A case study in International projects


How do you train and retain staff to meet an expected demand for 400 new middle managers each year for the next 4 years?


PURPOSE: Describes the development and delivery of a talent development programme that cuts across cultural expectations and challenges the learning styles of the participants.

DESIGN: Draws on the global experience of ChangeMaker International and successfully adapts a western experiential learning style for an Asian market. Brings the 70-20-10 principle of effective development to a new population.

FINDINGS: Describes the obstacles and challenges and celebrates the successes achieved now the 1st Batch has graduated, the 2nd Batch is mid-programme and the 3rd Batch has just entered.

VALUE: Demonstrates how a partnership can be developed with a client on the other side of the globe and how persistence with the learning methodology has shown great benefits for the participants and their business.

PRACTICAL IMPLICATIONS: Points out some of the lessons ChangeMaker has learned working with the Chinese over the last 2½ years.

The shipping and logistics giant A. P. Moller Maersk is experiencing rapid growth in its Greater China Area business. The idea behind the project is to develop Maersk Greater China Area into a continuously successful organization, with high potentials being identified, retained and consistently developed to higher level of management within the organization. During 2005 ChangeMaker International was asked to propose a development programme to help to achieve this. The bid was won against competitive tenders from within and outside China. Work started on the project in early 2006.

Lhotse is the intermediate level of The Mount Everest Programme designed for middle managers, and is named after one of the outlying summits of Everest. Maersk also runs a Base Camp programme for supervisors and a Summit programme for high potentials approaching director level.

Participants of Lhotse are aged around 30 and come from the career stage of managing others. They currently focus on business in their own departments and act as team leaders to achieve business results through others. However, if they are prepared to take over bigger responsibilities in the future there are some new leadership competencies required. Their mindsets and values need to be transformed. A higher level management position will demand that they think beyond their function and concern themselves with strategic issues that support the overall business. The key skills required for the career stage of managing managers include: selecting and training and coaching front line managers, holding line managers accountable for managerial work, deploying and redeploying resources through units.
Based on this foundation the objectives for the Lhotse Programme were defined:

  • To support the organization in identifying, retaining and developing talent with high potential
  • To provide sufficient number of future leader candidates in line with the organization's requirement
  • To align with the Global talent development program and the GCA talent development program
  • To ensure continuity of the leadership pipeline

Specific objectives for participants:

  • To enhance their leadership competencies and management skills under the framework of GCA leadership requirement at their levels
  • To further sharpen their current management skills in their current positions
  • To help participants transition to managing of managers career stages via 2-years talent development program

The programme design is based on developing an understanding of the next level requirements outlined in the Leadership Pipeline as the move takes place between Managing Others and Managing Managers. The programme is made up of 5 modules each aimed to fill skill areas to make the transition successful.

Learning methodology research has suggested that 70 per cent of learning is learning by doing, 20 per cent comes from learning from others, and only 10 per cent comes from the classroom, therefore, on-the-job learning through the project assignment, 360 degree feedback process and mentorship are essential parts of the individual development activity. And the basic foundation of the Lhotse journey is the manager supported Personal Development Plan, which is the foundation of development activities.

Each module is highly interactive and depends on repeated connection with real-life (Maersk) situations. The following text as sent to new participants helps to explain the learning environment:

"Lhotse is a management development programme that focuses on learning skills that can be applied directly in your workplace. The Lhotse learning environment is dynamic and interactive, you will have some of the latest management principles described to you but most of the time will be spent in discussion, role-play, exercises, projects, activities and facilitated group learning. The Modules are led by experienced business facilitators not academics, you will learn from people who have experienced these things in business. You may get frustrated at times because they will work hard to get you to think and find answers rather than give you solutions. Team projects and case studies are designed around current, relevant Maersk issues and the results of your work are presented back to company directors and members of the steering committee on a regular basis, often in live presentations at the end of a module. The whole process is based on the principle of Experiential Learning which creates continuous improvement in your learning by employing a repeated cycle of Experiencing, Reflecting, Thinking and Acting in a different way. You will learn some of the most up to date ideas on Leadership and Management and Change in organisations, how to coach and develop your people and processes to achieve business excellence, but the most important difference between Lhotse and other training programs is that you will be practising these things in real business situations, returning to the structured modules to review and share your learning with your facilitators and colleagues."

