CASE STUDY: Creating a Customized In-House College

The case studies outlined in the “Athena In Action” series are being shared as examples of the variety of solutions we have provided to our clients for over a decade.

TOPIC: Creating a Customized In-House CollegeAIA 600x314 (2)

INDUSTRY: Construction

ASSESSMENT/SITUATION:  It was 12 years ago when I first met with this client.  They wanted to create and run an in-house college where selected employees would attend a 3-year program where they would learn various topics on leadership. Young high potentials with the ability to grow in the organization were selected for the program.  The program would give them the development needed to move to Mid-Level Management. This company was totally committed to creating a powerful program that supported ongoing learning for their managers.

ATHENA PARTNER MATCHING:  The partner I chose for this client was a facilitator/coach who had extensive leadership skills training programs, a wide range of assessment tools and was an engaging facilitator.

SOLUTION: It took a few months to get the program designed.  It included topics such as leadership, delegation, giving feedback, difficult conversations, communication skills, presentation skills, personal branding, DiSC and coaching.  They have also periodically included other programs such as Outlook and Microsoft Office training.


To date, they have had 40 Graduates since the program started in 2005.  Of these, 5 have left the company, 35 have been promoted one level and 9 have been promoted multiple levels.   The current VP Operations is an Alumni of the program.  The Program is very prestigious, and graduates stand out in the organization.   The grad event starts with a Grad Ceremony, they attend a dinner with a guest and all of the executives attend.   They stay downtown and attend a Sunday morning breakfast as well.   They all receive company shares when they graduate.

Confidentiality is very important to us at Athena Training and Consulting Inc.  The company names and individuals have been kept private in these case studies in compliance with our Privacy Policy.

Resilient Leadership by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


Leading an organization can be tiring. It’s likely you have way more on your plate than you ever imagined when you began your journey. When the demands become tiring, and you believe you have more than you can manage, keep these tips in mind so that you can stay resilient in meeting your job’s demands. index

  1. Keep the end result in mind. It’s easy to get bogged down in details and lose sight of the overall goal of your business. When you feel this way, remember your goals and envision yourself reaching that final milestone. It will invigorate you to move forward, and prevent you from feeling like every task is a meaningless drudge.
  1. Don’t try to do it all at once. We sometimes impose unnecessarily aggressive schedules on ourselves. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as you remember that the schedule is aggressive and that you don’t always have to work so furiously. Have a wish list timeline and a realistic timeline. Work toward the wish list timeline most of the time, but remember that the realistic timeline still gets the job done. Don’t try to pack too much into each day.
  1. Take time to recharge. It’s not unusual to find business leaders burning the midnight oil on a regular basis and failing to take breaks for vacations and holidays. In the long run, this is not a good way to operate your business, because it drains you of your energy and enthusiasm. Proper nutrition, exercise and a good night’s rest every night so that you can be productive during the day. Eight hours of true productivity is far more valuable than twelve hours of lackluster performance. Taking regular holidays and vacations to recharge your batteries will make you more resilient overall. After a break, you’ll come back to work in full focus and with renewed energy.

Staying in the race for the long haul requires stamina. Your business goals will required sustained work and focus to achieve. That’s why it’s so important to pace yourself, stay motivated and recharge when needed. There’s a long road ahead, and you need to ensure you will have plenty of energy for the finish line.

Remember Your Professional Development by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


As a business leader, you probably spend a lot of time strategically planning, carrying out day-to-day business activities and looking for ways to increase ales and expand your brand. These are important activities, but are things that can keep us so busy that we may fail to grow in our own development. index2

Making your professional development a priority is important for several reasons. Staying on top of your own growth and participating in continuous learning will help you by:

  • Teaching you new methods and skills
  • Keeping your creative juices flowing
  • Allowing you to learn from other successful business leaders
  • Giving you an opportunity to network in a new setting
  • Giving you insight in to business trends

Staying on Track with Your Personal Development

Staying on top of your professional development can be tough, given your hectic schedule. The only way to ensure you keep on top of it is to schedule it in advance, making time for it on your calendar at regular intervals. One good way to do this is to create a training plan for yourself at the beginning of each calendar year.

Start by listing areas where you want training, or organizations or groups that you would like to learn from. Next, decide how much time you’re going to devote to personal development. Many business leaders aim for one class or program each month.

Next, put the events you know about for the upcoming year that you want to attend on the calendar and see what months still need to be filled in. Set reminders for yourself for both the training and to help you remember to fill in the vacant months as you see more programs become available.

