D&H logo
eLearning Learning
March 12, 2024

Building Leadership Training to Support a Business

Leadership plays an instrumental role in the success of any organization. That’s why D&H Distributors values leadership training. Megan Garrett, director of L&D and DE&I shares how her team built a leadership training program from the ground up and how it’s contributing to measurable growth of team members and their company.



Show Notes:

Megan Garrett shares her journey of building a leadership training program and offers these key points.

  • Strategic Approach to Competencies: D&H Distributors took a strategic approach by identifying key competencies applicable across the organization. These competencies serve as a foundation for training initiatives, ensuring that employees at different levels have the skills necessary to meet organizational expectations.
  • Real-world Application in Training: Leadership training participants gain valuable experience by working on hands-on projects and honing executive presentation skills that are applicable to their roles. 
  • Continuous Learning and Adaptability: Megan stresses the importance of adapting to change because of the dynamic nature of their learning initiatives. From refreshing leadership competencies to upcoming initiatives like a new sales curriculum, the commitment to continuous learning reflects the organization's adaptability to evolving needs and industry trends.

Powered by Learning earned an Award of Distinction in the Podcast/Audio category from The Communicator Awards and a Silver Davey Award for Educational Podcast. The podcast is also named to Feedspot's Top 40 L&D podcasts and Training Industry’s Ultimate L&D Podcast Guide.

Susan Cort: [00:00:00] Developing a training department from scratch can be daunting, but keeping the business goals and learners in mind will set you up for success. To me, leadership is foundational.

Megan Garrett: You know, if you're not going to have a strong organization or a strong company if you don't have strong leaders. So it was really important for me coming in the door to set the stage for what the future will be of leadership.

Megan Garrett: And we've had a lot of great success and a lot of great feedback from the people that have gone through those programs and have seen quite a number of them actually progress in their careers having left those programs.

Susan Cort: That's Megan Garrett, Director of Learning and Development and DE&I at D&H Distributors.

Susan Cort: Megan shares her journey building a training program from the ground up and how they are impacting team members every day. Listen to her conversation with d'Vinci Senior Instructional Designer Project Manager Beth Buchanan and me next on [00:01:00] Powered by Learning.

Announcer: Powered by Learning is brought to you by d'Vinci Interactive. d'Vinci's approach to learning is grounded in 30 years of innovation and expertise. We use proven strategies and leading technology to develop solutions that empower learners to improve quality and boost performance. Learn more at dvinci.com.

Susan Cort: Welcome to Powered by Learning, Megan. Great to talk with you again today.

Megan Garrett: Thank you, Susan. It's great to be here.

Beth Buchanan: Welcome, Megan.

Megan Garrett: Thank you.

Susan Cort: Megan, you were one of the first guests we had on Powered by Learning when we launched three years ago, and, and of course, a longtime friend of our team at d'Vinci, tell us a little bit about your background and your company for our listeners.

Megan Garrett: So my background is in L& D. I began working in that field in 1997, actually for the Hershey company. And I spent 22 years there before I decided to take the leap into the role of director of L& D at D& H Distributing. And D& H, just for anybody who is [00:02:00] unfamiliar, is $4 billion privately held company based out of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and it's a distribution organization.

Megan Garrett: So we have distribution centers across the US and Canada and serve the entirety of North America.

Beth Buchanan: Okay, great. So last time we spoke, which was back in 2020, as you said, you were, you were just stepping into your role as the l and d director at D&H. Can you tell us a little bit about what you've achieved in the last four years?

Megan Garrett: Oh yeah, it's been quite a rollercoaster ride. Um, as you said, it, it was, um, it was very interesting because when I started at D&H, there was no actual L& D function. There were two people in the business that did training, one that was responsible for all the new hire sales training, and one that was responsible for all the new hire onboarding, um, that was going on.

Megan Garrett: But outside of that, that was like the only training that was happening on a regular basis at the organization. So when I was brought in, my main responsibility was to create the L& D function from the ground up, [00:03:00] and it was quite an adventure. The two individuals that had been doing training, Marcy Cover and Todd Bell began reporting to me a few weeks after I started, so we were the beginning of what became the L& D function and they still are with me and are amazing.

Megan Garrett:  And I actually brought another person in not long after that, Luciana, and she joined us from Brazil. She has a great skillset herself and a lot of creativity. So between the four of us, we have basically turned what was non existent into a very existent L& D function. We have over 120 instructor led courses that we run between the four of us, as well as over.

