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Ecolab’s Manager Essentials Delivers Transformative Development for People Managers Worldwide

Ecolab is the global leader in water, hygiene and energy technologies and services. Around the world businesses in foodservice, food processing, hospitality, healthcare, industrial, and oil and gas markets choose Ecolab products and services to keep their environments clean and safe, operate efficiently and achieve sustainability goals. Every day Ecolab’s 48,000 associates serve 3 million customer locations in 170 countries, generating $14 billion in annual sales. With a people-centric business model, Ecolab’s growth strategy is dependent on its ability to attract, retain and grow the world’s most capable talent. People managers play a critical role in this talent strategy. 

In 2017, Ecolab launched its Manager Essentials initiative to elevate the leadership capabilities of its 5,300 first-line managers. Designed and developed internally through a collaborative effort of 25 regional, functional and divisional global learning and talent leaders at Ecolab, Manager Essentials is a robust, flipped-learning journey over 18 weeks that incorporates cognitive, behavioral and neuroscience principles of behavior change, a leaders-developing-leaders activation model, and innovative technology enablers, such as a OneNote Class Notebook and chatbot coach. In 2018 Manager Essentials was deployed to the first wave of 1,200 Ecolab first-line people managers in 50 cohorts and is driving important impact across the global enterprise, not only for the program participants but also for the more than 250 senior level business and learning leaders who facilitate the cohorts, model the leadership practice, and reinforce the behavior expectations.

This case study represents one of Ecolab's submission to the i4cp Next Practice Awards. The awards were presented at the i4cp 2019 Next Practices Now Conference.  

Business Challenge

Through numerous acquisitions in recent years, Ecolab gained a wide variety of leadership programs for managers of different divisions and regions. Until recently, its 5,300 people managers had no standardized training program to address their development. Instead, there were 15 separate leadership curricula specific to different businesses, functions and regions in the company. The result: inefficient deployment of resources, outsized expense and inconsistent outcomes. Companywide engagement survey results indicated a compelling correlation between associate engagement and manager effectiveness.  

In 2016, Ecolab declared its “Destination Ecolab” talent strategy in conjunction with its Strategy 2020 growth plans. Enterprise Learning was established as a new corporate learning function, and providing one consistent Ecolab leadership learning journey for its entire first-line manager population became one of its strategic talent development priorities.  


In response, Ecolab launched Manager Essentials, an enterprise-wide effort to bring a consistent, transformative and scalable experience to all first-line managers. The goal? Elevate all first-line managers’ ability to deliver on their key accountabilities: grow the business, grow the talent.  

Solution Criteria

Given the ambitious scope and limited budget resources, the team determined the need to create a learning solution that is:

  • Ecolab-owned
  • Anchored in the Ecolab Leadership Model
  • Relevant to first-line manager job accountabilities at Ecolab
  • Experiential in design with an emphasis on real-world situations
  • Leader-developing-leader in deployment approach
  • Focused on habit building and behavior change vs. knowledge transmission
  • Truly relevant across global regions
  • Cost-effective at a global scale
  • Deployed locally to foster One Ecolab shared experience across divisions and functions

Design Process

  • A survey of leadership literature established a baseline of job tasks and accountabilities of first-line managers.
  • The task list was vetted and prioritized through focus groups and one-on-one interviews with over 250 Ecolab leaders and associates to prioritize key accountabilities that differentiate the best managers and identify the most critical gaps.
  • All 15 existing leadership programs were reviewed to curate curriculum elements that best met previously noted program criteria.
  • Recent engagement survey results identified critical manager skill gaps.
  • 25 talent and learning leaders from across divisions, functions and regions were brought to the Manager Essentials Design Summit to create a three-level, flipped-learning, real-world experience that they could all be proud to co-create, co-own and deploy.
  • Senior executives, including CEO Doug Baker, recorded bite-sized learning videos featuring their authentic leadership stories to help strengthen key content components.
  • Pilot cohorts were conducted in Dubai, Singapore, Manchester, Paris, and Pune (India) to ensure a truly global test of the rigor and effectiveness of the program.

Solution Overview

Manager Essentials contains five modules: The Leader’s Mindset; Strategy to Results; Feedback, Coaching and Development; Inclusion, Engagement and Rewards; and High-Performing Teams.

