been part of the team they are now leading and must contend with managing people who used to be their peers. However, being brought in from outside the company is no less stressful because they must build new relationships at the same time as they learn their ways around the organization and the new job.

These were the situations the leadership development team at Smith & Nephew, a UK-based global manufacturer of medical equipment, had in mind as they set about creating a program to help new leaders feel more prepared for the role, and they partnered with Skillsoft to do it.

Developing the program

At Smith & Nephew, there were lots of onboarding guides and tools for new leaders to help then them understand company culture and business, as well as key Talent procedures that leaders are responsible for, such as hiring, onboarding, performance review, development planning, etc. But to execute these procedures effectively and to lead their teams to create great products and services for their customers, new leaders need to be equipped with some fundamental leadership and managerial skills. They need to master leadership behaviors that support collaboration, teamwork, creative problem solving and process improvement. They must be able to have difficult conversations, when needed, provide timely feedback and coaching support – tasks that many first-time leaders struggle with, especially when they get promoted from an individual contributor role where they were responsible for their own performance only. This is why the leadership development team got to work on creating a program to initiate a learning journey for new leaders, help them develop fundamental skills and competencies and build relationships with other first-time leaders from around the company.

To start the process of developing what would become their Leadership Beginnings program, the team compiled a comprehensive list of leadership competencies aligned with their culture pillars of Care, Courage and Collaboration. The list was then reduced to the skills and competencies that the development team referred to as “leadership fundamentals” or “leadership essentials’’ – just what new leaders need in the first year in the new role.

From there, they worked with Skillsoft to develop the program framework and curate the content from Skillsoft’s Leadership and Business portfolio in a variety of learning formats – videos, courses, book summaries and articles. The team added some bespoke content on the S+N-specific processes and procedures, such as their SAID feedback model. The focus was on making the program content pragmatic and applicable. They wanted new leaders to walk away with skills they could apply right away. To help them practice new skills in a safe environment before they begin to apply them in the real world, the team incorporated the elements of experiential and collaborative learning by including assignments and small learning group meetings where participants could practice the skills and techniques they learned about in the course of the program. Finally, they added several live webinars in every program section to complement self-paced online education with instructor-led learning experiences. And with that their program was set up and ready to go.

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Leadership Beginnings

To understand if the program structure and content meet the needs of the target audience, the team ran a pilot for 25 new leaders from various departments and locations. While overall the pilot was a great success, there was one area that required improvement – participant engagement. It was clear that some participants dedicated time and made every effort to review the program content and complete their assignments. They were the ones who were most active during webinars and calls with their LSG’s. At the same time, a small share of the pilot group engaged in part or didn’t engage at all. Based on their feedback, it turned out that they were “volunteered” for the program by either their managers or HR and, for a variety of reasons, they weren’t ready to commit to the program. So, the design team decided to rethink their approach to nominations.

Prior to the program launch, the team reached out to all those new leaders who qualified for Leadership Beginnings and shared detailed information about the program, including the time commitment required to complete it, and asked them to enroll in the program if they were interested and ready to commit. About 80% of the target group expressed interest and registered for the program.

Initial results

By now, the Leadership Beginnings program has been delivered twice, for the total audience of 137 new leaders. The main theme in the attendee feedback was that every leader at Smith & Nephew, regardless of their experience and length of service, should go through the program to learn what they have learned. They also suggested that the program will be open to aspiring leaders – individual contributors who are being developed for their first leadership role.

What’s next?

The next round of the program is scheduled to launch in Q1/2023 to include new and aspiring leaders. In the meantime, in the spirit of continuous improvement, the team is working on further enhancements to the program content and portal to accommodate participant feedback and make it a truly exciting and useful learning experience for future delegates.