Susan Cort: That's amazing. You've been busy the last couple of years.

Megan Garrett: Oh, yeah. Very. Absolutely. I mean, from building a team to building all of this coursework, also creating an LMS, correct? Definitely. Yeah. We implemented the LMS back in 2020 during COVID. It was [00:04:00] interesting because typically I think a lot of the training we would have done in I think what we missed and what we received on the system would have been done in person.

Megan Garrett: That was my previous experience before coming to D& H, but because of being in the COVID lockdown, everything was virtual, which I think made it somewhat challenging for us to learn. Because, you know, in that virtual space, although you can ask questions, it just doesn't feel the same as actually having somebody there that can, you know, look over your shoulder and be like, Oh no, do this, or type that.

Megan Garrett: So I think that made it a little bit more challenging, but we. Made it work out, and we really think that the system is taking off. We did a lot of pilot groups with people across different areas of the business to ensure that everybody felt that it was easy to use and they could find what they were looking for.

Megan Garrett: And all in all, it was an excellent decision for us to move forward with the LMS, and I'm really glad that we have it now so that people can get to what they need at the moment of need.

Beth Buchanan: Oh, that's great. Do you have any sort of lessons learned or, you know, quick tips that you could offer just, just from that process? I mean, it sounds like you had two [00:05:00] levels of training, one learning how to work virtually, um, in the era of COVID, but also, you know, learning how to work in the LMS, but just any quick takeaways from that experience, say, if you're a business that wants to start working with their own LMS.

Megan Garrett: Well, I think any organization, anybody should really have an LMS because it's the best way for people to get to your learning assets.

Megan Garrett: I know prior to this implementation, it was very, very challenging to put training in the hands of our end user, which are the co owner employees across D& H. So I would definitely recommend. Doing it if you have not, um, begun the search for a learning management system and make sure you select one that works for your organization because every company is a little bit different and based on your needs, the needs of your people that you're there to support and the needs of the organization overall.

Megan Garrett: Some LMSs may be more logical than others. So we did our due diligence and looked across the sea of different LMS platforms that were available and [00:06:00] selected the one that fit for us from a standpoint of usability, but also, you know, financial, you know, we were looking at that too. And because we wanted to stick within a certain ballpark number for our spend.

Beth Buchanan: Yeah, that makes sense. Well, switching gears a little bit and getting more into the granular, more specific, one of the areas you focused on is leadership training. Why is leadership training so important to a company?

Megan Garrett: Well, to me, leadership is foundational. You know, if you're not going to have a strong organization or a strong company if you don't have strong leaders.

Megan Garrett: And we know that, you know, people eventually retire. We know that, you know, we want to have people ready to move into those positions when that day comes and be ready to take on the helm and take on that leadership role and responsibility. It was really important for me coming in the door. To set the stage for what the future will be of leadership.

Megan Garrett: And so we built multiple levels of leadership programming, depending on where [00:07:00] you sit in the organization from a standpoint of your specific level. And we've had a lot of great success and a lot of great feedback from the people that have gone through those programs and have seen quite a number of them actually progress in their careers, having left those programs.

Susan Cort: That's a great way to keep your talent pipeline full, too.

Megan Garrett:  Oh, definitely, definitely. And we want to do that because you just never know what can happen. Um, and you want to make sure that there's plenty of people that can jump in at the moment of need and be there for that team that doesn't have a manager.

Beth Buchanan: So, does anybody have the opportunity then to become a leader at some level?

Megan Garrett: Right now, the program is run based on, um, nomination from leadership. So, people's managers will nominate them for the program. So, if you're a director and you have a manager that you look at as a high potential to be a director someday, you would nominate them for the program.

Megan Garrett: We do, though, however, have a first level leader program that is not by nomination that anybody in the business can [00:08:00] go through. So we make sure that we have that offering too, because we want to make sure that somebody who's interested in that space, even though they may not be nominated, can still take all the coursework that's needed and necessary in order to achieve that.

Beth Buchanan: That sounds really great. I mean, that must be great for employee retention, you know, employee general happiness. I mean, having that opportunity there for everyone at some level, you know, within leadership training, the focus is generally on coaching, uh, giving back. How to delegate, like you said, how to grow and develop a team.

