Developing Emerging Leaders at Magellan Health Services

In the last posting in our series on developing emerging leaders, Leadership Development Best Practices, I described what a modern, sophisticated blended learning approach to leadership development can involve. I walked through each component of the model, and described some of the interrelationships between them. But it was all in the abstract, so what is helpful now is to see a specific example, to learn from someone implementing such a program, to see which components they use and what kind of results they have achieved.

At a recent stop in St. Louis on our summer roadshow, I had the pleasure of sharing the stage with Danielle Drewyer, Leadership Development Consultant with Magellan Health Services. She provided a great case study of how Magellan Health Services goes about developing emerging leaders (see the 30 minute video of her presentation below). Impressed with their story, I’ve since been able to catch up with Danielle, and asked her to share more about Magellan’s program.


Could you start by describing Magellan Health Services so that we understand your organization’s mission and scope?
Magellan’s business design is complex. Magellan Health Services has grown from a behavioral health-centered company to an organization working in the radiology benefits management, specialty pharmaceutical management, Medicaid administration, and behavioral health fields, all of which require partnering with clients, providers, members, health plans, corporations as well as other stakeholders within our health care communities.

How is learning and development valued at Magellan?
At Magellan, we know that if we’re going to succeed, going to grow as an organization, we need to not only focus on numbers and customers, but focus on our employees. To give you an idea of how seriously Magellan’s executives take this employee-centric goal, Magellan’s annual report came out this past April and highlighted the work of our employees and how they make Magellan the company we are today.

For the work that I do, that we do, it’s especially rewarding to not only be supported in these efforts but to be tasked with focusing on the people and helping individuals to grow. And this doesn’t end at the annual report. Our talent development team has whole-heartedly embraced the goal of valuing our talent and strengthening our team. In the area of leadership development for instance, we’re creating a well-rounded portfolio of development curriculum for Magellan leaders at every level.

Sound leadership development at all levels is important, but focusing now on developing emerging leaders, how did you go about analyzing your needs in this area?
We realized that in order to start building “a pipeline of leaders,” we must know who they are and what they need. Senior leadership led the way by producing a set of competencies to guide what the company needs from its leaders. Our 18 expectations of leaders are structured by four areas of focus:  personal effectiveness, engagement and accountability, business excellence, and innovation.

We then pinpointed who our leaders were: about 25% of our leadership population are newer or frontline supervisors, and about 50% of our leadership population includes seasoned managers and directors, or “middle management.” These two areas, totaling about 75% of our leadership population, have become our top priority for focus and development. After careful analysis, and with the support of business leaders and human resources partners, we began creating a development curriculum for leaders that is closely aligned with the business.

Alignment with the business is critical, to make sure you don’t over-emphasize industry best-practice theory over the specific needs of Magellan. What were some of the considerations for you as you were creating the development curriculum?
We wanted something that works well for them as individuals – that is a match for their style. We also wanted something that doesn’t take too long, but makes a lasting impact. It needed to be a program that’s flexible and isn’t disruptive to the “numbers and customers” that come first on the job. And it had to be engaging: it needed to recognize what they each bring to the table and offer something new. And, with all that said, of course the company always wants development efforts to be resource-efficient.

Can you share now what blended learning means for Magellan and how it’s shaped your emerging leaders development program in particular?
Unlike learning approaches that focus on a single approach, blended learning considers audience first. It aims to balance a combination of learning methods, delivery techniques, and environments that will reach as much of a given population as possible, over the course of time. Successful organizations prove themselves over the course of time, and that is true for learning too. It is often said that 70% of workplace learning actually takes place on the job, and we believe that: at Magellan, learning is a way, not a day.

I love that: “learning is a way, not a day.” But how do you balance the need for an organization to produce results with the need to offer learning to busy leaders on an ongoing basis?
Blended learning provides the opportunity to match formal training with less formal on-the-job experiences to further integrate learning and work. Blended learning aligns development with business by affording leaders the opportunity to develop in a way that fits in with their normal job duties, and actually promotes (rather than disrupts) business as usual, while increasing organization bench strength.

Let me make this clear with several examples: I’ll consider some challenges (or opportunities) we were faced with when tasked with building our leadership development curriculum, and indicate the solutions that address these challenges.

