How Leadership Development Can Reverse Turnover Quickly with the CPO of Bristlecone

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The Culture Code

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Gallup research indicates that 70% of engagement can be traced back to an employee’s relationship with their manager. This just goes to show that at the heart of any thriving culture is thriving leadership.

Bristlecone is no exception. When the company attrition rate grew to 27% nearly two years ago, Chief People Officer (CPO) Lisa Lesko knew she needed to take action. After designing and delivering the “High Engage” Leadership Development Program, results began to stream in:

  • Attrition dropped 15%.
  • The employee net promoter score doubled.
  • Bristlecone’s Glassdoor rating increased from 3.7 to 4.1.

Bristlecone is a leading supply chain consulting organization with nearly 3,000 employees. The company has five areas of expertise, its most notable being System Applications and Products in Data Processing (SAP).

Lisa Lesko, CPO of Bristlecone
Lisa Lesko, CPO of Bristlecone

How Bristlecone Reduced Attrition by 15% Through Leadership Development

When Lesko saw Bristlecone’s attrition rate rise as high as 27%, she knew her team needed to create a highly impactful program. They designed and delivered the “High Engage” Leadership Development Program. “High Engage is our holistic engagement model,” Lesko said. “We returned to the basics and started to talk to our employees. A large part of our high attrition was that employees wanted to talk to and connect with their managers.”

Lesko and her team retrained Bristlecone managers and equipped them with an engagement report card. “We gave them a script with things to talk about and questions to ask. The intent of these conversations is to engage and retain employees.” Then, based on the report cards, they could assess “red, amber, or green” across various areas. If an employee was in “red”, that necessitated action, and the manager would figure out what actions to take to ensure an inclusive and thorough approach to the employee’s needs.

Lesko and her team also use feedback from engagement surveys to help managers take necessary actions for career progression. “This framework introduces career pathing and learning at different levels of work. For managers and aspiring managers, we clarify what steps they should take based on their stage of development. This guidance ensures that they acquire the necessary skills and knowledge to be effective line managers in the future.”

As mentioned above, these initiatives worked incredibly well:

  • Attrition dropped to 12% (from 27%).
  • The company successfully reversed 166 resignations.
  • The employee net promoter score doubled.
  • Bristlecone’s Glassdoor rating increased from 3.7 to 4.1.

Five Initiatives That Sustain Culture at Bristlecone

One thing that great company cultures seem to have in common is that they create highly original rituals that bring culture to life in an authentic way. Lesko shared six great examples of how Bristlecone “walks the talk” when it comes to company culture.

  1. Learning Month – “I am not the type of person that says every employee has to complete a certain amount of learning hours each year,” Lesko remarked. “What I want to do is create a pull factor. I want people to want to learn. So, we put the learning in front of people and encourage them to learn.” For this reason, Lesko and her team started “Learning Month”, when the organization sets aside time for all types of learning—functional, organizational, ethics and governance, and more. They created a healthy competition among the business units to make learning fun and even invite people’s families to attend and participate in learning. Without making any type of learning mandatory, the average employee spent 42 hours learning during this month.
  2. People Week – This initiative promotes collaboration, learning, networking, and building a sense of community among employees.
  3. My Day, Friday – Employees are encouraged to allocate the second half of Fridays to aspirational projects, self-development, and planning for the following week. “We discourage meetings, so employees are instead urged to spend the time in the most impactful manner to increase their productivity,” Lesko added.
  4. Work from Home – “We successfully transitioned to a work-from-home culture with a utilization rate above 82% for available employees,” Lesko said.
  5. Triumph – This annual recognition event is dedicated to acknowledging talent, celebrating successes, and genuinely having fun. “This event engages more than 75% of our employees, fostering a sense of camaraderie and shared success,” Lesko remarked.

Decoding Culture at Bristlecone: Six Key Approaches

  1. Executive Leadership Team (ELT) Town Halls – When anyone on the ELT is traveling, Lesko and her team make sure that they still hold town halls and connect with people, not only in their own business unit but also across them.
  2. “Let’s Talk” Quarterly Meetings – Instead of a more formal “Quarterly Business Review,” Lesko and her team changed the name to “Let's Talk.” “We wanted more than the executive leadership team talking to our employees and sharing information. We wanted to interact,” Lesko explained. “Not only do we share updates, we also try to create a free-flowing conversation with leadership and employees. We leave lots of time for questions and answers.”
  3. ELT Up-close Sessions – In these sessions, ELT members speak to a random group of employees. “We looked at where the highest attrition was occurring and then invited a random selection of people,” Lesko elaborated. “Through these sessions, we'd discover what's working well and potential opportunities. We learned a lot of good information and some low-hanging fruit that we could change. We also identified some larger issues that we could address.”
  4. Peer Groups – Bristlecone has an employee council of seven employees. “These are peers that talk to people and keep their ears to the ground,” Lesko explained. “If an employee doesn't feel comfortable coming to their manager, a leader, or my people and culture team, they can talk to a peer. Peers then share with us, in a broad-based situation and anonymously, about the concerns of employees.”
  5. Code Champions – Bristlecone has what they refer to as “Code Champions” or representatives of its code of conduct. “Code Champions are peers who employees trust and with whom they feel comfortable sharing.”
  6. Online Feedback – To support a culture of listening and feedback, Lesko and her team also employ an online feedback tool that allows for anonymity. “Along with our ethics and governance council, which includes some of our leadership team, we discuss any concerns and determine the next steps,” Lesko said.
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CEO of LEADx, and NY Times bestselling author, of Great Leaders Have No Rules and Employee Engagement 2.0. Get a FREE demo of the LEADx platform at https://leadx.org/preview.