How Aerotek built a strong leadership bench with IA training.

The Situation

Aerotek® is an award-winning provider of recruiting and staffing services. Headquartered in Hanover, MD, Aerotek operates a network of 250+ non-franchised offices with more than 2,000 internal employees.

For many years, Aerotek promoted top salespeople to field office heads, called Directors of Business Operations (DBOs). This pathway made sense because these business rainmakers were highly motivated, knew the company’s products and customers very well, and were knowledge sources for all other functions in the company. The move to DBO was a high-performing sales-person’s next step up the leadership ladder. 

Some of these promotions worked out, but many didn’t – for the individual, the people they managed, and for the company. Great sales professionals have well-honed work habits and disciplines as individual contributors. But those disciplines don’t always translate to general management. The same dynamic holds true for all high-performing professionals – engineers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, teachers and professors, etc.   

Aerotek partnered with Interaction Associates to develop their high-potential salespeople into high-performing business and people leaders. A key part of the learning and development solution for this was called The Leadership Lab. It is a five-day in-person workshop that includes a business simulation, peer feedback, leadership skills, a management toolkit, and a team-based business challenge that culminates in an interactive presentation to company executives.

The Leadership Lab has been part of Aerotek’s curriculum for ten years. It has consistently been the first formal step an Aerotek salesperson takes toward becoming a great business leader. 

For most participants The Leadership Lab has been the most powerful and influential learning experience in their professional lives. For Aerotek, The Leadership Lab has helped socialize a common set of collaborative management norms, increased trust and transparency across the organization, and deepened the leadership bench and pipeline. 

The Solution

With the help of “Leadership Lab,” Aerotek was identifying better candidates for DBO positions.  But it was taking up to two years for a high-potential to become high-performing in their new positions. The business was growing quickly, along with fast-emerging market threats and opportunities. Aerotek could not wait for the completion of a two-year learning curve. Aerotek needed a more robust, fast-acting solution.

In collaboration with an array of Aerotek stakeholders – senior leaders, L&D staff, current and emerging DBOs, and past Leadership Lab participants – IA developed a program to provide new DBOs with the skills and confidence to hit the ground running in their new roles. With the Leadership Lab experience under their belts, new DBOs know the business operations down cold.  With Advanced Leadership Skills, they would be ready to lead both the business and the people.

Overview of Advanced Leadership Skills

Advanced Leadership Skills design is based on four
inter-related tenets: 

Simple Learning Design
A Strategic Thinking Framework serves as an umbrella for core leadership models and the accompanying skills. A deep dive into them ensures retention, a common leadership language, and application to “real” work.  

Practical Material
A business simulation mirrors the issues faced by an in-coming DBO. It requires participants to make financial, operational, and leadership decisions similar to the ones they face as a DBO.

Using extensive role plays of real-life scenarios, participants are put through the paces and given frank, in-the-moment feedback, and suggestions from their coaches, peers, and trainers. The purpose is two-fold: learn to handle a vast array of situations and become more

Director-Level Coaches
Each team of five to seven geographically dispersed participants has a director-level coach who’s been successful as a DBO. Coaches attend the workshop, monitor the action-team output during and after the session, provide coaching in virtual meetings through six weeks of action-learning work, and attend a final 2-day workshop and presentation to executives.  

“I’m so impressed with the Interaction Associates team. They speak our language and our leaders trust them. I think that’s because the IA consultants are genuinely curious about the leaders’ experience, what’s happening in our culture, and the initiatives we undertake. They lead with ‘how can we help’ vs. ‘this is our solution.’ And then they think together with us about what services and products they can bring to us.”

- Aerotek Leader

The Results

Since taking the program, 24% of graduates have moved up the leadership pipeline to higher responsibility positions. The impact was felt throughout Aerotek:

“Without a doubt, people who’ve been through these programs are perceived by direct reports and colleagues as stronger leaders than people who haven’t attended.”   

“Newly appointed DBOs arrive at their initial DBO operations training better prepared and confident about taking on their new role.”

“Seeing how the skills and tools are being used successfully, we’re expanding our audience beyond DBO candidates to high-potential corporate managers to prepare them for director-level positions.”

“Graduates are viewed as the next leaders for the company so we’re getting active engagement in the program from our executives.”

“Advanced Leadership Skills has been a wildly successful promotional pipeline. Right out of the program, graduates have been promoted to director.”

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