In contrast to a conventional knowledge transmission program, Manager Essentials was designed to drive on-the-job behavior change and new habit formation. The learning experience was created based on cognitive, behavioral and neuroscience principles of behavior change. A flipped-learning construct was used to create three levels of progression through the program, including:  

  • Level 1: Self Study (8-10 weeks) : Level 1 provides knowledge and bite-sized resources needed to perform as a successful manager at Ecolab. It includes self-assessment, real-life job tasks, reflections and online learning in the Manager Essentials Digital Playbook which leverages Microsoft OneNote Class Notebook.  
  • Level 2: In-Person Practice (3 days) : This in-person practice session brings together a cohort of 25 local participants from different divisions and functions. Facilitated by senior-level business leaders, the focus is on reinforcing Level 1 learning through peer coaching and practicing hard-to-master skills. Most of the practice scenarios are drawn from participants’ own teams to ensure real-life relevance. Participants complete a commitment poster declaring the priorities and capabilities they seek to improve. Cohorts are cross-divisional and cross-function, so participants gain a wide variety of Ecolab perspectives and partnerships.  
  • Level 3: On-the-Job Application (8 weeks) : In Level 3, participants apply their learnings and implement their commitment/action plans. They obtain feedback from their own managers (called “leader coaches”), peers and direct reports. They receive twice-weekly coaching prompts from Mobile Coach, a chatbot that interacts with participants’ mobile devices and keeps them on track and making progress against their commitments.  

To formally complete the program, managers must submit an “Application of Learning” report that signifies progress made against their commitments and action plans. Feedback is gathered from direct reports before and after completion of the program to measure change in manager effectiveness.  

Implementation at Scale  

  • Talent leaders of each region, division and function became the champions who plan and execute Manager Essentials deployment.
  • 60 volunteer Anchor Facilitators were nominated from various divisions, functions and regions. They were trained on program content, experiential learning principles and implementation details in order to lead cohorts of 25 participants each at all major Ecolab locations. Each Anchor Facilitator led a cohort from the initial kickoff throughout its 18-week journey.
  • More than 250 volunteer director- and VP-level business leaders were nominated and trained as Module Facilitators for Level 2 In-Person Practice sessions.
  • More than 10 volunteer Technical Leads support the technology aspects of the program, including OneNote Class Notebook for each cohort, LMS, Mobile Coach, StrengthsFinder portal, surveys, etc. 


  • Volunteer workload: Most of the volunteer facilitators are highly passionate and committed to this mission. However, volunteer attrition due to job changes and critical customer needs has caused occasional resource challenges.  
  • System infrastructure: We are in the process of automating components of Manager Essentials through the Workday Learning platform. During the transition period it takes significant administrative efforts to ensure each cohort progresses smoothly.


  • Deployment at Scale: In 2018, a total of 50 cohorts with 1,200 managers, impacting 7,600 direct reports, had completed or were near completion of the Manager Essentials program. Plans call for reaching another 1,500 managers in 2019, in multiple languages. Because the company believes that strong leaders create strong, high-performing teams, the vision is that all Ecolab managers will complete this training program over the next few years. 
  • Leadership Impact: Before-and-after surveys of direct reports show early signs of significant improvement in manager effectiveness. A recent companywide engagement survey revealed a five-percentage-point increase from 2016 in “managers providing frequent and valuable feedback.” Additionally, Anchor Facilitators and Module Facilitators have shared that they, too, are building their leadership capabilities by being involved in the program.  
  • Learning Culture: Beginning with CEO Doug Baker’s video message of “no manager is a finished product,” Manager Essentials has created strong and pervasive signals throughout the organization that continuous learning and practice are appropriate and expected, regardless of seniority. Each Manager Essentials participant creates a commitment poster which is shared with his or her team members, manager and peers. More than 250 senior level leaders facilitate practice sessions where they share their personal learning journey, skills that they are practicing, and role model a learning mindset.  
  • Learning Capability Build: With 25 learning and talent leaders collaborating to create such a powerful experiential program, everyone has learned from each other and gained a global network of collaborative colleagues. Members of the Manager Essentials core team have continued to build flipped learning solutions, run scrappy experiments with new tools, and collaborate across divisions, functions and regions to serve other critical talent needs.  
  • Cost Savings: With an internally developed, robust and experiential program, facilitated by local learning and business leaders, Manager Essentials has and will continue to generate multimillion dollar cost avoidance while creating transformative impact for leaders at all levels at Ecolab.  


With a compelling talent strategy vision and broad leadership engagement, Manager Essentials has been deployed throughout the organization as a top talent development priority. Participants report that the program has truly helped them become better managers at Ecolab. Feedback from participants’ direct reports, managers, and facilitators has been overwhelmingly positive. With “Ecolab-native” content, leaders-developing-leaders engagement, and scientific behavior-change design, Manager Essentials has not only driven measurable organizational impact but has also provided a One Ecolab culture engine that brings together leaders from different divisions and functions and at all different levels of the organization.