How to Take a Multi-Faceted Approach to Developing Leaders

BY Carrie Snider | June 12, 2024

As many organizations are finding, the traditional approach to performance management doesn’t work anymore. That’s especially true in the music industry, says Jennifer Rice, SVP of learning and organizational development at Universal Music Group.

“UMG has over 50 different labels, and a lot of these different labels have their own culture, their own ownership, it's incredibly decentralized, which I think is by design,” Rice said. At From Day One’s May virtual conference, Rice discussed how UMG approaches its leadership development. Bryan Walsh, editorial director at Vox, moderated the fireside chat. 

Rather than a once-a-year goal setting with a mid-year check in that’s tied to a bonus, they have adopted a methodology of workflow. It’s important to be flexible when you have 60 territories around the globe, Rice says. There are still clear objectives, but with a twist. “It’s a continuous conversation,” she added. 

Creating a Learning Culture

The business world moves fast, so it’s important to create a culture of learning to keep up. Not only is it good for business, but it’s what employees, especially the younger generation, crave from their employers.

“A lot of younger employees are thinking about this,” she said. If they can learn important skills in the workplace, it can help them now and in the future, no matter where they end up. “They can remain relevant and resilient, knowing that what they’re doing now and how it's being done is almost certainly not going to be the way it’s been done in a decade’s time.”

The pandemic certainly fast-tracked this way of thought, especially when it comes to middle managers. 

“One of the things we have to teach individuals is to be resilient, and to stay curious, because the world is changing so quickly,” Rice said. “We need to ensure that we’re equipping people, particularly that middle management and our leadership team to remain curious, to have a growth mindset, to really lean into building trust with their team and having psychological safety.” 

Jennifer Rice of Universal Music Group was interviewed by Bryan Walsh of Vox Media

The question is, how do you coach people to learn resilience? Companies can’t begin to teach that until there is psychological safety and trust and a culture of learning. 

“Asking questions, being curious and innovating is huge.” At UMG, they have innovation labs and hackathons to help people build creativity. Mentors and coaches are another way to foster learning and growth. “Giving people that one-on-one attention via a coach is going to really be a game changer.”

UMG offers a program specifically for women’s development—they all get a coach. Retention and promotion rates are better than any program they have. “Coaching fosters engagement, retention, skill building, a great employee experience and a great culture,” Rice said.

The 6 Strings of Management 

UMG offers a 6 Strings of Management program, a cohort of managers who can develop skills for being better leaders. “I think we all realize that learning new skills is hard. To learn any new skill requires a sustained effort.” Then leaders need opportunities to apply those skills, then to reflect on how those skills are being leveraged, and finally assessments to validate. 

“Something that makes it really great is, it’s not just content that we’re teaching individuals,” she said. “People learn by doing, they don’t learn by just listening, watching or learning, in the flow of work. So as L&D professionals, our role is to make that content so captivating, but to also keep the learner engaged so that they’re not just clicking out of the tab and doing something else.” 

The 6 Strings focuses on leading through transformation, impact, how to deal with change, communication, emotional intelligence, trust, and psychological safety. Those are important skills in any industry, but psychological safety is especially crucial in the creative industry, Rice says.

“If you’re not always innovating, then you get left behind. So it’s incredibly important to create that safe space for people to take risks, for people to try on new things, for people to be creative. We really lean into what behaviors affect trust within the organization.” 

The program has a 98% recommendation rate, and they’ve seen a 92% adoption rate of the skills being learned. This program is especially important for middle managers, who are the ones with influence and relationships with many employees. 

Measuring Performance in a Creative Industry

Numbers have their place, and certainly sales can be an indicator of performance. When it comes to the creative industry, however, it’s important to focus on more than just output. So how to measure performance in the creative industry? At UMG, they can’t rely on just one source of information. There is a lot to take into consideration.

“We really need to take a more holistic approach and gather feedback from a variety of sources, because work is done through collaboration, creativity, and teamwork,” Rice said. “We’re constantly reassessing and talking, conducting weekly one-on-ones with our teams, gathering feedback from a variety of sources.”

Rather than a traditional approach, they try to be more modernized, more fluid, more flexible, more in the moment—a multi-faceted approach.

Carrie Snider is a Phoenix-based journalist and marketing copywriter.


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