Case Study

Establishing a Leadership University

The Problem

A large public utility company recognized the need to create a generation of world class leaders, elevate value creation, and sharpen their competitive edge. While current leaders had strong technical expertise, to achieve operational excellence and maintain strong market share, they needed to build leaders who could use this technical expertise to be responsive to customers and more strongly results-oriented.

The company was looking for a partner with robust empirical research on leadership competencies and a strong, results-focused methodology for developing leadership capability. They also needed someone who would build custom solutions around the company’s specific needs. The company selected The RBL Group as their partner in architecting and delivering a leadership university.

The Solution

The project rolled out in four phases. The first phase focused on making sure the strategy and goals for the leadership university were clearly identified and aligned with business outcomes. This phase also involved work to articulate and formalize the key attributes that make the company’s leaders uniquely aligned to external stakeholders expectations.

During Phase 2, the company worked with RBL to create the program’s curriculum architecture (who gets taught what, when, and how) and establish the appropriate organizational structure, resources, metrics, and timelines. Decisions like which skills and competencies to focus on at which level, what the right mix of internal and external trainers, as well as where the university interfaces with the rest of the organization, what funding it would receive, etc. were all weighed in light of the strategic intent and needed outcomes and metrics.

Phase 3 consisted of designing the key flagship programs for different talent pools (senior executive, director, manager, high-potential) and creating an implementation plan. Programs contained a mix of action-learning projects, in-class instruction, assessments and individual coaching, and were designed to help leaders learn, apply, and build on core concepts over time. Each learning module included a visit to another company renowned for its excellence in the topic being explored.


During the fourth stage, the company deployed the programs, measured results, and communicated the results to key stakeholders to help support the investment in leadership. RBL facilitators were part of the delivery teams for all levels for the first three years, gradually building internal capability and certifying internal delivery teams. Module-level and program-level feedback helped refine and adapt the programs and ensured impact. Action-learning projects were strongly supported internally with processes to make sure the projects get executed and were measured for impact. The annual showcase of the action-learning projects serves as an incentive to participants and a way to communicate the investment and business impact both throughout the business and in the broader government and business community.

The Outcome

In the last four years, the company has deployed programs for over 400 participants, building a robust pipeline of leaders capable of meeting business challenges and delivering stakeholder results. The leadership university has raised the profile of the company in the region, including becoming an employer-of-choice in the region.

One of the key measures of success was the impact on operational excellence and maintaining market share. Action-learning projects were the most direct way to track the financial impact of the programs on these goals.

Over the past 4 years of the program, more than 100 action learning projects have been completed. One successful action learning project had a goal to optimize auxiliary power consumption in steam power plants. The project team created a process and database monitoring system to measure and manage consumption across the plant. An initial pilot at a single plant saved the company $2.5 million over the year. This successful outcome led to recognition from the CEO and approval for implementation across all steam power plants. Projected cost savings from the company-wide implementation ranged from $16 million - $46 million a year.