Beth Buchanan: So that's a lot. I mean, those are a lot of, um, large categories with a lot of detail. How do you choose where to start with creating content for something as big as a leadership training program?

Megan Garrett: Yeah, that's a good question. Um, we basically break things out depending on the level. So we have our aspiring leaders program, which is for people that aren't yet in a management role, but they aspire to be.

Megan Garrett: Which is why we call it Aspiring Leaders. And we [00:09:00] cover certain topics in there that aren't as heavy as the ones that we would, we would have in the, in the programs that are for people who are already in a leadership role. But it kind of introduces them to some of those concepts. So we introduce them to things like feedback, into how to delegate You know, to others, because oftentimes, actually, even as an individual contributor, depending on your workload, you may end up still delegating to someone, even if you're not in a management role, because your manager says, you know, you need to offload that to somebody else on the team.

Megan Garrett: Let's talk about it. And I'm going to have you, you know, meet with them and start passing this over to them. So that's a skill that's really useful, no matter what. But we really try and Execute against the skills that people will need at a particular level. So we have right now, three levels of leadership training.

Megan Garrett: We have aspiring leaders for people who have not yet reached the management level, but aspire to, we have a program called. Leadership essentials for brand new managers. So when you join the company as a manager or when [00:10:00] you were promoted to a manager, you automatically go to a program called leadership essentials, which ensures that you have all the skills needed to lead people.

Megan Garrett: Um, we make sure that everybody that comes in has. Instruction on the models that we use internally for things like feedback, for things like delegation, so that no matter where an employee resides across the company or if they change managers, the experience they have with that new manager will be the same as they have with their previous one from a standpoint of how those conversations go, what to look for, and what the managers are looking for in you as an employee or co-owner.

Megan Garrett: So, That, that program. And then the last one that we rolled out this past year is Next Level Leader. And that's for current managers that have the potential to be directors. And that one was a little bit more intensive. We had them doing Harvard business cases, presenting out to the executive leadership team around how they thought the business case should move forward.

Megan Garrett: You know, so there was a lot of things That they did that were sort of [00:11:00] above and beyond what we've done in the past with our leadership programs, and we're looking forward to a VP program next. That's what I've been currently working on.

Beth Buchanan: Oh, that sounds really interesting. Can you tell me what, um, a little bit about what some of these programs look like? We, you know, if I'm doing, say, for example, next level leadership, am I taking an eLearn course? Am I, you know, what kinds of activities, um, am I doing? What's my participation in that look like?

Megan Garrett: Yeah, that's a good question. Well, the Next Level Leader program is eight weeks long, and it's, we only meet one time a week.

Megan Garrett: The programs are built with, with cohorts, so everybody is in a group of four that you are working together throughout the program. So they're meeting together on a regular basis outside of the training that they're having once a week with me. And they have projects that they need to work on together.

Megan Garrett: Like I said, they have a, each of them get a Harvard business case that they need to dissect using a model that I teach them on how to dissect and get all the relevant information out of that [00:12:00] business case that they would need in order to make an informed decision or recommendation to our executive team about that business case.

Megan Garrett: And we do a lot of role plays. There's a lot of interactivity in the sessions just to keep everybody engaged and give them a chance to practice the skill sets that they will then turn around and use with their direct report. And it really just helps them prepare for that next level of leadership. And we do things like we do an executive presentations skills as part of the eight week program because we know that at the end of everything they're going to be presenting in front of our executives team.

Megan Garrett: So we want to make sure that they feel comfortable and are ready to go in that space and not, and there's people that don't ever feel comfortable, but we want them to feel as good as they can about getting up in front of the room and sharing what they've learned and how they feel. D&H can can move forward with some of these business cases that they have, they have been working on.

Susan Cort: I think it's nice too that you're giving them real world experience and they know that this is much more than [00:13:00] training. It's actually valuable to your company too.

Megan Garrett: Definitely. It's definitely. And I have seen from some of the programs that we've already completed in the past, um, what their recommendations were in these previous programs have actually come to fruition and we're seeing it happen.

Megan Garrett: And that is very exciting, exciting for them because they're the ones actually did the work, but exciting for me because I'm seeing that they are succeeding at what they set out to do. And that's. That's what really drives me to continue to be in this space myself because there's nothing greater than seeing somebody, you know, get to that end that they wanted to see and get to that result. So I just love that.

