by Kathy Cash   Kathy's profile on LinkedIn  

Schindler’s Leadership Odyssey Advances Wellness Through Company Managers

How do you introduce well-being concepts into a traditionally conservative, predominantly left-brained, scientific engineering company? That was the challenge facing Michael Yurchuk, Vice President of HR Field Operations, and his team for Schindler Elevator Corporation. “We’re a Swiss-based company. When we thought about our existing leaders, we knew our strengths lay in developing very good, structured processes. However, the emotional intelligence component of sustainable leadership — sometimes considered the “softer skills” — which focus upon human capital and creating engagement, hadn’t really been explored.”


The Leadership Odyssey concept grew out of a need to improve these areas. Mike emphasizes this is not a wellness program but a leadership development strategy. “We asked ourselves what current and future leaders require and recognized the focus needs to be not only on our most senior leaders but the next level down… people who are the successors to our most senior leaders.” Mike believed finding the time to pull the most senior leaders together to receive this information would be a challenge; a longer-term view was required. “Introducing these ideas and concepts to the successors of senior leaders has immediate and future benefits. We give potential senior managers the education before they get there.”


Leadership Odyssey: The Launch

In April 2014, Mike and his team gathered 25 leadership successors identified for their talent and potential in the company. “They had no idea what they were walking into. I think they expected your typical theoretical leadership program dealing with abilities, skills, style, and the climate you could create. But this was a 2-day experiential program. We broke the ice by starting with a full-on yoga workout at 6:30 AM. I assure you it was a bizarre experience for most of these folks, but it helped open them up to what came after. We continually referred back to that first experience as we progressed through the program.”


Mike considered this the first phase in what would become a series. “The program motto, ‘it starts with you’ addressed personal health and wellness improvement. Our message: in order to be a successful leader, it is important to be in a healthy state of well-being. In a survey early on, we asked them to think about how close they were to burnout or not having the needed energy to do their work as a leader.”


Mike explained that the majority of Schindler’s most senior leaders develop from within the business. “They’re excellent individual contributors but now face the additional challenges of becoming excellent leaders. When I asked what their day-to-day experience was like, the group described themselves as being in constant survival or firefighting mode… they couldn’t wait to get through any given day and reach the end of the week. But then the next week rolls around and the cycle starts again. They had no chance to restore the energy necessary to do their job successfully. This is especially problematic when you consider the people who work for these exhausted leaders model their habits and reflect their ability to lead an engaged, energized workforce.”


Discussions about sustainable energy became a common thread throughout the program, so Mike and the team challenged participants about how to change survival mode. “It boiled down to a high level of well-being. We began by demystifying what that even meant. For most it revolved around good health practices and taking care of themselves. We introduced the various wellness wheel components, then had them evaluate where they were in such areas as social, financial, physical, emotional, family, spiritual, and community. This exercise quickly revealed many had lost sight of values that were important to them.”


At this point Mike needed to redirect his leadership group’s enthusiasm. “Their focus had turned toward helping employees in these areas. Comments like, ‘I really need to stop sending out emails on the weekend and encourage them to use their vacation time and exercise more’ were typical. Our message was to first be selfish for these 2 days — concentrating on their own well-being. We encouraged them to think about how they could be happier… giving themselves permission to leave a little early when necessary, get to the gym, work in the local soup kitchen or go to church if they want. Then they can come back and share these stories with their teams to spread the well-being through their actions.”


This first program includes discussions about such things as walking meetings, stand-up desks, and well-being statistics. Mike shared an anecdote: “After we talked about the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting and the benefits of standing, as the sessions progressed more and more people who had been sitting in the room began standing. By the end of the program, 3/4 of the people in the room were standing most of the time.”


Mike declares this was the most powerful event he has ever attended. “There was huge growth among participants. Our culture did not make it easy for them to go back to their office and talk about doing yoga or these other softer topics like the importance of cultivating personal relationships. It’s a testament to this group that to this day, when I see them, they have kept those habits and are instilling them within their teams. It has truly changed this organization.”


While Mike has many testimonials, these are typical:


“… If actions are taken at the individual, team and company level to embrace a culture of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being, our Core Values then truly take on substance beyond branding and words in print.”


“… If one aspect of our strategy and priority is to build winning teams, well-being is critical to driving the motivation that makes our good employees want to get up and come to work every day. It is also a valuable recruiting tool — we need to get this right. This is also a critical element of differentiating ourselves from our competition in our ability to grow the business over time.”


Leadership Odyssey Becomes Safety Odyssey

Over the ensuing months, Health and Safety VP Louis DeLoreto began hearing about Leadership Odyssey and wanted to learn more. Mike was thrilled. “By virtue of the work we do, safety is the highest priority in Schindler. Employees are at risk every day, so safety protocols are very robust and thorough. But it’s about more than just hard hats and safety belts… it’s about presenteeism. After the program was explained, Louis wanted to take it into the field for his team. Our field workforce is required to do highly physical work in a stressful environment, yet are not necessarily in adequate shape to do so. We ran a 1-day version for his Area Safety Leadership team in October 2014.”


Leadership Odyssey: Phase 2

In the fall of 2015, Leadership Odyssey moved from the “it starts with you” self-improvement focus to how leaders can accelerate positive work environment changes for the benefit of their teams. Many attendees were graduates from the first program; newcomers got a recap of key components. Speakers cautioned managers against telling people what to do. Instead they discussed how to change beliefs and experiences, which ultimately changes performance. Participant surveys were again overwhelmingly positive.


2015 saw a leadership change in Schindler’s wellness program — marking a more dynamic, progressive move toward modernizing services. Mike is excited about these wellness culture enhancements. “Tracy Katz, now our Manager of Benefits and Wellness, is redefining this program. There will be more intranet capabilities with social networking, incentives, rewards, recognition, and games. We hope to be fully operational by January 2017. Until now only health plan members had access to our resources. The long-range goal is to include union people in the field and make this a Schindler wellness and engagement program versus a health benefits program.”


The Future

Mike continues to think about the next Leadership Odyssey evolution. “As graduates from this program ultimately move into senior management positions, our goal is to make this an integral part of our leadership culture. We plan to pull the group together again next April. We haven’t quite decided what this program will look like, but I anticipate it will be more broadly on how these skill sets can influence future behaviors. We also introduce these concepts with onboarding managers to incorporate into their practices… it’s become who we are and how we do business.”


Originally, Mike’s vocation was engineering. He has found real growth through this experience: “Witnessing the impact of this topic with our team has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career. I see the value in understanding wellness and how it can help all of us be more successful — professionally and especially personally.”


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