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ALLETE Collaborates with UMD on Leadership Training

September 3, 2018

Since 2011, almost 10,000 Baby Boomers have been retiring daily, with the trend continuing until 2030, according to Pew Research Center.

ALLETE, an energy company  with almost 2,000 employees throughout its five companies, Minnesota Power, Superior Water, Light and Power, ALLETE Clean Energy, U.S. Water and BNI Energy, had been significantly experiencing this workforce transition and needed to take action. “In 2014, many tenured employees and leaders were retiring in large numbers,” said Dawn Johnson, ALLETE’s senior learning and development analyst. “We knew we needed to prepare a large number of managers and directors for increasing levels of responsibility, and we needed to accomplish the task efficiently and affordably.”

The company turned to UMD, which, in response to ALLETE’s request for proposals, won the contract over multiple statewide educational institutions and leadership-consulting firms to design and implement a leadership development program.

“They brought a powerhouse faculty lineup from the Labovitz School of Business and Economics (LSBE) to the table along with strong instructional design support from UMD’s Continuing Education,” said Johnson regarding UMD.

The training series, Pillars for ALLETE Leadership, was designed in close partnership with UMD  and is for mid-level leadership employees such as managers and directors and comprises seven day-long sessions along with a kick-off networking event and a graduation ceremony. 

Each Pillars session is based on one of seven themes that stemmed from identified skills and knowledge ALLETE executives felt leaders need. The themes are: 

  • Executive Presence/Self-Awareness
  • Strategy and Strategic Thinking
  • Interpersonal Communications
  • Presentations
  • Financial Acumen
  • Leading Group Process
  • Leading through Change 

Three of the six program instructors and facilitators were LSBE faculty: Drs. Praveen Aggarwal, Marketing professor and associate dean; Steve Castleberry, Marketing professor; and Abram Anders, Business Communications assistant professor. 

“LSBE faculty have built trust and credibility with our leaders,” said Johnson. “They are mentors and teachers whom our leaders continue to call upon even after their session is over.” 

Along with the educational components provided by LSBE, the Pillars program also included facilitated peer coaching by InsideOut Development and 360 assessments. Additionally, at each session, an ALLETE senior leader presented to the group about his/her career path, lessons learned, and other relevant information in a Leadership Narrative. “It continues to be one of the most highly rated sections of each day,” said Johnson.  

“Working with ALLETE executives has been an intellectually enriching experience for me,” noted Dr. Aggarwal.  “The industry space that ALLETE operates in is very complex. The talented program participants appreciated the challenges that came with such complexity and were highly engaged in solutions-focused conversations.”

Helping leaders see the big picture of ALLETE’s entities working together rather than each in its own silo was one of the benefits of the program. 

“As a company, bringing leaders from all subsidiaries together really challenged the group to see the ‘together we are stronger’ strategy we are executing,” said Laura Krollman, Compensation and Benefits manager and a May 2018 Pillars graduate. “The concept of how we all fit together was brought up at each session. It was great hearing different perspectives.”

Making connections and utilizing those experts throughout the organizations was another program benefit.

“I was able to connect with other leaders throughout the company that I would not have likely met. It’s members of my cohort that I often call upon when I need guidance or an outside opinion.”

To date, three cohorts of 30 individuals each have attended the training. Overall, the program has shown long-term improvements in many areas at ALLETE.

“Our learning culture has been shaped through the Pillars program,” said Johnson. “People want to be Pillars graduates.”

Photo Caption: Business Communications Assistant Professor Abram Anders leads a Pillars session.