Beth Buchanan: That's great. Yeah. And that was, so one of my next questions was, was about impact, you know, because all of these programs, I mean, that is the big payoff is when you, when you get to see that impact with. business goals with actual people kind of progressing in their careers. Can you think of any highlights?

Beth Buchanan: I mean, you just mentioned that it's a it's a high point for you. Can you think of any examples or highlights to share? [00:14:00]

Megan Garrett: Oh, well, I mean, the first group that we did was an aspiring leaders group. So they weren't yet leaders yet. And we had them present out an idea to the executive team. And that idea was basically about ensuring that we have someone from each department that meets together on a regular basis to make sure that they're sharing information so that we can be better at things like rapid deployment.

Megan Garrett: Uh, we know what's going on, so we're not like stepping on each other's toes. And. That was put into place and it's been going fantastic. So I was really excited because that was a younger group, you know, of individuals, not yet leaders that came up with that idea and seeing that idea really working well and relationships being built across the organization that wouldn't have otherwise is a big win in my book.

Beth Buchanan: That's a huge win. I mean, some organizations struggle with that. Most organizations struggle with that, right? As people end up in their silos, it's very hard to have cross communication and to have that working at that level, you know, [00:15:00] and then you know, it's carrying forward as they progress through leadership.

Beth Buchanan: That's excellent. You alluded to it in the beginning when you were talking about the levels, I was interested to hear more about the VP level. Can you tell me a little bit about what, what that training tier looks like?

Megan Garrett: Sure. So that's going to be much more simulation based. So we're basically going to have the VPs receive sort of bits of information a little bit of at a time, just kind of like you do.

Megan Garrett: Day to day, you know, you don't always get everything that you need to know handed to you on a silver platter. So you have bits of information as that information is coming in, you're making decisions about what you're going to do, what you're going to execute on the changes that you need to make. And some of those things that come in may disrupt decisions that you had already made and you have to kind of backtrack and decide how you're now going to move forward.

Megan Garrett: So it's really designed to help individuals at some of the higher levels of the organization prepare for being an executive. Um, because you know, when you get up to [00:16:00] that level, things happen and you have to be able to change quickly on a dime if you need to, and make some rapid decisions that are not just quick, but also effective.

Megan Garrett: That was the main reason for moving forward with the VP program. It's something that I've been wanting to do for a while, but I was busy developing the other one. So now I have some time and I'm hoping that over the course of the next few I can get that squared away and we'll be kicking that off, uh, probably this summer sometime.

Beth Buchanan: Did you find that there are others? To me, this sounds like a pretty novel idea. Did you find when you were sort of researching and developing this, that there are other programs out there that focus on this tier of leadership? Or is this kind of a growing area, would you say?

Megan Garrett: I think it's probably a relatively growing area. I have heard of some, but to be frankly honest, many of them are. You know, cost ineffective. You know, they cost a lot of money to send somebody to, and it just didn't make sense when I knew that this is something that not only could I [00:17:00] develop internally, but also I could gear it towards what I know are some of the things that come, come our way as an organization.

Megan Garrett: So I can kind of blend in what people are actually working with and dealing with on a day to day basis. So it's much more real. For them. Mm-Hmm. . Now that doesn't mean that those skills wouldn't transfer. If they someday left D&H and went to work for another company, those skills should still transfer with them. But I can make it realistic for our environment if I stick, you know, within here and building it myself.

Susan Cort: It's gotta be more meaningful to the learner too, because it's branded to your organization and it's not some off the shelf program or, or something they're doing that's not related to your industry.

Megan Garrett: Exactly. Yeah. And I've had some great, uh, feedback from our executive team. I know there's one gentleman. in particular, who has been kind of key and kind of reviewing things as I send it. Like, what do you think of this? Does this make sense? Is this, is this reality, you know, for our, for our folks at the top?

Megan Garrett: And, you know, he's been really helpful and I love that about our leadership that they will just as [00:18:00] easily dig in and help as anybody else would in the company. So it's a great feeling.

Beth Buchanan: Yeah, so what's next for you?

Megan Garrett: Oh my, outside of the VP program, you know, I'm not quite sure. There's so much going on right now across our organization that I don't quite sure what's next.

