Schneider Electric’s cross-functional Leadership Development Program (LDP) is a rotational program consisting of three, year-long rotations in different business units. It is one of Schneider’s many early-career development programs. LDPs, as we call ourselves, are empowered to influence and uplift others, strategically problem solve, and make value-driven impacts with fresh and bold perspectives that will shape the future of the company. One foundational tenant of the program is the “3E” approach to employee development: experience, education, and exposure.
This is a story about exposure. LDPs meet a lot of people during our three years in the program. Every year, we change business units and effectively reset our network. We must establish connections on a new team, with new priorities and business approaches. We must adapt quickly to new working environments because we only have one year to do so. Most importantly, the process of building a new network repeats three times in three years. This concentrated experience allows LDPs to hone their ability to find the right people to connect with to get the job done.
In large organizations, time can be lost tracking down the person or team that has information you need. Through my Leadership Development Program journey, there have been countless opportunities to call upon my network members to solve problems and to lead by facilitating connections. I’ll share three examples of how my network has grown and what I’ve been able to accomplish by leveraging it.
Rotation 1: Into the Matrix
My first managers gave me a gift that would continue giving throughout the program – and likely beyond. It was a list of 23 contacts to meet. (A gift, you ask?) The instructions were to set up one-on-one introductions with each person. Some were direct team members I would work every day. Others were removed from my day-to-day responsibilities but would be necessary to work with from time to time.
The value in this assignment was twofold. Establishing a wide network was incredibly helpful – especially for more-distant colleagues. The name recognition and initial touchpoint made it easier to get responses and cooperation when I would reach out. Everybody’s inbox is full, and people get pulled in countless directions. Anything that brings you closer to the forefront of their mind will elicit a quicker response.
More importantly, this undertaking taught me the importance of building a network of stakeholders in a role as a top priority in the first 30 days. In my first corporate role after graduation, nothing could have been more valuable than learning to navigate, and embrace, the matrix of teams and individuals with which I’d be working.
As I grew in that rotation, I was encouraged to continue expanding my network whenever possible. By the end of my first year, I was surprised by how much I learned and how well I understood the ways the organization worked. I credit that, in large part, both to the instruction to network from the get-go, and the encouragement to continue doing so.
Rotation 2: Cross-Functional Collaboration
In my second rotation, I was responsible for collecting, analyzing and reporting on customer input to both new and existing products, solutions and digital experiences. This was highly cross-functional – requiring collaboration with product development, design, industrialization and marketing teams, to name a few. I hit the ground running by familiarizing myself with the roster of collaborators: their personalities, goals, and contributions to the initiatives. This collaboration got me up to speed quickly in the new role and I was able to start performing immediately.
My network was critical for my responsibility as a primary point of contact for customers. With its support, I could speak on customers’ terms about product questions and digest their feedback. I also understood how each team came together, which was helpful in analyzing and reporting on feedback in a way that was relevant and actionable.
With my network helping accelerate growth in the role, I was certified as an agile customer experience design leader in less than six months. My strong knowledge of the customer feedback loop process allowed me to share best practices and key insights. This helped build out the practice of gaining customer input in new offer development, services and product updates. I had the opportunity to train colleagues around the globe, consult on other projects, and even present my insights to the North America CEO.
Rotation 3: Making the Connections
My final rotation was a natural capstone to the two prior roles. With responsibilities to develop strategic initiatives and action plans, my network would be essential to successfully accomplishing those tasks. Not only did I establish a network in my new business unit, I found myself referring back to colleagues from previous rotations to help accomplish what I was assigned in my current role.
I began to really understand the value of the exposure component of the 3E approach. Having been exposed to, by this time, three different business units, I had a unique perspective of the company. When questions or challenges arose, I not only considered who in my business could help me, but more importantly where outside my business I might find answers.
My network was my golden ticket. For example, in developing a customer experience strategy for our U.S. Services business unit, I needed to launch training material. In my first rotation, I worked extensively with the team that uploads internal and external trainings. While I sit in the United States, that team is primarily based in India. It would be difficult for me to determine who to reach out to by studying organizational charts and sending blind emails. Previous collaboration with that team pointed me directly to the person I needed.
When team members came to me with questions, I had both the benefit of my knowledge and that of my network to offer them. By connecting my team to my broader network, we got the answers we needed faster. It also gave me the opportunity to learn from the information shared between the two entities – again strengthening the exposure element of the Leadership Development Program and my personal development.
Leadership Development Program a Career Win
The Cross Functional Leadership Development Program has demonstrated to me that exposure is essential to building leadership acumen. Three roles in three business units in three years builds a unique agility and approach to collaboration. When I think of questions that I hear asked to leaders at Schneider, many are phrased as: “who should I reach out to …”, “where can I find …”, “what team owns …”, etc.
LDPs are poised to answer these questions by the time they graduate from the program; and this knowledge is applicable to almost any role in any part of the organization. LDPs develop and utilize a habit of building a network early in a role to come up to speed quickly – and calling on past connections.
Leveraging the expertise of their wide networks, LDPs navigate challenging unknowns with relative speed while expanding their personal knowledge base. This sharpens leadership acumen through the connecting of individuals around the company and drives enhanced performance.
I can speak as a testament to that and am looking forward to continuing to apply the strength of my network in my landing role post-LDP, which is highly cross-functional. I will be a member of the Strategy & Transformation Office for North America Operations. My responsibility will be to lead cross-functional scrums executing initiatives form our commercial strategy.
While spending three years growing a large, cross-functional network, I drove impactful business results in three organizations. The knowledge and agility gained set me up for opportunities I could not have imagined when I received that initial list of networking contacts three years ago.
If you’re looking for a company to jumpstart your career, apply today! You can apply for the United States Cross Functional Leadership Development Program now, and search for other openings in the Schneider Electric jobs portal.