The challenge

A mid-sized software-as-a-service (SaaS) company was initiating a bold expansion into several new international markets. The firm’s people—a group of highly skilled, technical, and committed engineers and businesspeople—had produced industry-leading technologies that were driving rapid growth in each of the company’s business units.

Critical mass
The firm had reached a critical stage of development. Up to this point, the business had benefited from a strong and deeply rooted culture led by committed senior leaders. Through the company’s formative years, the culture had become a competitive advantage that drove collaborative results and attracted talent. Yet as the senior team looked forward, they saw challenges ahead. They knew that scaling the organization internationally would put unprecedented pressure on the capabilities of their people—the stewards of both the culture and operations.

Broadening skills and increasing responsibilities
Senior leaders needed to focus on the broad strategic questions affecting their international operating environment. This meant that they had to quickly increase the capacity of high potentials to step up and take on new roles managing business units. At every level of the organization, the growth was spurring an increasing need for all leaders to assume broader responsibilities with a high degree of complexity and uncertainty. Developing capacity to drive results and strengthen the culture became a pillar of the company’s growth plan.

Partnering to make it happen
To embark upon this company-building strategy, the firm partnered with The Refinery to strengthen and accelerate internal talent development initiatives while enhancing the innovation and creativity of the company as a whole. This meant bringing managers together to develop their skills while contributing to the business in real time. It meant applying learning tools that harnessed technology across the company’s dispersed geography. It also meant changing behaviors surrounding problem solving and collaboration, building confidence in the leaders that would carry the business forward.

How we helped

With these objectives and criteria in mind, the company and The Refinery designed two programs:

The first program was designed to bring high-potential leaders in the company together to work on real business problems in what we call “learning-while-doing.” Participants collaborated in multifunctional teams on relevant strategic questions in the business – decisions that were top of mind for the CEO and executive team. These projects produced actionable recommendations drawing on new perspectives, and allowed the participants to improve their individual leadership and team process through coaching and ongoing feedback.

Several of the recommendations were implemented, creating immediate value and participants soon ascended into senior roles managing business lines, equipped with new skills and confidence from the project experience.

The second program engaged all leaders across the business to develop the skills required to manage increasingly dispersed, complex and large teams. The program galvanized leaders’ confidence and ability to execute when faced with ambiguity, putting them through challenging simulations that mirrored the way they actually work. The program included both in-person and remote learning engagements, and used technology to drive self-study, personal practice, and team application of new tools. Every stage of the program incorporates feedback and self-reflection as means to track and accelerate progress.

By establishing a leadership culture of ongoing learning, the company has strengthened its ability to seize new opportunities, operate effectively in ambiguity, and thrive in response to new challenges. As a result of the programs, the middle management group has excelled in new senior roles that have emerged through the growth. Their teams have developed a new understanding of how to use current technologies to collaborate cross functionally on strategic challenges. Additionally, the programs have established processes and norms that harness the firm’s combined knowledge and talents. Along the way, they have unleashed creative and innovative solutions that will power the company in the future.

The company has become and remains an award-winning place to work because of these individuals and the culture they created.

April 12, 2016 • in Case Studies
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    The invaluable returns of a shared vision and culture
    • by The Refinery Leadership Partners • in Case Studies


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