How Hootsuite Makes Leadership Development Practical And Social

In my continued quest to uncover great leadership development practices—that don’t have to cost a fortune—I recently interviewed Heidi Rolston, who is responsible for leadership development, community, and diversity and inclusion at Hootsuite

Hootsuite is a social media management technology company, with more than 18 million users around the world. Headquartered in Vancouver, Hootsuite has over a thousand employees in a dozen offices around the world. It is Rolston’s job to ensure that Hootsuite’s approximately 200 people managers are equipped to lead in a way that grows and retains talent.

“Leading You” Six-Day Program

The Hootsuite signature program, titled “Leading You,” is comprised of six different modules, and managers are not required to participate. “We want to make sure participants are motivated and really want to be there,” explained Rolston. For those who do signup for development, they must complete the first three “core” days before they are eligible to enroll in the other classes.

The curriculum is designed to give new managers specific skills they can use right away. “I’ve been to leadership programs that are filled with big ideas and are very theoretical, which is fine, but especially for first-time managers we want to be very practical.” Key topics in the training include:

  • How do you achieve results through others?
  • How to have a productive compensation conversation?
  • How can you give feedback and coach team members to keep them on track?
  • How do you develop a growth mindset?

While it’s common for leadership development professionals to utilize off-the-shelf content in areas like management styles, coaching models, and conversational skills, Rolston explained that all of their training materials were created in-house so they could ensure their managers would find it to be real-world relevant.

No Behavior Style Assessments

A standard element of most leadership development stacks is some sort of personality assessment like the Big 5 Personality model, DiSC, or CliftonStrengths. But not at HootSuite. Rolston said, “If my team were to hear us talking about this they’d probably laugh because some of them think we should be doing some kind of assessment. But I’m not really a fan…” She went on to explain that a big part of her job is driving diversity and inclusion and too often she’s seen personality results misapplied and actually become a form of labeling. “Oh, that’s just like you, you’re such a Red!” 

A Drive for Learning Communities

Another unique aspect of leadership development at Hootsuite is the push for learning communities. One of the manifestations of this is are “Leadership Forums” of about 20 senior leaders, who come together for peer sharing around real-world management challenges.

Additionally, Hootsuite has launched a new pilot program for its individual contributors who want to prepare for leadership roles. Called “Momentum,” the year-long program includes both a facilitator and an executive sponsor. Rolston believes that the sponsor will get as much from the experience as the individual contributors since it brings them in touch with those who are much closer to the customer.

Results & Advice 

When it comes to ROI, Rolston says “we mainly use engagement scores and feedback from exit interviews as an indicator. Right now, direct managers get very positive marks.” 

What’s her advice to others in leadership development? “Be practical, and just start. You will learn so much the first time you deliver the program.”

Kevin Kruse is the CEO of LEADx with “Coach Amanda,” a platform for nudges, digital coaching, and micro-learning that scales and sustains leadership development.