Scaling Culture Through Leadership Development


If you had to launch a new leadership development framework to scale the culture of your fast-growing company, how would you do it?

Founded in 2013, Cohesity is a startup of approximately 1,700 employees, with a goal to radically simplify data management through its software platform that eliminates data fragmentation, and protects, secures, and analyzes data.

sustain leadership habits

To maintain its high-performance culture, Cohesity named Shanna Goodell as Director of Leadership and Employee Experience. I had a chance to talk with Shanna about the new leadership development program at Cohesity, and the interconnection between it and employee experience.

This interview has been edited for clarity and space.

Employee Experience Belongs with Leadership Development

​​Kevin Kruse: Your title is director of leadership development and employee experience, which makes sense as 70% of the variance in engagement is tied back to the manager. But these functions are usually siloed, unfortunately. Tell me about this dual responsibility.

Shanna Goodell: That's one of the reasons why this role is so interesting to me. My job, and our leadership team, is focused on making sure that we are enabling and encouraging employees to contribute their best work every day, and on unlocking the potential of each individual. Our leaders are the game changer and key enablers of making this happen.

We support our leaders in creating the employee experience from attracting A+ player candidates, to hiring, and onboarding, and then in enabling the employee experience through belonging, learning, innovating, thriving, leading … while coaching, giving feedback, goal setting, and sharing expectations for performance and results across that entire spectrum. To me, it's difficult to separate leadership development from employee experience because the two are so intertwined and our leaders create so much of the employee experience.

Kruse: How are you measuring employee experience?

Goodell: We’re measuring experience through annual employee engagement surveys. And, like other organizations, we've been doing pulse surveys during the pandemic to understand what our employees need right now, and what we think they’re going to need in the future. We’re also keeping an eye on engagement, attrition, and other sources of data that are measuring the health of our employees.

Leadership Begins with Leading Yourself

Kruse: You've recently come up with a new leadership development framework that you're rolling out. Tell me about it.

Goodell: Yes, prior to 2021, Cohesity had no formal leadership development strategy. Collaboration is one of our cultural guidelines, and through our collaborative alignment process, we designed three pillars of leadership development:

  • Leading Self
  • Leading Teams
  • Leading Your Business

To lead the business you must lead your teams and to lead your teams you must lead yourself.  For the Leading Self component, we’re pairing Positive Intelligence (from Shirzad Chamine) and Emotional Intelligence to put a spotlight on ways to improve how our leaders lead in their day-to-day lives and grow our business.

Kruse: That's perfect. Can you tell me about some of the other pieces that you're thinking about for Leading the Team and then Leading the Business?

Goodell: We are in the infancy stage for Leading the Team. We’ve created the strategy to focus around coaching for success.

We're building a multi-week learning journey to facilitate behavior change. The program includes a series of training days, cohort-based coaching sessions with an executive coach, and work in triads. In these sessions, the participants practice their coaching skills using a real business challenge or leadership issue. The combination of learning the skills, and then having opportunities to practice is where you really start to see the behavior shift and the mind shift around coaching.

Not Just Learning, Focus on Application

Kruse: Most of us need to spend a lot more time focusing on pull-through to take knowledge and turn it into practice, skill, and habit. It sounds like you're using a lot of action learning with the live coach cohorts and triads to carry it through. Was that your idea and where did that come from?

Goodell: The idea of the pull-through comes from my OD background and is something that I have integrated into my work over the past 20 years. It’s from knowing that change happens with application, and when you’re leveraging the real-life challenges that you're solving for.

I saw this work during my time at eBay. We experienced significant improvement in engagement results for teams whose leaders were going through the coaching program.  The idea is that learning isn't just a webinar or in-person training, but an ongoing on-the-job experience. So the question is “How can we cultivate those opportunities for them to learn on the job?” What better way is there than with their peers and a coach.

Kruse: How did you launch your new leadership framework, and with especially crazy times in the last year, what's the reaction been?

Goodell: It's a good question because everybody is busy, especially as a fast-paced mid-size startup company in Silicon Valley. Our thinking and our approach were that we needed to build excitement and that we wanted people to want to be part of it.

So we got all of our people leaders together, along with one of our board members, and some external speakers who came in to talk about leadership and why it's so important to continue to grow as a leader. The fact that we pulled all the people leaders together when that is not something we normally do, showed that this effort is really something very new and something very important. We let them know that we're investing in them and in their success as leaders. Our Amplify Leadership Program is really helping them shift their mindset away from it being one more chore that they have to complete, but rather an investment by the company in them and their development.

From a change-management perspective, I think it also helps get people on board when you come from a place of having no leadership development framework. People are hungry for it and want to develop themselves and their teams.

When it comes down to making the time to invest in yourself, it can be difficult. I think all companies are struggling with this. We all know leadership development is important, and we all want to be successful. But when push comes to shove, and we have zoom meetings from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m. every day, where do we fit in the learning and practicing to grow? We’re strategizing that path to make it easy to participate and realize the benefits with intentionality.

Kruse: The number one issue I'm hearing, even before the pandemic, is “I don't have the time.”

Goodell: That is a challenge and that's why I’m thinking, let's create learning journeys where people do not want to miss out on that journey, and it is so exciting and so transformational that people are knocking at the door to be included.

I also found that many people are getting a lot of value out of the coaching programs. We did a pilot program with some high-potential leaders. Twice a month during the six-month program, our leaders had coaching sessions and tracked their goals and results through the platform. The pilot also included an assessment of the leader on the competencies in the beginning of the coaching program and then again at the end … and we've seen some real, significant areas of improvement in those leadership competencies.

Kruse: If you had to give advice to an eight-month-ago version of yourself or to someone who's just embarking on designing or redesigning a new framework, what comes to mind? What would it be?

Goodell: I think if I could have a do-over, I would think about the implementation plan more carefully in relation to what is going on in the business. Every organization has quarter-end or big activities happening with product/technology/sales campaigns, that there could have been more alignment with that timing aspect.

Kruse: Anything else you'd like to share?

Goodell: Being the leader is such a responsibility … and also a privilege. As a leader, you have the opportunity to truly impact the business and human lives. How amazing is that as a leader, to be able to unlock potential in somebody who never knew he/she had that potential. So what I would say to folks in a leadership position is to take a step back and contemplate that. Yes, you're running a business but it's so much more than that. Embrace the crazy reality and invest in yourself and your team members to thrive. It’ll be worth the time and energy and effort.

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