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Learning to Lead
Pequot Tool introduces manager training at the cell level
By Jo Colvin
March 2018
Mitch Hess and Debby Hoel, human resources manager at Pequot Tool in Jenkins, Minnesota
(Mitch Hess, cell lead for Mori Seiki Turning Centers and Debby Hoel, human resources manager at Pequot Tool)

HR professional Debby Hoel understands that one way to combat the growing skills gap that increasingly bedevils Minnesota’s manufacturers is to identify the company’s next generation of managers and gradually equip them with the skills and experience they need to become high functioning leaders.

Hoel is human resources manager at Pequot Tool & Manufacturing, a 30-year-old machining and fabricating company located in Jenkins, a tiny community just a few miles north of Pequot Lakes in central Minnesota. The company manufactures high precision component parts and assemblies for a wide variety of industries including aircraft, firearm components, medical, computing, printing, electrical equipment, industrial equipment, hydraulics, and more. 

Among Pequot Tool’s 170 employees, 30 are in leadership roles. Hoel says the company is now expanding management responsibilities to lower levels of the hierarchy. 

“We have a very well-defined management team,” she says, which extends to team leaders and shift leads. 

Her priority now is to develop “cell” leads to help coordinate specialized groups of machines that complement each other to produce a part. “We’re focusing on getting those cells more developed at Pequot Tool, and finding people to lead them,” she says.

The company has identified five cell leaders to constitute the company’s first level of leadership, according to Hoel. They likely are already the go-to person in their cell, but have not been exposed to any level of leadership training. 

To remedy this, Hoel assigned the cell leaders to a roster of 24 of Pequot Tool’s managers who recently completed a training program entitled “Learning to Lead,” facilitated by Abbey Hellickson, a business growth consultant at Enterprise Minnesota. After dividing the participants into two groups of 12, Hellickson led them in monthly learning sessions related to social style, social style versatility, engagement, change leadership, and accountability. 

“We always offer our employees development opportunities in addition to individual skill development,” Hoel explains. “We certainly don’t want someone who hasn’t had any leadership training. You need to provide a foundation for them. Learning to Lead looked like the perfect fit.”  

As part of Learning to Lead Hellickson shared the social styles model, which helps people enhance their interpersonal work relationships by learning to understand their fellow employees’ behavioral preferences. 

“They learn to see how they perceive themselves and how others perceive them,” Hellickson says.

The goal of the employee engagement session was to enable potential leaders to recognize that they play a role in engaging their workforce and help them understand that they have a direct impact on their employees’ level of engagement. 

“Change leadership is making sure the leaders understand they need to take the time to set up any changes, and that employees understand why the change has to happen,” Hellickson says.

The accountability component of the training ensures that future leaders not only effectively communicate with employees, but with peers as well, and how to have the courage to hold them accountable. The sessions also emphasize how to put plans into action.

“This is the part where as a facilitator, I get so excited,” Hellickson says. “Pequot Tool has taken the action plan very seriously. They are willing to try new concepts and make changes, which is not easy.”

After completing Learning to Lead in December, Hoel has already begun implementing some of those changes. A feedback session in January for participants and management noted positive results.

“It went really well, especially regarding how they can foster accountability across all levels of the organization,” Hellickson says. “It’s been fun to listen to how people are talking about change. That camaraderie and support sustain the long-term stability of the changes they are trying to make.” 

Hoel agrees and noted that Learning to Lead has already been a proven success at Pequot Tool. Of the 24 participants, five have received promotions—three to cell leader and two to management positions. She notes that work quality and productivity have also increased. 

“Overall, it has had a positive impact on their organization,” Hellickson concludes.

Hoel said employee reviews of the program were outstanding. “The material was extremely relevant to what they’re dealing with,” she says. “Learning how to motivate people, to work effectively with teams and how to best reach employees that you’re leading—these all came quite often in the reviews.” Respondents also admired how well Hellickson connected to them as individuals. 

“She doesn’t come off as a high corporate official,” Hoel says. “They were able to listen to her and relate to her.”

The proof of the program’s effectiveness will evolve as participants start to practice what they’re learning, Hoel says, adding that Pequot Tool has already committed to a return engagement for Hellickson—“Learning to Lead 2.0”—which will add more depth to the concepts she introduced in the first session.

“Whenever you offer training, you need to do some repeat,” she adds. “It doesn’t help to just introduce the topics one time and then walk away.

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