The 160-year-old ZEISS Group is a leading technology enterprise in the optics and optoelectronics industries. Headquartered in Germany and represented in more than 40 countries, ZEISS employs some 25,000 people in 30 production sites, 50 sales and service locations, and 25 R&D facilities.

The Challenge

Having expanded significantly over the past decades to become a global enterprise with revenues of more than €4.3 billion, ZEISS set high expectations for success. The company operated a diverse array of businesses focused on areas such as microscopy, medical technology, and consumer optics, and wanted each business to achieve first or second place in its sector. To accomplish this in a changing business environment, ZEISS needed to become one company, with a unified market position, brand, and strategy. The key challenge— bringing these very different businesses into harmony with one another.

The Solution: A Cascaded Education Program

To align the company behind a single strategic direction, ZEISS developed a custom executive education program in partnership with Harvard Business School (HBS) Executive Education.

The first session brought the company’s global leadership team—the company’s top 100 leaders—to the HBS campus for an intensive learning experience focused on innovation. Two HBS faculty chairs, professors Willy Shih and Das Narayandas, worked closely with ZEISS CEO Dr. Michael Kaschke to design a program with a rich curriculum focused on:

• Building a common understanding of the company’s opportunities and challenges
• Deepening leaders’ insight into the nature of disruptive innovation
• Helping leaders foster a culture of sustained innovation within their own businesses and across the company
• Growing new businesses and existing businesses profitably

This session armed the top leaders with new knowledge, skill, and inspiration— but it was just the first step. Recognizing that 100 individuals would not be able to align a growing global company on their own, ZEISS wanted to engage the entire organization, with the top 100 leading the way and serving as ambassadors.

Spreading the Learning

The next step was to ensure the firm’s 800 highly influential middle managers embraced the company’s strategy, identity, and culture.
For this phase, the company took advantage of Leadership Direct, an innovative, collaborative leadership development program from Harvard Business Publishing. Designed to help companies build general management capabilities in a globally distributed cadre of leaders, Leadership Direct provided the ideal vehicle for reaching out to the 800 middle managers at ZEISS. HBS Executive Education and the Harvard Business Publishing team worked closely with ZEISS leaders and HBS faculty to develop a blended learning program based on Leadership Direct and tailored to ZEISS objectives.

This program, known as LEAD (Learn, Execute, Achieve, Develop), was conducted in a virtual, real-time setting that bridged geographic boundaries and time zones. It was delivered through Harvard Business School’s advanced virtual classroom technology, which connected ZEISS managers around the world to HBS faculty and other experts. The program included moderated discussions, HBS faculty-led virtual seminars, case discussions, and exercises tailored to ZEISS business issues.

Tasked with teaching new ways of thinking and behaving to their 800 colleagues, the 100 global leadership team members who attended the earlier on-campus programs were key to the success of this phase. The 800 managers were divided into groups of 50, with each group taught and coached by a team of six to eight members of the global leadership team.
Many senior leaders did not think of themselves as teachers, and the task often took them far beyond their comfort zone. For their CEO, though, it was an ideal way to ensure that these company leaders internalized the lessons. “You only understand something really well if you teach it to someone else,” Dr. Michael Kaschke explained. The leaders were actively involved throughout the LEAD program, providing the ZEISS context, reinforcing the company identity, and acting as coaches.

Making a Difference—Today and Tomorrow

Through this combination of on-campus and virtual learning, ZEISS has been able to achieve critical business objectives. For example, giving managers an opportunity to make connections and learn about other parts of the business has helped the company increase collaboration and synergy.
Just as important, focusing 900 people on the company’s goals and strategy has created new visibility into the company’s opportunities. Today, ZEISS’ executives have proven techniques for addressing challenges, a better understanding of the company’s markets, and shared insight into customer needs. These have combined to foster better decision-making—and greater innovation—across the company

Source :