The door opened for talent development at Zipline Logistics when CEO Walter Lynch sought help leading their millennial workforce.
“It started with my need to find a coach — admitting that I didn’t have all the answers and what I had learned in my previous 15-plus years in business wasn’t always directly translating into a much younger population,” he says.
Lynch and his three partners founded the company because they wanted to create a logistics firm that provided better service for both customers and employees.
Lynch — the only one who didn’t have a transportation background — handled the legal, accounting and back office functionality at first. He came on to run the business day-to-day in 2012.
Soon afterwards, Lynch looked for an executive coach for himself and his co-founders. The company’s leadership was grappling with aggressive growth, and they couldn’t keep up with their roles and responsibilities.
“We started this executive coaching session with a consultant and I don’t think we got through one meeting when I said to her, ‘This is insane that we keep it to the four of us,’” he says.
Zipline Logistics needed to develop leaders in order to expand the business, because the founders believed in cultivating the in-house talent.
“I recognized early on I didn’t have the answers, and starting to solve that problem is what led to a world-class leadership development program, especially for a business our size,” Lynch says. “That has been a heavy investment over the last 12 months specifically, but without question the best investment we’ve made in this business since we opened our doors eight years ago.”
Here’s how Zipline Logistics grew to $32 million in annual revenue and 50 employees as a function of executing strategic initiatives like talent development.
If you want to develop leadership, it can’t be done in the absence of a clear vision, set of core values and mission statement, Lynch says.
“If the culture is broken, if there’s no clear vision, if the values aren’t consistently articulated and lived out, you’ve got to address that first,” he says.
At Zipline Logistics, the founders have always focused on who they want to be, using past experiences with bad bosses or toxic cultures to foster a great environment.
Every strategic decision is made through the lens of customer growth, operational excellence and talent development.
“It makes the decisions a lot easier to digest when we see it through a lens of three simple pillars and know that we’re always going to invest and improve those three areas,” Lynch says.
Keeping it simple also has helped communicate the strategy, so employees can live out those values as the company’s leadership continues to hammer them home.
If your culture is solid and well-articulated — a job that never ends — and your people buy in, then start small with your talent development opportunities.
After they began with executive coaching, Lynch says they used their outside partner to work down — starting a program for those who they saw as high-potential future leaders and adding a third tier for individuals with managerial responsibility.
This past year the company rolled out another leg, a career-planning piece, to help employees align their personal goals with the organization.
“The idea now … is that there will be professional development opportunities and coaching from the day someone walks in the door,” he says.
A new hire goes through six weeks of training. As they move forward, they have the opportunity for career planning discussions. And if they’re doing well from a technical and service standpoint, embracing the culture, they’ll be eligible for a formal leadership development program.
Not a privilege
It’s important to communicate that your talent development program isn’t a right.
It takes time and energy to get to the point where you can get into the program, and once you’re in, the extra work doesn’t stop. Lynch says the opportunity isn’t for everyone.
When Zipline Logistics started its leadership development, it included employees who needed to step up because of how the company was growing.
“Some of them, it turns out, are not as interested in leading as they are in the technical jobs they do,” he says.
They enjoyed the opportunity but didn’t want to go further down that path, Lynch says, which has meant adjustments to the organizational chart.
“Not everybody has progressed along the same smooth path that we thought,” he says.
You need the ability to pivot, and it’s important that the feedback and communication is constant.
The program itself has no set curriculum, Lynch says, because it changes as the needs of the group, marketplace or environment changes.
“What’s discussed is very fluid,” he says. “It’s an outlet and a device to allow people to have conversations and learn from each other.”
As the program has grown, Lynch and his co-founders have focused on the big picture, while those below take on more tasks. A byproduct also has been a clearer hierarchy and communication structure.
“Adding those levels of leadership have really encouraged the people below them,” he says. “It’s given them one more way to add value to the business — another person to listen to that has the ability to affect change alongside them.”