the secret to W.W. Grainger’s enduring success is its legacy
of resilience and drive to keep moving forward. In the past decade
alone, Grainger implemented SAP, an Enterprise Resource Planning
System, to connect the company's broad product line, multiple channels
and strong logistics network and expanded exponentially; increasing its
market presence in both the U.S. and abroad (Grainger acquired Asia
Pacific Brands of India in 2009).
One of their key strategies is to invest in people, which is why
Grainger, an i4cp member organization, is committed to developing
future leaders. This investment unquestionably pays off, because
Grainger’s leadership has been a mainstay in its consistent
productivity, even in times of prolonged economic uncertainty. Case in
point: Grainger embarked on a new initiative in 2008
– just as the Great Recession ground the economy to a near
halt. The initiative began with a question. “We asked:
‘what is the company doing to help leaders be better
leaders?’” said John Lawson, Grainger’s
Director of Global Learning and Development.
This article summarizes a newly published case study on
Grainger’s highly successful Leader as Coach program, which
is also featured in an on-demand webinar.
Challenge: Going Global
In order to achieve their goal of moving the organization forward and
transitioning to a truly global company, Grainger’s senior
leadership recognized that they had to effect significant cultural
change. The process of evolving from a U.S.-centric corporate culture
to a global one requires a workforce that is fully prepared to embrace
change, take risks and continuously innovate. This required solid
leadership that went a step beyond – to move the ball down
the field, Grainger decided the team needed coaches.
The Game Plan: Drafting Coaches
Grainger’s Learning and Development team began by gathering
resources such as employee engagement surveys, industry research and
benchmarking data, and the expertise of external talent development and
coaching experts. Team members interviewed Grainger’s senior
executives and leaders throughout the organization, individuals
selected based on their reputations as great natural coaches.
Grainger’s senior leadership conducted conversations
throughout the organization and identified frontline managers who were
the strongest drivers of team member engagement and discretionary
effort. With this team assembled, the company kicked-off its
“Leader as Coach” initiative in 2009, which began
with C-suite executives going through the program.
Developing the Plays
Five performance drivers were identified by Grainger’s
leadership as must-have behaviors essential for success, as well as
five areas of learning for driving higher levels of engagement and
performance in coaching.
The L&D team developed a blended learning approach that was
designed to meet the diverse needs of its leaders. Both formal and
informal learning, face-to-face, virtual classroom, e-learning and
on-the-job experiences are elements of the Leader as Coach program
design, with a “Lead the Way” online portal that
delivers tools and resources.
Grainger examined the results of the program in 2011, surveying leaders
who had direct reports and who had completed at least one module of the
Leader as Coach program.
The findings of the survey showed that the Leader as Coach curriculum
successfully transferred valuable knowledge and skills that were
immediately useful on the job. Participants reported that that their
coaching behaviors had improved: 78% of respondents said that the
training helped them better understand expectations around coaching and
teaching, 89% of the respondents noted they were able to apply what
they learned in the training within one month.
Download the Grainger: The Leader as Coach case study (members only) to
learn more about the program and results, or watch the on-demand
webinar, presented by John Lawson.