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The Ceo Institute at Campbell's Soup

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The CEO Institute at Campbell Soup
Benjamin Stern
Organizational Training and Development BUSI 531
Columbia College

Under the leadership of Douglas Conant, Campbell Soup instituted a program known as the CEO Institute (Duncan, 2014). Conant saw a need to develop and engage employees since “the company had ‘a very toxic culture.’ Employees were disheartened, management systems were dysfunctional, trust was low, and a lot of people felt and behaved like victims” (Duncan, 2014). Recognizing that employment engagement was part of the problem, Conant sought to transform the culture of Campbell Soup. “When Conant first entered the scene, employee engagement was extremely anemic: for every two people actively engaged, one person was looking for a job” (Duncan, 2014). Conant knew that workers "won’t be personally engaged unless they believe their leader is personally engaged in trying to make their lives better" (Duncan, 2014). The CEO Institute arose out of the need to inspire such leaders and bring about a transformation in Campbell Soup’s culture.
“The goal of the CEO Institute at the Campbell Soup Company is to “create a meaningful leadership experience for its participants” (Noe, 2013, p. 228). “The CEO Institute is a unique, intensive, two-year program only open to 20-24 participants per year. Candidates must be submitted for consideration by their business unit president or functional leader” (Newell, 2011). Upon their selection, “each participant is required to handwrite a two-page letter to Doug outlining their personal commitment to the program and what they hope to achieve. Essentially, it is their promise to Doug that they, too, are all in” (Reardon, 2011). The program itself is extensive in scope while seeking to foster learning and the transfer of learning to all aspects of life.
The program is divided into five modules with intensive multiday meetings for each, followed by time to reflect and study. There is a rhythm and continuity to the program. In between modules, participants have a variety of homework assignments, including reading, handwritten letters to Doug outlining their goals and plans, and peer-coaching meetings with another member of the program.
We are trying to foster an environment in which participants are able to gain insight through the experiences they have in class, begin to formulate ideas and opinions during the class, and then take the time to not only distill what they’ve learned through a handwritten letter, but apply it. The key is to begin to immediately integrate their insights in all aspects of their lives (Reardon, 2011).