Make a commitment to keep up with your professional development calendar throughout the year. It’s much easier to do when you have the time already set aside on your calendar, so look for programs regularly so that you can plan ahead for them. When you plan ahead, you’re much less likely to end up canceling due to a work emergency.

Each year, revisit programs and groups that continually provide you with learning experiences, and weed out those that have run their course in what they can teach you to leave you room for new and more beneficial opportunities.

Like many of the other commitments in your schedule, your professional development must be planned in advance and given priority in order to ensure it does not slip through the cracks. As you see the benefit from taking time out of your schedule to improve your leadership skills, you’ll be ready to make more time available for this important pursuit.

Moving From Good to Great – How a Coach Can Help by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

As a leader, you’re looking for ways to constantly improve. As you build your business or career, you’re certain to gain goodtogreatexperience and skill along the way. However, at some point you may find that your growth has plateaued and you are no longer seeing continuous improvement in your processes and behaviours.

It is at this point that you may find it beneficial to invest in a coach to help you jumpstart your growth and development again. Though it may seem frivolous to spend money on a coach, the money can be a great investment in your future. Here are three ways a coach can help you go from being a good leader to being a great one.

1. They see the blind spots you cannot. Often, we have blind spots or behaviours that get in the way of our success. Many times, these behaviours or traits are so deeply rooted that we either don’t see them or we don’t see how they are hurting us. Our friends and family may also be blind to them, or may just want to avoid hurting our feelings. Your coach is being paid to tell you how to get better, so he or she will focus in on those traits that you may fail to recognize as stumbling blocks.

2. They help you focus. A coach can give you specific, concrete behaviours you need to either develop or change. Very often, we flounder simply because we don’t know the concrete steps we need to take. A coach can help you to hone in on those steps.

3. They help you gain perspective. A coach can be valuable in helping you to sort out what is really important versus what is wasting your time. Very often, we get to the end of the day and find that we couldn’t get everything done. A coach can help you narrow your tasks to those that are really valuable so that you block out the noise and work on what’s really important.

There are professional coaches available with many different areas of expertise. Talk to others in your industry or field to get recommendations before you choose. Even a little time spent with a seasoned coach may help you to get back on track.

Communicate for Understanding by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


Delegation is one of the most important parts of leadership, yet it can be one of the most difficult for many leaders. Delegating tasks, systems and processes to others requires trust and comfort that these tasks will be carried out appropriately.communication3

The most important thing a leader can do to ensure delegated tasks are managed to his or her high standards is to communicate the purpose and the process to the employee well. When both you and the employee or team feels that they have been adequately trained in how to take over a process or task, there is a great comfort level that no quality in the work will be lost. This requires proper communication and clear instructions.

This is where many attempts at delegation fail. Often, the person who has handled the task for a long while feels so comfortable with the process and knows it so well, that it can be hard to effectively communicate the requirements and instructions to others. Here are some tips to help ensure that you are appropriately communicating instructions to employees.

1. Write the process down for yourself. Often, processes that are being delegated are so rote to the person who has been handling them that there is no written process. Getting the process on paper will help you to fine tune all the steps necessary to complete the task before instructing others on how to do so.

2. Walk through the task with the employee or team. Provide verbal instruction on each step, explaining why this step is important and what consequences arise from the task not being performed properly. One of the most important pieces of clear communication is ensuring that employees know why they are doing what they are doing, not just how to do it. This keeps employees invested in the work they do.

3. Allow the employee to complete the task, using the written process, under your supervision. This is a great test of whether your written communication was clear, and allows you to tweak it, if necessary. Ask the employee for feedback on the written process, so that you can make corrections that benefit them.

4. Be available for questions and help as the employee begins to tackle the task on his or her own. This will give both of you the comfort level that there is plenty of opportunity for help to ensure a smooth transition.

Clear communication is one of the most important attributes of a productive work environment. When you take the time to write down instructions and then provide them step by step verbally, as well, you help ensure that employees really know what you’re trying to say.

The Inspirational Leader by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


The best leaders do more than lead their people; they inspire them to grow, develop and reach potential theInspiringLeaderShip-Model1y never believed they had. Yet, many leaders who are quite adept at leading and directing their employees never quite reach the level of inspiring people. There are several key differences between those who lead and those who inspire.

