Since 2017, AED’s Leadership Development Institute (LDI) has hosted its multi-session course in Chicago to prepare dealership managers for broader organizational roles. This year, the global pandemic threw a monkey wrench into the plans.
The first of three sessions in the one-year program was held as usual in February, but by June, with travel restrictions, localized shut-down orders and international borders closed, organizers scrambled for a solution.
Hosting a gathering created safety concerns about the spread of COVID-19. “People were uncomfortable [with the prospect of] flying to Chicago, and the Canadian border was closed,” says Liz McCabe, vice president of education and programming, “but we didn’t want to put off the program and lose momentum.”
In June, Illinois restricted groups to 10 or fewer, notes Alexis Gladstone of Chatfield Global and lead facilitator of LDI.
“Not knowing when things would loosen up, we decided to do a virtual class rather than postpone it. We did not want to lose momentum.”
Nevertheless, the facilitators worked to adapt lesson plans to a virtual format using Zoom. Gladstone, who began as an LDI coach three years ago, says they reviewed the material for different ways to engage the students. The methods they chose included breakout rooms for discussion groups, polling and chat boxes.
“We wanted to include experiential activities, not just have them sitting all day,” McCabe explains. She says it was a challenge to translate lessons into the new format. However, it “went better than we expected. They were present and participating.”
Kathrynn Wahl, fleet services manager for West Side Tractor Sales Co., thought the group was less talkative during the Zoom sessions, but she says the breakout rooms were a “great substitute” that allowed “a small amount of time to work with our peers.”
Alfonso Pugh, parts support advisor for 4Rivers Equipment LLC, also liked the virtual breakout sessions and intends to use them during virtual business meetings. “The sessions on Leading Through Conflict and Leading Change were good sessions to have virtually. I think things worked well with having the breakout groups to discuss different topics within the session.”
Put me in, Coach
In addition to classroom instruction, an executive coach works with participants to draft an Individual Development Plan based on priorities identified in their 360 assessment. Students review their dealership, identifying areas needing improvement. Leadership coaching between sessions provides the only one-on-one aspect of the course.
“Coaching calls are appropriate for remote one-on-one follow-up,” stated Matt Magers, service manager for Road Machinery & Supplies Co. Pugh concurs.
“I like the one-on-one coaching,” he says. “The information is excellent, and I have reached out to John [Rauschenberger] outside of the scheduled meetings to ask him additional questions.”
The network makes the teamwork, which, in turn, makes the dream work
LDI is facilitated by industry experts and development professionals, with outside experts featured as keynote presenters and leaders of interactive workshops. There’s more than just direct instruction, says McCabe. Critical components of LDI include networking, brainstorming, and sharing issues and solutions.
While McCabe says LDI will not move to an all-virtual platform, she wants to use more Zoom sessions between live sessions instead of prerecorded webinars.
One of the benefits of a virtual platform is the elimination of travel costs. In addition to lower upfront costs, Wahl appreciated the reduced impact on her home schedule. “An in-person event is disruptive to my home schedule as a single parent, so the virtual sessions worked well from that standpoint. I was able to keep up with my day-to-day work.”
Savings were helpful, Pugh concurs. “This is a great way to save time and multitask throughout the week.” He also appreciated being able to apply what he learned in a session on the same day at his job. “The biggest benefit from the virtual experience was the time-saving aspect of having the ability to get right back into the daily operations after getting information from the presenter.”
“We’re hoping to host the third session in October in Chicago,” McCabe says. “We prefer to do it live.” A virtual platform would not be as conducive to student demonstrations of the application of their knowledge.
The students feel it was a good experience, regardless of format or time restraints. “The team did a great job reacting to the situation,” Magers praises.
Gladstone shares his opinion, given the unusual and unexpected circumstances, the team believed that “keeping the momentum going was important,” so they transitioned to the virtual course. Still hoping that they can resume in-person class in October, Gladstone says they will decide on the fall format in a timely manner.