At Centerfield Media, leadership believes that investing in employee growth is not only a strategic necessity for overall business success, but also the right thing to do for employees. Earlier this year the company created a dedicated Learning and Organizational Development Department to bolster employee growth, spearheaded by Senior Director Zelna McGee.
McGee is on a mission to establish clear trajectories for the data-backed marketing platform’s employees’ futures through tools like individual development plans, a growth guide book, preset career paths and a variety of resources and programs to help them build and develop skills. McGee strives to complement organic growth opportunities with a structured plan to get employees thinking about what they want to accomplish long term, as well as to encourage managers to help get their teams there.
“Centerfield’s engagement surveys over the last few years continuously showed that employees desired more clarity on what career growth looks like, more training and development opportunities, and someone to go to for career coaching and guidance,” McGee said. “Listening to what employees said that they wanted, combined with leadership’s vision to enable employee growth in a more intentional and structured way, resulted in the company hiring me to build that function from scratch.”
BRAINSTORMING A DEVELOPMENT PLAN IN 60 DAYS
For leaders like Mike Brock, vice president of product, the department’s rollout has already begun to pay off — both for his team’s development, and for the overarching culture at Centerfield Media.
“Before we had invested into an L&D program, a lot of that growth wasn’t clear for a lot of the employees — it was very surface level,” he said. “They felt like the next step up was just adding a senior title prefix to their current title. With the addition of Zelna, we were able to really define and expand on those different steps for every department. The overall sentiment has been very positive.”
Now, as the department continues to build a solid foundation and implement its impact across the organization, McGee has her sights set on further building out what’s possible for employees at Centerfield by incorporating diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging into every step of growth. With a long-term DEIB plan to accurately reflect the diversity of their teams and the Female Leadership Program, leaders are passionate about uplifting their employees to reach their goals — no matter what they look like.
Built In sat down with McGee, Brock and Senior Culture Designer Jenna Borden to learn more about the empowering initiatives taking place because of the Learning and Organizational Development department and what the future looks like for teams at Centerfield.
Zelna, as senior director of learning and organizational development, what were your initial agenda items?
Zelna McGee, Sr. Director of Learning and Organizational Development: My first point of business was creating career paths for different departments. Initially, I sat with the various department leaders to figure out what that career path looked like. The second item was thinking about individual development plans. Linking back to my idea of “you own your career,” with such plans in place, employees could start building their own individual development plan to highlight what skills they want to develop and how they plan to get there. I also began building a learning and development guide book for those who weren’t familiar with L&D, which explains how to approach growth. We then provided free access to LinkedIn Learning for our entire U.S. corporate population, because I wanted to give employees quick access to building some of the skills that are easy to develop through an e-learning platform.
After I hinted to the company what was to come during an all-hands meeting, I finished most of the career paths, the guide book and the individual development plans. Then I started doing roadshow meetings with different departments to educate them on these tools.
“I think people feel like Centerfield is truly investing in them, and that is so important.”
What type of impact have you witnessed from these development rollouts on employees and the culture?
Brock: A lot of feedback and career development has always been one way, where the manager is telling the employee what they need to work on or do. The reality is when you try to ask them back, there’s a lot of hesitation or confusion that I think stems from the fact that many associates don’t know what they want. They feel they’re not qualified or they don’t want to expose that they’re not qualified for certain roles and responsibilities. They don’t have that space to share that vulnerability with their manager. Now we have Zelna, who’s able to close that gap. She is able to ask the right questions so employees are able to contextualize their needs.
I have seen an improvement in motivation, and with people not hesitating to step forward or to be involved in broader conversations about professional development. It’s great to see these people come out of their shell a bit, and as a result, productivity is improved. Team members feel empowered and motivated to stay at Centerfield longer term, and also elevate their ability to understand what exactly they want.
McGee: It takes time before people actually see that this plan is happening or working. As I’m rolling out these opportunities for growth, employees are wondering how they should prioritize their learning. They want to know how to make time to attend a workshop, a conference or a seminar. They want to make sure their manager will allow them to do that. So I am also working with managers to make sure that they practice what we preach in terms of having our employees grow. It’s not just rolling these things out and everybody takes advantage of it — there are some obstacles for people to make the time to grow and develop.
Tell us a bit about the Female Leadership Program. How did it come to be?
Borden: During a recent Centerfield demographics analysis, McGee identified a gap in female representation among people managers. As a result, she designed and developed a program to identify and grow high-potential females in preparation for stepping into a people manager role. This program is dedicated to developing female managers and creating an environment to build and hone in on core skills that are key to being a good manager. We took an intentional look at these skills to design different parts of the program.
To start, we’re going to have a kickoff where we have every female participant come together and we can initiate a network. Over the next six months or so, the program will focus on self-awareness, executive presence, strategies for transitioning to a people manager, building core leadership skills like communication, giving and receiving feedback, managing teams, and motivating one another. The program also includes opportunities to network with, and be mentored by, senior leaders in the organization. I’m excited to be part of this program and fine-tune my skills to become a successful manager. It’s something I’ve been focused on in my own career path, and I’m happy Centerfield is investing in me as well as my colleagues.
We have 14 attendees to this first program starting on November 1. Over the next six months, we’ll have those sessions every two to three weeks depending on the holiday season. We’ve tried to cap it at five months, and then of course we wanted to leave wiggle room in case anything came up.
“Being able to provide a clear trajectory of what the career path and development here looks like was definitely needed, but also appreciated.”
What are some of the numbers at Centerfield Media that you’re looking to improve upon with this Learning and Organizational Development Department and the DEIB initiatives?
McGee: In our senior leadership team, we are currently at 32 percent female representation. Our goal is to increase to 37 percent by the end of 2024. The second one is female representation among our people managers. Right now we’re at 41 percent, but we want to be at 50 percent. The last one is females in tech roles. Today, we’re at 18 percent and we want to get to 25 percent by the end of 2024. That one is a huge initiative. A lot of that responsibility will actually sit with our talent acquisition team in terms of how they hire.
We’re going to publish these data points on our website, and we’re being very open about where we’re at and where we want to be.
On the L&D side, we get as granular as training effectiveness. But the top three metrics for this year would be whether Centerfielders feel that we offer adequate training and development opportunities to keep their skills up to date, whether they see a path for them to advance in their career in Centerfield, and whether managers have regular discussions with individuals about their career goals and development opportunities. This data is measured via an all-employee survey and we already have the baseline data to set our goals for improvement.
What does Centerfield’s future look like with an empowered and supported workforce?
Brock: There are a lot of people who I didn’t know were interested in pursuing a manager track. But because of the rollout, they’re now going out of their way to work with their peers, provide them with feedback, and position themselves like a mentor. A lot of internal collaboration has improved as a result and I’m really excited to see the type of folks who we level up once this is fully deployed. When we rolled out the career path development, we had a rubric of expectations for them to level up. As a result of this, I’m noticing my direct reports are coming to my one-on-one sessions with that rubric to reference, which has been great.
Borden: Before, there was only one management training program about once a year. Now Zelna’s department offers everyone a chance to hone their skills. Now that everyone understands what Zelna is doing, everyone’s super excited. I think people are going to feel like Centerfield is investing in them, and that’s so important.