How do you identify the need for change in a company that has been successful for decades? Four years ago, Hager Group – a manufacturer of electrical installations – realised that transformation was a must. Using a combined path of online learning and face-to-face coaching, the company decided to start the journey together with Vlerick.
Leading Into the Future Together: the name LIFT immediately reveals what the process stands for. It's a great motto. But in order to live up to it, the Management Team at Hager realised that the mindsets within the company would need to undergo a profound change. “We didn't want to touch our authenticity,” explains Talent Management Director Virginie Dagnet, “but we did realise that if we wanted to continue to achieve our goals, we would have to turn things around. We would need to start sharing our knowledge in a different way.”
Breaking through silos, creating networks, generating urgency and providing insights into a shared leadership framework: these were the objectives of the LIFT programme. “As a people-focused company, we always had a strong focus on human development,” says Virginie. “The only thing is that we were a little stuck in traditional tools and frameworks. People came to our training courses and listened, but didn’t necessarily take ownership afterwards.”
A mixed process
In order to achieve the necessary change in attitude, Hager called on Vlerick's support. From the outset, the partners opted for a mixed approach of offline and online learning. “We regard this as a magical combination. Precisely because we want to focus on interaction and peer learning,” says Virginie. “During the face-to-face sessions, our employees – who come from all over the world – get to meet in person. The online learning moments allow us to reach a large population of 400 managers in a short period of time. This is important, because speed is a key to success when it comes to transformation.”
This year, Hager will be bringing a group of around 100 people together for the fourth time, across different countries and functions. “The process starts with a major two-day kick-off event,” says Martha Kitta, Account Manager for Vlerick Business School. “After that, the managers begin their online learning process. They can work through some of the modules at their own pace, but we also organise live webinars. At the end of the online journey, the participants come to the Vlerick Campus in Brussels for a two-day leadership simulation. In smaller teams, they put into practice what they have learned throughout the entire process.”
There is an average of six to eight months between the start and end of the programme. During this period, the participants work through four online modules developed around the various dimensions of the Hager Leadership Framework. “We work on creating a helicopter view, on translating leadership into our own context, on cooperation and on ownership,” explains Virginie. “Each module lasts between four and six weeks. There’s a lot of content in there. We provide at least one peer coaching session per module, as well as several group assignments. This requires people from different parts of the world to work together. In other words, it’s quite a challenge!”
The interaction works, however, as confirmed not just by the lecturers but also by the participants themselves. “In our old way of working, everyone stayed in their comfort zone,” testifies a participant. “As a result of LIFT, managers now share a lot more information and solutions across departments and also internally with our teams. A typical LIFT graduate is someone who believes that you can only succeed by working together. You can really see a shift in mentality there.”
At the helm yourself
The digital approach stimulates this new dynamic, as Vlerick professor Carine Peeters points out. “In a classroom context, the class determines the pace of the course. You're all in the same boat and you're moving forward together. There is no time to focus on specific topics individually. An online journey does offer this possibility. As a course participant, you can pause the module, discuss a topic that interests you with your colleagues and resume the next day.”
“For me as a lecturer, it’s also very interesting to observe what’s happening on the platform, what the discussions are about. When a live webinar session takes place, I can also work with this in a very targeted way. The webinars build on the real issues that participants are working on, not things I suspect the group might find interesting.”
But honestly, does this kind of online journey really work?
Professor Carine Peeters would shelve that frequently asked question if she had a choice. Because yes, it really works. “Some people assume that an online learning process will be boring. But I usually get the feedback that students really learned something and found it a nice, flexible way of learning. It's also amazing what you can do online. So far, I haven't found anything that I can't translate into an online context. You can even find an online solution for a strategic card game, although you sometimes need to think carefully about a smart solution.”