Why and How LinkedIn Rebuilt The Way It Develops Its Managers

June 23, 2017

LinkedIn has changed the way it develops it's managers. Here's what it's leadership development program looks like now.

By any standard, LinkedIn’s manager development program ManageIn has been a success.

Since its inception in 2012, compelling data shows that managers improved by going through it. And, based off employee surveys, LinkedIn employees were generally happy with their managers and performance at the company remained strong, as LinkedIn expanded from 3,000 employees to more than 10,000 during that time.

And yet, in August of 2016, LinkedIn’s learning and development team wanted to push it from a very good program to a great one. So, the three-person team of Sara Dowling, Natalya Williamson and Nawal Fakhoury spent the next nine months focusing on making ManageIn as effective as it could possible be.

“We believe that every employee deserves an exceptional manager who empowers their employees to do the best work of their career,” Fakhoury said. “And our goal was to create a program that facilitated that.”

At the end of April of this year, the new ManageIn program was released. The big difference?

LinkedIn’s original ManageIn program was a three-day workshop. The new version is a six-month journey starting in a new manager’s first 30 days, with a two-day workshop serving as the last piece of the program.

The goal of the program is to teach three core skills all managers need to be successful at LinkedIn: how develop their talent and teams, how to be great collaborators and communicators and the importance of living LinkedIn’s culture and six core values.

After one session, the results were already impressive: the new ManageIn received an extraordinary NPS score of 79. The team is eager to measure more downstream metrics – employee engagement, performance, etc. – but that’s a promising start.

How LinkedIn’s L&D team went about recreating ManageIn

In August, once they were assigned the project, Dowling, Williamson and Fakhoury spent 60 days determining what was working and what wasn’t with ManageIn, based both off of quantitative and qualitative research. The good news was they saw the workshop itself was highly effective, but they wanted to make ManageIn more of a thorough journey that would further instill the core traits needed to be an exceptional manager.

Dowling, Williamson and Fakhoury looked externally as well for inspiration by talking with other companies who have strong leadership development programs. All told, the women met with five companies, including Coca Cola and NBCUniversal.

Additionally, they created a “Braintrust” of 13 of the best managers at LinkedIn, nominated by their HR business leaders. The trio ran all ideas past that Braintrust to gut-check all changes to ManageIn.

Then came actually reimaging the program. Using the results of their research while continuing to bounce ideas off of their manager Braintrust, they created the new version of ManageIn.

So what the new ManageIn looks like

First off, the key to the ManageIn program is instill a servant mindset to all managers at LinkedIn. That means managers fully understand the impact they have on their employees’ performance and strive to work for them, instead of the other way around, Dowling, Williamson and Fakhoury said.

“One of the biggest keys to being an exceptional manager is realizing it’s a privilege to be a manager,” Fakhoury said. “We offer other ways for employees to advance their career without being a manager. But, if they choose to become a manager, that mindset shift is critical.”

As far as the program itself, there are three stages of ManageIn that cover a new manager’s first six months on the job. They are:

  • START: Once a new manager starts, they are assigned a Learning Path of online courses that relate to being a great manager at LinkedIn. The courses cover topics like leading team meetings and understanding LinkedIn’s rhythm of business. Employees are expected to finish these courses within 30 days of the job. Additionally, within two weeks of starting, each new manager receives a phone call from a member of the LinkedIn L&D team congratulating them on the new position, and personally guiding them through what a new manager can expect in their first 6 months in ManageIn.

  • LevelUp: After 30 days, all new managers are given six coaching sessions they can use whenever they’d like for whatever they’d like within the first six months. For example, if a new manager is having trouble giving feedback to one of their employees, they could use a coaching session on that. Or, if they need practice getting buy-in from cross-functional partners, they could use a coaching session for that.

  • GAME ON!: Six months into the role, all new managers attend a two-day workshop with a cohort of their peers. This invite-only workshop covers the three core tenets – developing talent and teams, communicating and collaborating effectively and living the LinkedIn values – with interactive exercises. Two members of the LinkedIn L&D team facilitate the workshop.

A bit more about the two-day workshop

Yes, the two-day workshop covers topics many leadership development programs cover: motivation, feedback and living the company’s core values. The key is the way ManageIn addresses it.

Since employees already have the fundamentals down of these through online learning, Dowling, Williamson and Fakhoury focus on putting those fundamentals into action. That means managers actually practicing the skills they’ll have to use in their real jobs.

For example, a big part of developing employees is giving effective feedback. And one of the biggest challenges of giving feedback is giving constructive feedback, in a way that doesn’t disengage the employee.

So, in the ManageIn workshop, managers will practice giving feedback to an employee on an actor. And rather than making it theoretical, the manager will give an actual piece of feedback to the actor they believe one of their employees ought to hear.

The rest of the managers in the room will observe the conversation and then provide feedback on how they could have better managed it. The manager then gets to try again, ensuring they are comfortable doing this in a real situation.

Also, a big part of the two-day workshop is having managers better understand themselves. To accommodate that, managers take a survey that reveals their working style and get 360-degree feedback report from their boss, employees and peers to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

“Strong communication starts with self-awareness,” Williamson said. “And then it extends to really knowing the people you are communicating with.”

The takeaway

LinkedIn’s transformation of ManageIn is a microcosm of the transformation many organizations are going through with their learning solutions. Instead of the solution being focused on an in-person workshop, that in-person workshop is instead being complemented with on-demand learning both via eLearning and discretionary coaching sessions.

The end result is a program that emphasizes the need to always be learning, as opposed to designating learning at a certain time and place. That’s a necessary trend – with the incredible amount of change in business today, employees need to maintain an always-learning mindset to succeed in any job moving forward.

The process of ManageIn’s reinvention is one worth stealing as well. Rather than a tops-down approach, LinkedIn’s L&D team took a holistic view of the program by getting input from employees, managers, leadership and even outside companies. From that, they were able to create a comprehensive solution that best serves all stakeholders.

The specifics of ManageIn are somewhat unique to LinkedIn, as the skills taught are the skills necessary to flourish within the company’s culture. Your organization has its own culture and therefore might require different skills – the key is identifying what those skills are and prioritizing the absolute most important.

But the most important part of the new ManageIn isn’t even what’s mentioned, but what’ll happen going forward. Rather than accepting this solution as final and moving on, Dowling, Williamson and Fakhoury are committed to measuring its effectiveness through a variety of means and seeing what needs tweaking and what doesn’t.

In other words, the program itself is guided by the same mindset it’s trying to instill: everything and all of us are a work in progress. By always learning, you’ll never reach perfection, but you’ll always be improving – both for employees, and for ManageIn itself.

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