Turning to tech, Mars revamps employee coaching benefit

For the better part of the last 10 years, Mars has offered a formal manager development program to employees entering leadership positions.

But the global food, petcare and confectionary giant — which manufactures well-known candies including M&M’s and Snickers — had a problem with its benefit. It was difficult to get employees from locations around the world to travel to one place for leadership and development classroom trainings. In fact, only about half of employees entering leadership roles for the first time at the company were making it into programs, says Summer Davies, global senior manager of leadership at Mars.

“We believe you should have a one Mars experience,” Davies says. “[That] means if you work at Mars in Topeka, you should have the same access to growth development and support, as if you work in Guangzhou, China or Cape Town, South Africa.”

Mars wanted something that would remain consistent for employees at all locations. They also wanted something virtual, Davies says.

So in March, the company partnered with BetterUp, a mobile app that provides virtual leadership development to employees by allowing them to chat one-on-one with a coach. So far, about 1,800 global employees are participating in the program, and that number is expected to jump to 2,500 next year.

“When we look at having a really multi-tiered approach to developing those associates over time, coaching becomes one of those critical elements,” she says.

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Mars’ new coaching program is meant for employees who are entering leadership roles for the first time. During the program, which spans 36 weeks, workers learn through four different tracks, which allow them to develop their leadership skills over time. All workers start in the track called “Getting started in the Mars way,” and then go through tracks on engagement, development and maximizing performance. The program also incorporates Mars company values.

“The depth of coaching that we offer now is much greater than we’ve offered in the past,” Davies says, adding that Mars wanted something that could provide evidence of positive outcomes.

Mars Bloomberg
Mars Max chocolate bars sit on display inside the Wrigley's plant, operated by Mars Inc., in St. Petersburg, Russia. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

That is accomplished through BetterUp’s coaching. The startup’s program was developed based on science-based methods, says Jacinta Jimenez, head of coaching at BetterUp. For example, one aspect of the program developed for Mars focuses on growth mindset, a concept developed by a Stanford University researcher, which encourages people to focus on improving and developing skills over time.

“It’s the tendency to believe you can grow,” Jimenez says, “[and the idea that] challenges and failure are a springboard for growth.”

BetterUp works with more than 100 companies; among them are 28 Fortune 1000 employers. Companies including LinkedIn, Workday, AirBnb, Lyft, TriNet and Logitech have all used the service. The price of the app varies based on the number of employees using it.

In general, coaching is a benefit that is mostly offered to employees in a manager position or higher, according to a survey from the International Coach Federation, a nonprofit organization that certifies coaches. The majority of ICF coaches surveyed say their clients are managers (29%), followed by executives and business owners/entrepreneurs. Only 4% of respondents said they served staff members.

See also: What employees want: More time off, better bosses

Davies says Mars decided to invest in a coaching program because managers play a big role in how happy workers are on the job. The better the manager, the better the employee experience.

“Having a great line manager makes the difference in how you feel about your job,” she says. “Every night you go home and have a conversation at the dinner table and much of that conversation is around the environment that [the] line manager has created. We want Mars to be a great place for people to come to work everyday.”

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