The programme runs for 2 years and participants must attend all 5 modules and complete various assignments and team projects in order to graduate. The modules have an 8 or 9 week gap between them when work based and personal development projects are completed, before reporting back to senior managers at the start of the next module.

The participants are divided into learning teams of about 8 people from the beginning of the Lhotse program. The team allocation balances the function, gender, location and Belbin team type. During the 2 years each learning team is requested to attend the class together and meet with other groups. The learning team works together in the class and consolidates learning and supports each other after the class. During Modules 1 and 2 each team is supported by a ChangeMaker Facilitator who coaches individuals and the team and creates the working contract for the subsequent modules. Where possible the coach is the same for both modules to accelerate the development process.
Module 1 Program Orientation and Leading the Team


  • Program Orientation, understand the two year journey and objectives
  • Learning Team set up and getting to know each other
  • Leadership and Management tools and application
  • Learning style introduction and expectation on the program

Module 2 Coaching for Success


  • Feedback skills and application
  • Listening and Questioning skills and application
  • Coaching skills and practices
  • Delegation and application

Module 3 Developing Human Resources


  • Talent Management mindset and skills
  • People Development skills and applications
  • Live projects monitored by senior management

Module 4 Achieving Business Excellence


  • Business Development Process introduction and application
  • Consolidation of Lhotse learning and reporting to talent management committee
  • Live projects monitored by senior management

Module 5 Changing for Excellence


  • Change Management roles and responsibilities
  • Change Management tools introduction and application
  • Continuous Improvement mindset and application
  • Live projects monitored by senior management

The difference between this programme and Generic training programmes is that it is a designed systematic process focusing on developing future leaders in the organization. It aims at building leadership competencies and other skill directly linked with the Maersk Leadership Requirement Framework, and involves processes of nomination, assessment on competency; attendance at development modules and regular review. It is an integral part of HR and OD department leadership pipeline planning, especially focusing on identifying and developing groups of future senior level managers with the required leadership attributes, relevant experience and the appropriate mindset. Above all it develops Learning Agility which is the single most important contributor to success at senior management level.
It also relies on the integration of personnel from different levels in the organisation to support the learning and on "live" connection with the business and its current issues:

  • Before and after every development module the participant works with their direct Manager to set goals and objectives and to review and set Personal Development Plans. This personal development plan is a plan for the next single year; however it should take a 2-year development period into consideration. It is not only related to competencies but also to technical skills and knowledge. On-the-job learning and job rotations are used as the development means to enhance participants' competency and technical skills and knowledge.
  • Each participant is encouraged to take a Mentor to support their journey through the programme. The mentor's role is to act as a role model to demonstrate the required behavior; help to build confidence and drive for high standards of performance and development. In a move to link all levels of the Mount Everest programme. Lhotse level chooses mentors from Summit level and should also offer to be mentors to Base Camp level participants.
  • The Business and Change modules are structured around learning tools and processes which are then applied to real business issues. Sponsors submit projects that will drive an output that is relevant to the business. These can help to enlarge the participants' knowledge and business understanding, and enable them to apply their learning to contribute to the business. Successful projects will yield insights that can be acted on by sponsoring managers. Sometimes teams are asked to take a project to a further stage after presentation.
  • 360° Degree Feedback process is another important development opportunity for the Lhotse participants. It can aid better understanding of their leadership behaviours and the impact of those behaviours. With the one on one coaching and feedback session on 360* report, the Lhotse participants are able to use the 360* report to set up a further specific development plan and work on it.