One of the greatest outcomes of the CEO Institute are the relationships that participants form throughout the process. “Participants get to know each other extremely well during the program, with an eye on building lasting relationships as coworkers and perhaps friends moving forward. The class also gets to know the instructors, themselves senior management, very well on the personal level” (Newell, 2011). Moreover, participants have exposure to different management styles, find their own management perspective, and assisting others develop their own leadership strategy and style. Campbell’s CEO Institute incorporates a number of design elements that ensure participants learn about leadership, as well as transfer this learning to their professional and personal lives. Effective program design “should include not only what goes on during training based on course and lesson plans, but also creating conditions before the training event to ensure that trainees are willing, ready, and motivated to learn knowledge and skills” (Noe, 2013, pp. 193-194). Campbell Soup carefully considers what happens before training prior to participants attending the first module. First, the CEO Institute has business unit presidents or functional leaders identify potential high-performing employees for consideration for this small and prestigious program (Newell, 2011). This ensures that participants already make effective contributions to the Campbell Soup Company prior to the company investing a significant amount of time, resources, and energy in their professional development. Secondly, the handwritten two-page letter to the CEO forces participants to profess a personal commitment and establish goals they hope to achieve by their participation in the program. The selection of trainers is important for the success of the CEO Institute. “Trainers, whether from inside or outside the company, should have expertise in the topic and experience in training” (Noe, 2013, p. 197). “The CEO Institute participants have sustained and prolonged access to CEO Doug Conant, since he is one of the main instructors, and was heavily involved in all aspects of designing and delivering the courses. He does not give a short, one-time, go-get-em speech, but invests a substantial amount of time teaching and communicating with participants” (Newell, 2011). Since the CEO is so heavily involved in the program, participants can draw upon his knowledge and experience. “Other members of Campbell’s executive leadership team share” their “personal leadership journeys” with participants (Reardon, 2011). Trainers are asked to “talk about the people who’ve inspired us, the choices we’ve made, and the lessons we’ve learned” (Reardon, 2011). The CEO Institute’s success is partly the result of having successful and engaging leaders train employees who are thirsty for professional growth and development. These leaders can model effective behaviors and caution what does and does not work given Campbell’s needs. Noe states, “Using managers and employees as trainers may help increase the perceived meaningfulness of the training content. Because they understand the company’s business, employee and manager trainers tend to make the training content more directly applicable to the trainees work” (Noe, 2013, p. 198). Furthermore, since the content is aligned with the work, employees are more likely to utilize this knowledge in their jobs.
While I could not find any concrete information about the training these executives received prior to training others at the CEO Institute, I do believe that the CEO Institute would only use qualified trainers given that in the “first 18 months on the job” Conant “replaced 300” out of Campbell’s “top 350 leaders” (Robison, 2010). The CEO Institute was clearly thought out and developed to instill leadership values and perspectives in valuable employees; it seems unlikely that such a program would utilize incompetent trainers or those lacking the skills necessary to be an effective trainer.
Another important aspect of the CEO Institute is the recognition and cultivation of individual differences among participants. “Although it’s impossible to tailor a program for each individual, Campbell’s comes close by letting individuals customize their experience as much as possible” (Newell, 2011). One example of this customization are the reading assignments. Since authors may not resonate with all participants, at times the Institute will “ask participants to select a book on their own, such as a biography of a leader that inspires them” (Reardon, 2011). This individualization also recognizes that management and leadership models “are wrong, but some are useful” (Reardon, 2011). The models are wrong insofar as they neglect individuality since “we all have unique life experiences— different upbringings, belief systems, values, and styles” (Reardon, 2011). This recognition of individuality allows the CEO Institute to effectively communicate leadership models while inspiring participants to discover their own leadership philosophy.
The CEO Institute has a well-designed curriculum and course program. “The program is divided into five modules with intensive multiday meetings for each, followed by time to reflect and study” (Reardon, 2011). Participants must outline their goals and plans before starting the program, participants complete homework assignments to reinforce learning, and they experience “peer-coaching meetings with another member of the program” (Reardon, 2011). The first three modules focus on “finding your leadership voice” while the last two modules emphasize “helping others find theirs” [leadership voice] (Reardon, 2011). There is a clear progression between the modules and a deliberate sequence of learning. The sequence of learning is important as some skills must be taught before others. Prior to helping others find their leadership voice, participants must first discover their own leadership voice. Furthermore, the initial module “provides the foundation for everything that follows” and in doing so establishes a common base of knowledge among participants, and challenges participants to reflect on how others perceive their leadership.
Each of the five modules have specific objectives for participants. The first module is “Master the Fundamentals” which provides an introductory framework with different management styles and requires participants to develop their self-awareness (Reardon, 2011). Upon completing the first module, participants move to the second module called “Raise Your Sights” which increases the participants “awareness of their leadership preferences” and challenges them to think about “what it will take for them to become extraordinary leaders” (Reardon, 2011). Participants also attend the World Business Forum to hear top managers provide varying perspectives on how to lead others (Reardon, 2011).
The third module is entitled “Getting to the Heart of Leadership” (Reardon, 2011). Participants are asked to “synthesize lessons from the first half of the program and begin to focus inward” (Reardon, 2011). Moreover, “participants are asked to draft a personal leadership philosophy. We stress that the philosophy must be authentic, clear, congruent, credible, and rooted in their personal beliefs” (Reardon, 2011). This illustrates that the CEO Institute is aware of problems associated with participants establishing vague goals. “The final outcome of this module is to create a specific development plan to bring their philosophy to life” thus revealing a concern for the transfer of knowledge (Reardon, 2011). It is not enough for participants to know multiple leadership styles, rather they must formulate their own style and demonstrate how they will utilize it.
Having completed the first three modules, the emphasis now shifts towards participants helping others develop their own leadership potential. The fourth module, “Growing Your Culture,” helps “participants inspire others to give the very best of themselves” (Reardon, 2011). The emphasis is on applying “coaching and techniques to create cultures and environments where people can thrive” (Reardon, 2011). The last module, “Aiming for Mastery” looks back so that participants reflect “on the program and what's changed for them, particularly what they will do differently as a leader” (Reardon, 2011). In addition, participants look ahead by declaring “what they've discovered about their leadership voice: who they are, what they stand for, and how they are committed to continually build upon their lifelong leadership journey” (Reardon, 2011).
The program appears to have a sound design as it offers customization, values individuality, has sound outcomes, a logical sequence of learning progression, the support of management, emphasizes the transfer of knowledge, encourages self-management, provides opportunities for participants to perform, and results in a support network. The CEO Institute emphasizes far transfer as it teaches “general concepts, broad principles, or key behaviors” (Noe, 2013, p. 214). Since every participant must develop a leadership philosophy, participants must reflect upon how they will apply these general leadership principles to specific circumstances. By having the CEO and other top management teach participants, Campbell Soup clearly conveys a high support for training (Noe, 2013, p. 216). Furthermore, one of the outcomes of the CEO Institute is the support network that develops among participants. “Participants get to know each other extremely well during the program, with an eye on building lasting relationships as coworkers and perhaps friends moving forward” (Newell, 2011). “These relationships have resulted in higher degrees of trust and increased collaboration” which spurs innovation and improvement (Reardon, 2011).
The CEO Institute not only teaches management techniques but enables participants to use these learned capabilities. Participants address the subsequent “CEO Institute class and share” their experiences (Reardon, 2011). Participant’s peer-coach one other thereby developing mentoring skills and providing an opportunity to perform acquired managerial skills (Reardon, 2011). “The peer-coaching framework really helps keep people on track in between modules and provides the equivalent of a personal trainer or executive coach (Reardon, 2011). Not only does the Institute desire participants to apply leadership skills to their jobs, the Institute also recognizes that transfer is more successful if participants utilize the knowledge and skills in their personal lives. “The key is to begin to immediately integrate their insights in all aspects of their lives” (Reardon, 2011). This commitment to application reduces lapses and likely strengthens the commitment of the participants as they can see a use for the knowledge.
I wish I had additional information regarding specific lesson plans, the kind of training site the CEO Institute uses, the seating arrangements, and the materials the institute uses before making a final conclusion. By all appearances, the CEO Institute seems to be an effectively designed training program to convey leadership knowledge, develop leadership skills, as well as provide an opportunity for participants to use their leadership knowledge and skills. While this program is limited in numbers, it appears to have changed the organizational culture by promoting trust, communication, and innovation. One example of this transformation is the collaboration between employees from the Australian biscuit “with employees from our Pepperidge Farm business in North America to develop new products” (Reardon, 2011). This kind of transformation has led Campbell Soup from being a laggard to a company noted for its employee engagement (Newell, 2011).

Duncan, R. D. (2014, September 14). How Campbell's Soup's Former CEO Turned The Company Around. Retrieved from Fast Company:
Newell, A. (2011, March 15). Campbell’s Continues to Invest in Employees with its CEO Institute. Retrieved from Triple Pundit:
Noe, R. (2013). Employee Training and Development. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Reardon, N. (2011, March). Making Leadership Personal. Retrieved from Conant Leadership:
Robison, J. (2010, March 4). When Campbell Was in the Soup. Retrieved from Gallup:

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