Ascend Women’s Leadership Programme EMEA

Business Context

Johnson and Johnson (JNJ) is one of the largest and most diverse healthcare corporations in the world, embracing medical devices and diagnostics, pharmaceuticals and consumer products. The Company operates in 60 countries and has approximately 127,000 employees worldwide. In 2015, the company generated 70.1 billion U.S. dollars in global revenue. Diversity is central to the global culture and has been embodied in the company Credo for many years.

The Challenge

In 2006 the key diversity challenge for the Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) business was to accelerate the gender balance at board level. The business case centred on the crucial voice of women as decision-makers in the marketplace, the high level of academic achievement of women in the JNJ talent pool and the proven value of diverse thinking in successful leadership teams.

Our Response

The Ascend programme was launched in 2007 through the UCT Graduate School of Business as the cornerstone of the strategy to achieve more balanced executive boards. The programme has been an outstanding success internationally. The impact can be attributed to the focus on leadership practice that characterises Liz de Wet and Rosemary Grant’s shared approach. Leadership practice development is best differentiated from more conventional leadership training by its focus on the translation of leading edge thinking, approaches, and tools into meaningful personal practice as opposed to an exclusive focus on the acquisition of knowledge. Emphasis is on facilitating tangible behaviour shifts in the leadership of the delegates through rigorous self-reflection.

Our Design

The programme was developed from scratch in partnership with JNJ and has undergone rigorous review after each iteration to ensure continuing alignment with business imperatives and to consistently deepen learning by inclusion of experiences at the edge of leadership development.

It is structured in three modules with an inter-modular period of 12 – 14 weeks between each session. During these inter-modular times, delegates are assisted by executive coaches to translate the programme learning into their own leadership practice. Each of the modules runs in a different location, chosen specifically for its learning value and both modules 1 and 2 include learning journeys designed to facilitate particular leadership insights for the delegates.

The programme is delivered by Liz on behalf of the UCT GSB, and she works with a team of international facilitators, along with input from company leaders and Ascend alumni. The integrated coaching programme is coordinated by a coaching director and delivered through a team of highly accomplished and accredited coaches. The inclusion of senior leaders and graduates not only ensures continual alignment with the business, but also enables deeper traction in the learning by linking it directly back into the organisation. Importantly, delegates are afforded the opportunity to build their networks with their cohort, Ascend alumni and senior business leaders across JNJ globally.

The programme has been designed with key leadership practice elements in mind. These have been cohered into learning strands which are layered across the modules to enable increasing depth and mastery in each of these areas. The learning strands have been developed in response to the JNJ leadership assessment framework and this is used as a foundation for tracking personal progress and development. Ascend is further aligned to the business through the participation of the delegates’ line managers and international executive sponsors in the final module. Programme learning continues to grow in the organisation through the activities of the alumni network and the deployment of the tools and learning by graduates in the daily flow of the business.

Impact of the Learning

Since its inception in 2007, over 300 senior, high potential women from over 24 countries in EMEA have completed the programme, and a 35% promotion rate is being realised among graduates. A recent survey of all alumni indicated that more than 70% of the respondents are continuing to use their learning on a frequent and sustained basis.

Ascend is recognised as one of the flagship leadership programmes in JNJ due to the consistent impact realised in the business and now forms part of mainstream HR processes such as international succession planning and development. By taking the learning back into everyday leadership practice within the organisational context, delegates have transformed their way of working and delivered outstanding results.