Megan Garrett: I don't want to necessarily say the next thing because I don't really know what it is. There is so much happening. We have a lot of new leaders in place that joined over the last, you know, 18 months. We are really working heavily on a new sales curriculum. So that's. Likely going to be rolling out relatively soon.

Megan Garrett: Um, we actually won the ATD excellence award, excellence in practice award for the sales training that we've been rolling out for the last year and a half. So really excited about that. I'm really proud of Luciana on my team. Cause she really led that with the sales leadership and developed that. We're just, we're humming along and loving every [00:19:00] second of it.

Megan Garrett: So I'm pretty excited.

Susan Cort: That's great. Congratulations on the award, too. Thanks. Well, Megan, you're in an interesting position because you can look back, you know, where you started a few years ago, and some of our listeners may be in that same spot that you were when you first started at D& H, kind of almost a blank slate.

Susan Cort: How do, how do we, you know, grow from here? Any advice that you would give as we wrap things up so that people can, can hit the ground running?

Megan Garrett: Yeah, I would say don't panic. It's going to be okay. First of all, you'll get there, you will get there. Um, I would say that one of the things that I think really helped us initially is we decided that we would identify some competencies, some key competencies that would be across the entire organization but be by level, so the description of the competency would vary by level.

Megan Garrett: I'm familiar with the concept of competencies because I had done them, you know, in my former life, and if you identify these competencies, And you build training to support those competencies. Like this is what we are looking for out of our co owner [00:20:00] employees. And at the level that you're at, this is the expectation and then developing training to help people build the skills to meet that expectation.

Megan Garrett: That really helped us just form some foundation around what we wanted to do from a learning perspective across the organization. And we're actually just doing a refresh of our leadership competencies right now. So. We have over a hundred courses specifically tied to the competencies at all the different levels.

Megan Garrett: So that depending on where you are in the organization, you can take training that's relevant for you to help continue to build that competency.

Susan Cort: And I suppose in addition to don't panic, just lean on other people, find other people in the industry, like listen to podcasts like this and, and know that you're not alone when you're embarking on a journey like this for sure.

Megan Garrett: Oh, definitely. I say, if you can, it's not always possible. I know it hasn't always been possible for me, but I was lucky enough to attend. You know, a learning conference earlier, um, actually right at the end of this past year and, you know, met some people that I had never known before, but now, you [00:21:00] know, we're on the regular, on LinkedIn, you know, back and forth with each other.

Megan Garrett: Like, hey, did you ever do this before? You know? So it is great to have that connection without other people in the industry. You know, I. I never would hesitate to speak to somebody who has wanted to reach out to me and just find out more about what I do and how I do it, uh, because that's how we all grow together. And I want everyone to feel like they can reach out to me at any time.

Susan Cort: Great advice. Thank you, Megan. It was so great to see you again. We really appreciate you sharing your insights and wish you continued great success at D& H Distributors. Thank you both so much. I really appreciate it. Thank you, Megan.

Beth Buchanan: Thank you. It was very impressive what you've built.

Susan Cort:Thank you so much.

Megan Garrett:Thank you.

Susan Cort: Beth, what an inspirational journey Megan and her team have taken in developing their L& D strategy and also creating such a robust leadership training program.

Beth Buchanan: They've really achieved so much. I love how she incorporates role playing and simulation, but my big [00:22:00] takeaway comes from her VP level training.

Beth Buchanan: Creating problem solving curriculum with disruption built in as this way to kind of simulate what it's like to be in charge at that level, that's just spot on. As a way to mimic real world experiences. Um, I thought that was really an interesting way, a really effective way to build confidence in a leader.

Susan Cort: Yeah, I agree. Yeah, it definitely sounds like meaningful training at all levels. And we are so appreciative of her time and yours as well. Thank you, Susan. And special thanks to our guest, Megan Garrett of D& H Distributing. If you have a suggestion for a guest or topic, please reach out to us at poweredbylearningatdvinci.

Susan Cort: com and don't forget. You can subscribe to Powered by Learning wherever you listen to your podcasts.


Beth Buchanan

By Beth Buchanan, Senior Instructional Designer/Project Manager

About Us

d'Vinci Interactive is an award-winning comprehensive learning solutions provider for corporate, government, medical, non-profit, and K-12 target markets.

Ready to Connect?

Contact us today to start the conversation. We work with you to find innovative solutions that drive a sense of shared accomplishment and trust.