  1. Inspirational leaders have failures that they don’t hide. The most accomplished people are often those who have had the most to overcome. They inspire people by using those obstacles to demonstrate that nothing is impossible, and that those who have struggles are often the most likely to excel.
  2. Inspirational leaders have passion. These are people who have lifelong enthusiasm for their pursuit: whatever that pursuit might be. These people work and live with a fire that provides constant fuel. They have vision for the future and energy to continue moving toward their vision. They simply cannot envision life without their life’s work or pursuit.
  3. Inspirational leaders never give up. In addition to having passion and direction, they also have persistence. It is this persistence that has allowed them to overcome their struggles and failures to move toward success.
  4. Inspirational leaders know that they will reach their goals. One of the most impressive traits among those who have proven to inspire others is their unfailing confidence in their ability to achieve their goals. This belief is not arrogance, but rather a confidence that is deeply rooted.
  5. Inspirational leaders want to help others achieve their own success. Those who are truly inspirational are not satisfied to rest on their own success. They gain further passion and fuel from helping others to achieve their own dreams. In fact, many of the most inspirational people report the greatest satisfaction in their life has come from helping others to excel, rather than from reaching their own goals.

Many of the most inspirational people seem to have been born with the ability to inspire. However, the traits that help these people become recognized as leaders come to people who never perceived themselves as inspirational, once those people found their own personal passion. The real capability to be an inspiration to others comes from finding your own life’s pursuit and from sharing the ups and downs of that pursuit with others in order to help them reach their own goals and dreams.

Powerful Training Connects to Company Objectives by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


As a business leader, you likely work hard to ensure that your company has goals, and measurements in place to see progress toward those goals. In addition, you are likely concerned with ensuring that employees are well trained. However, what many leaders miss is a simple step that can take your business to new heights. This step is tying those two important items together. Ensuring that your company training is tied to your business objectives helps equip your employees to meet the goals that make your company successful.   target

There are essentially three pieces to tying company goals to training objectives. The first happens when the company goals are set. It is important that senior leadership think about the skills that employees will need in order to make it possible to meet the goals. You can expect ill equipped employees to suddenly meet new goals. This might include things like new product knowledge or improved sales or technical skills.

These required skills must then be included in a training plan. For the company to be successful, it must ensure that the employees receive the training needed to develop to the level needed to meet the new goals.

The third piece of this puzzle is the one that is often missing. It is critical to ensure that when training is delivered, employees see how their new skills match to the company’s goals. As the training is going on, trainers should refer to company goals and objectives, making sure that employees see how the new skills or knowledge they are gaining equip them to provide their personal contribution to meeting the new goals. This will not only help employees have the required skills, but will also help them to personally relate to lofty company goals. When employees at every level are “bought in” to the goals, and see that upper management is committed to providing them the tools to make them successful, morale is improved. Suddenly, all employees have the same understanding of overall company goals, rather than this understanding only existing at management levels.

The most successful companies know how to integrate the critical goals into every level of the organization and into every activity provided for employee development. Once you tie your overall goals to the training you deliver to your employees, you will see your training program become even more valuable than it is today. And, you’ll see your employees more committed to achieving your company’s most important mission.


Effective Delegation for Leaders by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC


empowermentanddelegationDelegating can be one of the most difficult tasks for those at the helm of an organization. Delegating a task means letting go of the control over the details, which can sometimes be uncomfortable, particularly if the task or process is one that you have managed personally for a while. However, it can be difficult to grow your organization if you continue to keep your own hands in every facet. Delegation is key in growing your business and developing your employees. Here are three tips to make handing over the reins a little easier.

  1. Choose Wisely. Delegate the right tasks to the right people. By choosing employees with the right skills for the task, you’ll see a greater chance that the task will be managed properly, and that the employee will enjoy the new responsibility, rather than dread or resent it.
  2. Document and Train. Even an employee who is well suited to the task at hand needs training to ensure success. In addition to training, you will make the handover process go much more smoothly if you have been careful to document the work you’ve done to complete the task or process over the few months before the handoff. So, it is wise to plan delegating processes and tasks several months in advance of actually turning the process over.
  3. Communicate. Be clear in your expectations with your employee about deadlines, documentation requirements and other pieces of the task that must be done to certain specifications. However, if there are parts of the process that could be managed multiple ways, it is best to show the employee how you have handled those areas, but allow flexibility for them to find their own preferred methods, too. After handoff, let your employee know that you are available for questions and support. In addition, follow up periodically in the early days to see that the transition is going well. It is important to create an atmosphere that allows the employee to feel comfortable in communicating with you about problems, suggestions or improvements in the process.