Chinese delegates are academically bright and we encountered a big thirst for knowledge and an ambition to move upwards quickly; but compared to people of similar age in the west they are not as experienced or business knowledgeable. What are the drivers for this? The one- child policy has created a generation that are known as "little emperors". They were spoiled by their parents and they expect this treatment to continue at work. Expectations exceed ability and there are few realistic benchmarks for them. There is great pressure for companies to elevate local people as soon as possible so that their organisations are more balanced at the senior level. Couple this with a traditional view that status and position are important and you find a population eager to advance up the hierarchy. Tradition also drives expectations of the style of a learning experience. We followed in the wake of a Cambridge university professor who had been employed to teach Leadership, by delivering 3 days of lectures. This fitted perfectly with the expectation that the best learning comes from an "authority figure" and that knowledge is valued. We challenged this by suggesting that the most important thing to measure was people's ability to take new ideas and change their own behaviour at work leading to increased performance and better results. This was agreed at an intellectual level but it took the best part of a year to get real buy in. We have had to start from scratch with many of the things we take for granted.

Traditional Chinese education involves a didactic style; the teacher is the fount of all knowledge.

"I admitted to one group that I didn't know the answer to one of their questions about a complicated business process. I offered to go and fetch my colleague who was the subject matter expert. He arrived and answered their query. Imagine my surprise 36 hours later when the end of course evaluation said that the "teacher was no good and should be removed because he did not know the subject"!

Traditionally it's not good for delegates to ask questions, because to admit that you do not know something in front of your peers means "loss of face". In our early programmes we would ask for open feedback to be met with a resounding silence. Later little huddles would convene and then discussions in Chinese would take place with the results fed back to us via an intermediary.

Our aim was to develop a truly experiential style, that involves skills building not information giving, and which relies on the sharing of and discussion about real-life experiences in the work-place, but how could we do this in a learning environment that seemed to discourage debate, exploration and challenge? Our style involves close contact with our participants, facilitating and coaching on a personal level. As a result we often work in small groups at a 1:8 ratio. Maersk have often questioned this because their frame of reference involves one expert standing up in front of a large group and imparting knowledge. It is really difficult to explain the benefits of this kind of contact until they have experienced them and they are unlikely to experience them if you can't convince them of the added value. (Chinese Catch-22!) We have probably spent more time in discussion and exchanging communications on this topic than on the details of the content of our programmes.

The rapid company growth and the consequent need for experience and talented managers drives a need to "fast forward" the talent development process, trying to do it with an old style approach doesn't address the ingrained behaviours and attitudes that exist or allow people to learn to think for themselves, to question the status quo and to make their own decisions. What has always been in our favour is that we are working with clients who want to embrace the western way of doing things; if we can prove that it happens this side of the world and show where it has been successful then we get the green light. However once we started to work in small groups, the rules seemed to change. People would ask questions, discussion opened up, the quieter ones became bolder, people actually enjoyed feedback and revelled in the concept of feedforward which is about making suggestions for the future. The secret seems to be in building relationships of trust. We have recently started working with the second and third intakes and we have been involved from the start of the process this time. This has been so much easier because we have been able set the scene and build the expectations. The result? Highest post-event evaluation scores of the whole project so far.
So if you plan to use controversial or challenging methodology make sure that you have the time and commitment to be involved right from the start. In this case we were involved in all design discussions and in the development of pre-course reading and context setting materials.


We thought we entered China with open-eyes but we woud have done things differently if we had known how far from our concepts they were. Here is a list of quick tips for training in China, getting good results and enjoying it!

  1. Make personal contact with people and make learning fun.
  2. Harness their creativity and natural love of story-telling.
  3. Prove that knowledge isn't skill and what matters is how to do things differently back at work.
  4. For skill development use large group sessions of maximum 20 minutes, and lots of small group work. (Remember they are using a second language and tire easily).
  5. Deliver information in small chunks and practice it. Review the process and repeat the practice.
  6. Pull lots of examples from their business; work with real live company issues where you can.
  7. Capitalise on their energy and enthusiasm to learn, by interspersing your material with energetic linked activity.
  8. Ban mobile phones and laptops in the classroom.
  9. Be patient
  10. Eat socially and try everything that is put in front of you; it's a culinary expedition on the wild-side...

Andy Neal
Published in Human Resource Management-International Digest
Volume 15 Number 7 2007