  • Time constraints of leaders. By providing flexible learning opportunities over a period of time, rather than trying to pull a whole group of leaders off the job for a 2-day or week-long workshop, leaders are able to more easily include development in their daily work.
  • Adults have unique learning needs. Blended learning directly addresses that by offering a wide range of methodologies and technologies used in combination with one another to provide a diverse learning environment, one that is never only suited for just one type of learner.
  • Multiple generations learn differently. Our workforce is expanding in terms of the number of generations we currently have at one time. “Younger” leaders often have different preferences than “older” generations and the combination of learning tools and systems used in blended learning addresses that head on.
  • Complex business areas have different development needs. Providing a guided structure of coursework, with plenty of choice allows business leaders to pick and choose what is most important and beneficial to them, while maintaining a baseline of competencies for the audience.
  • Resources are limited. By re-purposing purchased content to appeal to a diverse audience and learning needs, and encouraging the use of existing resources, our design and implementation maximizes resources and their efficient use.
  • Geographically dispersed leaders. Although Magellan is not a global company, we do have leaders geographically dispersed throughout the nation. Pointing back to the challenges of time and resource constraints, including online learning as a major component in this blended approach is important for keeping leaders connected and growing.

Your development program for emerging leaders is called Leadership Foundations. Where did you start?
The first step to any blended learning opportunity is to consider the audience first, and in this case that was the 25% of our leadership population that were newer to management positions and needed foundational leadership knowledge and skills. Aware of best practices for developing leaders, we gathered more detailed information on this audience in particular, noting the specifics of who they were, where they were, and what they needed. We were going to need a blended learning approach that provided a wide range of foundational leadership topics, a learning environment that could appeal to just about any “type” of adult learner, and a structure that fit our fast-paced and geographically dispersed organization – all while maximizing the use of minimal resources.

So with those needs in mind, what are the components in the blend and how are they structured?
We designed a six-month blended learning program in which participants would be actively engaged in acquiring new knowledge and skills in foundational leadership. We leveraged our existing Taleo Learn customized Learning Management System to build out the program structure. Within the LMS, we housed a package of online courses we purchased for self-directed learning, created enrollments for our live webinar sessions, and took advantage of a social learning tool internal to the LMS. So, although the program is made up of various components and types of training tools and methodologies, the pre-existing LMS and its Development Plan capabilities is a participant’s one-stop source for all aspects of the Leadership Foundations program.

What role do self-guided e-Learning courses play in the program?
There are eight self-guided courses, accessible to participants 24/7. Further, these courses are available throughout the program and beyond and that is important so that learners can refer back to them as they apply their new skills and competencies. These courses include downloadable and printable resources; interactive, multi-media content; and real-time practice and assessment. In addition to their inherent benefits, these courses also prepare learners for the live webinar events.

Describe those live webinar events further please.
The live events are spread out through the self-directed learning schedule, with multiple session dates and times available to provide flexibility for participants. We also provide recordings for later review and/or make-up. We tie the online course content to realistic business experiences, while always sharing best practices for working through tough challenges. What the live webinar events afford that self-paced e-Learning does not, is the chance for learners to ask questions of a subject matter expert, with Magellan leaders typically serving as the faculty experts. It also allows participants a chance to network with peers in similar roles and at similar points in their career development.

Do you incorporate any “action learning” opportunities in this Leadership Foundations blended learning program?
Yes, we have action learning projects and these are completed virtually. To enable this, we leverage the social networking forum functionality provided by the Taleo Learn LMS. Each activity involves a five-month guided process to “solve for” a real business challenge. We create teams of 6-8 program participants and each team is provided with a team coach who facilitates their opening “launch” meeting and supports their learning for the duration of the program. The teams must establish their own norms and processes; work together to select a realistic challenge facing Magellan supervisors; work through the team building, research, problem-solving, and decision-making virtually; and ultimately arrive at recommendations to be presented to senior leadership. The program culminates in a “Virtual Graduation” webinar in which teams present their process, findings, and recommendations to a cross-section of senior leaders, often including executives like the Chief of HR, Chief Finance Officer, and the CEO and President of the organization.

What has the response to the program been like, from both participants and executive leadership in the organization?
We have had an overwhelmingly positive response from participants, their direct managers, and executive leaders. Overall, 90% of graduates to date are satisfied with the blended learning approach for the program as a whole, when asked a few months after graduation. Over 80% of graduates are satisfied with any given program component — live webinars, online courses, learning team activities. Participants appreciate the continuous interactions, efficiency of offerings, and the ability to go at their own pace while developing meaningful relationships throughout the organization. Direct managers of graduates report positive growth and performance improvement due to program participation, not only for the participants but for their teams. Managers and senior leadership recognize a multiplication effect of a stronger focus on not only individual and team performance but the connection to the organization at large. 100% of direct managers of program participants report that they are likely to recommend Leadership Foundations to other leaders in the organization. From the feedback we’ve received thus far it is evident that the program supports efforts in building a culture of leaders at every level, and an organization where talent is valued and developed on an ongoing basis.
Related Posts
Leadership Development Best Practices
Leadership Development Spans All Key Key Talent Management Practices
Emerging Leaders: Build vs. Buy

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