Mars Inc. is one of the largest privately held companies in the U.S., boasting more than 80,000 workers spread across every continent except Antarctica. Keeping that amount of staff trained can be a challenge, but Mars is committed to talent development, according to Summer Davies, the company's global senior manager, talent and leadership initiatives.
One recent addition to the employer's training programs is individual coaching for first-time managers. It's a big shift when workers move from employee to people manager, and they can't wait months for training. "That moment is so important and it's important to get it right from the start. With so many new tools and so much research about how adults learn, we designed a new, entirely virtual way to build capabilities," Davies told HR Dive.
In designing the program, Mars needed to ensure that geography wouldn't be a barrier. And training couldn't be classroom-based. "That's not the best way for adults to learn," she said, "they need small bites of learning over time to change behaviors, so we had to design a virtual program conducive to that type of learning."
The result? Coaching provided on demand, confidentially and at scale.
Coaching at scale
Mars knew, however, that it couldn't go it alone. "We knew we needed a partner in this journey," said Davies, "a team dedicated to the success of each of our individual new leaders" — and external individuals who could engage in private conversations. "This is so important for new managers to talk candidly and vulnerably, knowing they're safe and comfortable having discussions." A referral led Davies to BetterUp.
"The program build was quick," said Davies, 18 months from inception to the moment of first learning. The vendor had tools already in place they could apply, and also customized content and tools to the culture of Mars, she explained. It launched 10 weeks ago in two languages; another four will roll out in the coming weeks.
According to BetterUp, Mars had the bones of a program and just needed help with scaling the project. "Summer had a great program," said Jacinta Jimenez head of coaching at BetterUp, "she wanted to scale, but couldn't figure out how to get continuity across everyone's experience. That aligned perfectly with our coaching community and our mission.”
"The goal was to make it customized and personalized for their people," said Jimenez. "Coaches need to get a feel of what Mars was like and were trained on each of the tracks, adding in evidence-based training to make sure it would be effective"
Coaches aren't assessing new managers, however. "They're asking questions to guide learners to where they want to be," Davies explained. Mars employees typically spend one to one-and-a-half hours each week on learning; new managers get about a half-hour more for coaching sessions.
And they can do so anywhere, at any time. "Coaches are available through an app," explained Davies. "New managers can see when a coach is available and slot themselves in." Generally employees have a primary coach, but they also can work with others. Coaches are available to new managers for 36 weeks.
Additionally, reflection points are built into the system, said Jimenez; "learners can change course or direction during the process, rather than at the end," giving them the opportunity to practice and refine. Coaches also can see what managers are working on and reading, and can offer suggestions for other resources.
Assessing the program
Feedback is ongoing in Mars' program, but metrics are confidential. Davies can see how much the offering is being used in the aggregate, and what type of learning is being accessed, but nothing specific. "This was so important," she said; "new managers need to have a safe space to discuss and learn." Davies also can see managers' ratings for coaches.
The managers' supervisors are involved, too, touching base regularly to see how the program is working for them. "It's one thing to tell a new manager ‘come to me if you need help,' but at Mars," said Davies, "our managers tell associates 'I'm right here beside you.'"
The employer is hoping the program will develop new managers while also creating meaning and value for employees. "For Mars," said Davies, "reducing the time new managers become great managers is the goal. We want our associates to go home every day feeling lucky to work for a company that appreciates them."