In the early stages of a business, it is not unusual for owners and managers to manage many different facets of the business. However, over time, as businesses grow, managing too many tasks and processes can make it impossible for you to focus on growth and the organization’s big picture. Delegating allows you to put your time where your business can benefit most. In addition, it allows other employees to realize growth and success as they take on additional responsibilities. Delegation can be painful for some people, but once you’ve seen the process work successfully, you’ll see how sharing the work can benefit the business as a whole.

NOTE: for the next 3 weeks we will be drawing the name of a lucky winner of a copy of our Alliance Partner’s book “Blind Spots – Solving Hidden Business Problems”  To enter simply put your first and last name in the subject line of an email and send to – Winners will be announced on the Friday of each week. Enter NOW!


Three Keys to Giving Feedback Without Stress by Cindy Stradling CSP, CPC

So often, leaders cringe at the thought of giving feedback to employees. The first idea that comes to mind mafeedback3y be that you anticipate a negative response from the employee. If you shake your head “yes” to this idea, it usually means that, for you, giving employee feedback really means giving “negative employee feedback”. You’re talking about coaching an employee on performance or behavior that is undesirable. This is a trap that often makes feedback sessions uncomfortable for both the giver and the receiver. Here are three tips that can help reduce the anxiety associated with providing feedback to employees.

1) Feedback should be frequent. When employees receive regular feedback it becomes a normal part of the routine. When feedback is a “special event”, or worse, an annual event, it naturally produces stress. Talking regularly with employees about how business is going, both in general and in regard to their own work makes the event more natural and less likely to create a “what have I done wrong” thought in the employee’s mind.

2) Feedback should be good, too. The biggest trap that leaders fall into is getting so busy that they only get around to feedback when there is a problem that needs to be addressed. When you take the time to talk with employees regularly about both the good and the bad, you make employees more comfortable, and more motivated to continue good performance, as well as correct bad performance.

3) Feedback should be immediate. When there is a problem, it is not unusual for leaders to fail to address the issue, believing it will “work itself out”. While this may be the case sometimes, when it isn’t the case, you have allowed an employee to continue with an action you don’t like for far too long. At this point, their failure to perform is just as much your problem as theirs. When you do address it, don’t let any frustration you might harbor about the continued behavior get in the way. People can only correct what they are aware of. Address the issue fairly, and then resolve not to let future issues linger.

It sounds very cliché, but “catching people doing something right” really is the best way to motivate employees to perform. When you regularly point out the things they are doing well, they are far more receptive when you have a criticism. It may sound very counterintuitive to suggest increasing the frequency of something you already dread, but more regular feedback leads to more comfortable feedback for both parties.

NOTE: for the next 4 weeks we will be drawing the name of a lucky winner of a copy of our Alliance Partner’s book “Blind Spots – Solving Hidden Business Problems”  To enter simply put your first and last name in the subject line of an email and send to – Winners will be announced on the Friday of each week. Enter NOW!

Athena Alliance Members – A Closer Look at Tammy Sturge

Tammy Sturge, Master Facilitator

Athena Alliance Members – A Closer Look

Since I started the Athena Alliance blogtalk radio show I have had the opportunity to share with our listeners the expertise of our diverse c, facilitators, coaches and consultants.  Each member has a profile featured on our website and I thought for upcoming blogs I would share with our readers a more personal look at some of our partners and in no particular order.

Tammy Sturge

Tammy Sturge, Master FacilitatorIn March 2006 a former alliance member was conducting a test pilot of a new program he had designed and invited me to attend.  The event was held in this state of the art training facility in Vaughan.  I was honoured to participate and arrived my usual fifteen minutes early.  I was seated next to a tall attractive lady, who I would soon learn was Tammy Sturge.  I recognized the name but not the face.  During our first break we started to chat and it was obvious to both of us we needed to talk more about her offerings and my alliance in a separate meeting.  We decided we would meet for a coffee at the end of the pilot.  I can see now looking back how much we both are “let’s do it now” people.

After we had been talking for a few minutes I realized why her name was so familiar, she was a seminar leader at one of the organizations where I had participated in some personal development programs.  I knew then Tammy was a master facilitator. We both left at the end of our meeting, knowing there were good things ahead.

It was less than a week from when Tammy first joined the alliance when I made my first introduction.  The customer was delighted and told me that she was one of the strongest facilitators he had ever experienced.  This company still calls her or one of her team members to work with them on various projects.  When I have a client that has really tough situations to address, I call Tammy first and she always has a relevant solutions.  A few of the programs I have had Tammy and her team help clients with include: creating and implementing strategic plans, creating powerful leadership teams, pay equity, off-site planning sessions, organizational development projects, managing change and many more.

Here is a link to Tammy’s profile: