Mortenson Dental Partners
Mortenson Dental Partners is growing. With 116 locations in 11 states, the company is regularly adding to its pool of 1,500 employees. “Our company is rapidly growing – we have a challenge to grow rapidly to keep up with it. We want to solve our challenges with the people that we have,” shared Executive Vice President and Chief Development Officer Dr. John Meis, “Investing in our people is an easy decision to make.” Mortenson Dental Partners chose to invest in a cohort-based program designed to develop the next generation of leaders within an organization. As a result, their employees are now primed to help the organization grow.
Learning Together as a Cohort
Leadership through innovation, creativity and outside-the-box thinking requires the ability to consider different viewpoints and experiences. For many organizations, it is impossible to bring together employees internally with a breadth and depth of experiences that would allow this kind of thinking. Cohort-based learning brings together learners from different organizations in a variety of industries, allowing participants to learn from one another as well as instructors.
Cohort programs create a dynamic learning environment with shared learning opportunities. Everyone in the group contributes to the learning environment, and participants have the benefit of learning from the successes and failures of others. “By participating in the program with others outside of our organization I learned that a lot of the stuff we face everyday isn’t new. If we ask the right questions of the right people, we can save ourselves from bad experiences,” explained Director of Software Development Chris Grimm. Because participants move through the program together, they build trust and a network of colleagues they can turn to with issues. In cohort programs, participants become comfortable enough with the group to open up and really engage with the content.
Meeting Challenges with the People You Have
The goal for Mortenson Dental Partners was to meet the challenges of organizational growth with the people they have, so the leadership team nominated high-potential leaders within their company to participate in this program. Nominees were asked to write an essay expressing their desire to participate and what they expected to get out of the experience. In all, six individuals were selected.
“We want to solve our challenges with the people that we have. Investing in our people is an easy decision to make.”
The 10-month Developing High-potential Leaders program delivered topics and experiences that built from week to week, weaving in themes throughout the series that were tailored to the specific group of participants. The sequence of topics helped participants think about their own leadership abilities, how to create a productive team environment, and finally how to capitalize on the strengths of others (through goal-setting and feedback) to benefit their organizations. Time between the classes allowed participants to implement the skills they learned before returning to the classroom for their next session. Program instructors were real-world practitioners who presented the topics in a variety of ways including presentations, break-out sessions and even field trips. “I felt like we got something new and different from other leadership courses we’ve participated in. The instructors made careers out of the different topics we covered,” shared HR Generalist Katie Adams.
One participant, Melissa Thomas, was recently promoted to the role of assistant controller. “This was very helpful from a leadership perspective. Now I am solely responsible for developing team members. I need to delegate and ask for delegation from my boss too. I am using tools from this class,” she shared. “We’re all really good at what we do – the technical aspects of our job. The program focused on the skills we need to brush up on to take us to the next level,” said Chris, who was also recently promoted.
From Knowing to Applying
In addition to providing practical content such as how to be more productive and efficient, the program also helped learners identify how they work best and how to work better with one another. “After we took the StrengthsFinder® test we mapped out the strengths of everyone in our team. The power of that document – it helped us capitalize on who we go to with certain projects and how we should communicate with them,” Katie shared. “This program really changed my mindset as a leader. I am now more forward-thinking: managing and leading for the future. I’m not just putting out fires for today. I don’t want to be a fire chief anymore,” Regional Development Officer Shelley Spragens added.
The participants from Mortenson Dental Partners were already familiar with some of the tools and techniques presented in class, but had not considered how to apply them on the job. “The biggest impact of this program for me has been the opportunity to be intentional about learning new skills. It’s not easy to remember and apply new skills unless you set aside the time,” Director of Marketing Jacque Ramsey shared. For example, all new hires at Mortenson Dental Partners take the DiSC assessment, a a behavior assessment tool. When participants discussed their DiSC profiles as part of the cohort group, they gained a deeper understanding of how to communicate and work with different personalities. “Leaders have to meet people where they are and understand how they can connect with people on a different level. They understood this concept already. When they talked about it again, the level of understanding was deeper. They jumped from knowing it to applying it,” explained Dr. Meis.
Ensuring Success with Accountability
Dr. Meis set the tone for success before the program even began. “It’s clear that Mortenson Dental Partners understands the value of learning and development, for the present and the future,” said Robbie Chitwood, director of UofL Professional Development, “They see the potential return on investment for valuing young leaders.”
To ensure a positive return on the organization’s investment, Dr. Meis acted as an accountability partner to each of the participants. He gathered the group monthly, asking them to report on what they’d learned and how they were incorporating those new skills back at work. Additionally, he challenged the team to teach others about what they had learned. “I liked that the accountability component was incorporated,” shared Jacque, “It showed us how we can use what we learn on the job.” Because of this, the leadership program generated buzz around the office. “People would ask, ‘What are you doing? What’s going on?’ We were able to take back the content the instructors presented to us and share it with our teams so we could talk about how to use it in our everyday roles,” added Shelley.
“We were able to take back the content the instructors presented to us and share it with our teams so we could talk about how to use it in our everyday roles.”
Dr. Meis also set specific expectations for his team: to be present both physically and mentally. “Because this expectation was set early on, I didn’t have to worry about work and could focus on learning for the day,” explained Mellisa. “To hear the discussion, collaboration and the creativity about how they were going to apply what they learned was inspiring,” Dr. Meis said.
For Mortenson Dental Partners, investing in employees and adding the layer of accountability paid off. Participants not only gained practical knowledge and tools that can be incorporated in the organization, but the company also identified the next generation of leaders that will continue the trajectory of growth. “With my role, my experience here will have a trickle down effect. The things we learned in this program set people apart from being a manager to a leader,” said Katie, who interacts with over 700 employees. “My success in the future will be based on what I brought out of this year here,” shared Chris.
“The things we learned in the program set people apart from being a manager to a leader.”
Two participants were promoted to new leadership positions during the time of the program, and Dr. Meis could see the difference their training made. “Their confidence level as leaders grew. Everyone performs better when confidence levels are high. I could see how it had an impact on the two people who had new leadership positions over the time of the course and how they carried themselves differently,” he shared.
Mortenson Dental Partners will also benefit from the ripple effect started by increased confidence and leadership abilities. “You’ve hired intelligent people. Let them do what they were hired to do. You could be stifling in the way that you manage,” Jacque elaborated. With this mindset, the organization will be able to hire and retain talented employees. “Leadership makes you more efficient,” Dr. Meis explained, “When someone leaves it can take a month to find someone new and a couple of months to get them acclimated to a new job. Those costs savings don’t show up on a financial statement, but still have a big impact.”
Find out how you can prepare the next generation of leaders in your organization.
Contact us online or call 502.852.4620 to learn more about leadership development and cohort-based learning at UofL.