Who is Wolverine Worldwide?
Wolverine Worldwide is a U.S.-based apparel and footwear wholesaler/retailer that offers a diverse array of brands, including Harley-Davidson Footwear, Hush Puppies, and Saucony, among others. Their mission is “to build a family of the most admired performance and lifestyle brands on earth.”
After Wolverine Worldwide went through a large-scale acquisition involving many geographically-dispersed assets and teams, for the first time in the company’s history, the majority of their teams had team members working in remote locations.
The company lacked a structured program to help their virtual team leaders develop the soft skills they needed to succeed at their new-virtual roles. Wolverine discovered this problem through a combination of observation and word-of-mouth from those who were experiencing problems with leaders who lacked the skills to better manage virtual teams and help them succeed.
After discovering that they had an issue with team leaders transitioning to leading virtual teams, Wolverine realized that they needed to accomplish three things:
- Raise awareness that virtual team management has different requirements and challenges than managing in-person teams
- Provide virtual leaders with tips and guidelines—such as different techniques that could be used to build trust and accountability, improve communication, and motivate teams remotely
- Build a training program that could scale globally to address the large percentage of managers who suddenly had to contend with using virtual leadership skills
To help Wolverine meet its goals, the company looked for help from an external partner with extensive expertise in making virtual teams flourish. Their search led them to OnPoint Consulting and its virtual team building solutions.
Working with Toni Freeland, Wolverine’s Director of Learning and Organizational Development, and using OnPoint’s standard “Leading from a Distance” program as the starting point, OnPoint created a customized leadership program to help get Wolverine’s leaders up to speed with virtual team management.
The program consisted of six modules that were established as being “most relevant” to Wolverine Worldwide’s situation:
Conducting Effective Virtual Meetings
This module aims to help leaders learn the principles needed to engage people in virtual meetings and handle common challenges of such meetings.
No Trust, No Team: Building Trust Virtually
This learning module helps leaders understand the components of trustworthiness and evaluate their current level of trust so they can develop strategies to build and sustain trust in a virtual work environment.
How Great Virtual Leaders Inspire & Motivate Others from a Distance
The goal of this module is to understand the four elements of inspirational leadership and learn to develop strategies for building a virtual team that has high levels of engagement and enthusiasm for work.
This module gives leaders strategies to gain commitment and support for their plans and initiatives in a remote work environment. It helps leaders understand the different influencing behaviors and when each would be most effective.
Managing Conflicts from a Distance
This module helps leaders gain insight into their primary conflict management style and learn how to use alternate styles more effectively—particularly for remote work environments.
Managing Accountability and Coaching in a Virtual Environment
This module teaches leaders to understand how managing accountability and coaching is different in a virtual setting. It also helps leaders learn the skills and techniques to be effective in these two areas from a distance.
Wolverine Worldwide assembled a cohort of approximately 20 global leaders to participate in each program. The minimum criteria to join was that the person taking the program had to be a manager of at least one person who was in a “true” virtual management situation (i.e. the person had to be working remotely the majority of the time because they couldn’t commute to an office location).
Qualifying leaders were asked to commit to at least four of the six modules. To help ensure higher attendance/completion rates, the client instituted a policy that charged a penalty to anyone who signed up for a course but neglected to attend lessons.
The program as a whole lasted roughly three-and-a-half months in total. Each participant in the program received pre-course work to complete before attending a 90-minute webinar. Upon completion of a webinar, participants were asked to do some action planning—including committing to between one to three actions that they would do differently as a result of their training.
Each participant would return in two weeks to complete the same cycle with a different training module of the program.
Some of the changes virtual team leaders made as a result of attending the program included:
- Taking More Time to Focus on Building Relationships. Leaders on virtual teams found that being proactive about connecting with team members and helping team members connect with each other helped improve productivity and drive for their remote workers. Some of the activities they committed to engage in included taking time out to ask people how they were doing, chatting with employees prior to a meeting’s official start time, etc.
- Enhancing the Organization and Structure of Virtual Meetings. Many leaders modified the tools they chose for running virtual meetings—employing webcams rather than just phones. They also committed to remove and reduce distractions in meetings and to modify the length and frequency of meetings while taking into account the time zone differences that existed between workers. Collaborative software was also highlighted as a tool that leaders would start to use to keep participation up.
- Building Trust and Learning How to Convey It in a Virtual Setting. Leaders were challenged to answer questions about what trust looks like, how it relates to credibility, and how to win it back if it has been diminished. Many leaders realized that they needed to build trust if they were going to have employees commit to their work.
As Toni Freeland said:
“Overall, we’ve seen improved interpersonal relationships, less awkwardness at virtual meetings, more compliance and easier performance discussions… Suffice it to say — our virtual leaders now operate more effectively because of the soft skills, tips and techniques they learned through OnPoint’s virtual leadership training. Initial feedback and results were so positive. We launched another cohort [this year] and plan to offer a cohort [each year until everyone who leads a virtual team has been able to attend].”
With the help and guidance of OnPoint Consulting, Wolverine Worldwide was able to help its leaders transition from leading co-located teams to virtual teams and to ensure that these teams are being effectively managed. Because of its success, Wolverine’s adoption of the program has continued to expand—the company offers new programs each year to help more managers master the art of leading virtual and remote workers.