February 2013 S. Benjamins & Co Newsletter: Fox Leads Change
Sean Dailey, SVP Organization Development (OD) and Training at Fox Entertainment Group, is a long-time friend and respected leader in Southern California. I recently caught up with Sean to learn about how his role has expanded and changed over eight years with Fox and what he learned from those experiences. He is a leader that models talent development in such new and refreshing ways that we wanted to share this story with you.
Hired initially in 2004 within the film division of Fox, Sean was tasked with setting up coaching, assessment, performance management and training. Four years later Sean moved into an expanded global role that took him across 26 countries, to work with group Presidents from three global markets; TV Distribution, Theatrical Distribution and Home Entertainment. After two and a half years in the international arena, he was asked to return to Los Angeles to develop the leadership/OD programs for the two branches of Fox: Fox Film and Fox Networks. He was to again charter new territories (do you see a theme here) and tackle something that had never been done before: the creation of a shared service organization, today, known as the Fox Entertainment Group. We were honored to sit down with Sean to hear about his journey and efforts to lead cross-disciplinary collaboration and innovation at Fox.
Sherry Benjamins: We know that the Fox Entertainment Group is a new organization, tell us about the progress you are making in this group.
Sean Dailey: We would not have been able to create shared services without initially having the credibility with each business President. From there, we led many initiatives that had bottom line impact that the President could see. I understood what was needed to get budget buy-in. One of the more recent successes was putting in place a nine-month developmental program for the next generation of leaders. A similar version of this existed within the Fox Film division, but prior to this there was some tumultuousness with changing leadership. This new version is called the High Potential Program, which utilizes a combination of in-person and virtual learning elements. Given my history with international business, we realized the importance of communicating our work to other outlets, hence an emphasis on virtual learning. For the High Potential Program, twelve senior leaders (Director level) participate, including those from global Fox outlets.
Throughout the nine weeks, participants are subject to a series of executive sessions, a battery of assessments, presentation training and all of this is documented and rigorously critiqued. The coaching team that supports this comes from diverse backgrounds such as theater acting to clinical psychology. All of our coaches have at least a Masters degree, whether it is in the field of Communications, Industrial Organizational Psychology, Business or the Fine Arts.
SB: What makes you most proud of the High Potential Program?
SD: Eighty-five percent of graduates from the program were promoted within the following year. The types of skills that they obtained are high value. Further, our virtual component is unique in that often, businesses will separate programs like these into virtual and live versions. We bridge this division.
There are classroom and collaborative components. About halfway through the program we assign participants into teams. They are not grouped by their individual expertise, which demands that they must seek out and build connections beyond their professional comforts. These teams are given current and real business issues. They act as external consultants and are encouraged to find resources inside and outside of the company, whether it is in academia or other industries.
At the end of the program, the teams present their results to a packed house filled with presidents and other executives. By this point the participants have been coached, groomed and grilled for this level of situation analysis. All eyes are on them and they need to be perfect. Our senior leaders take this very seriously. As a result of this work, it is not uncommon for someone to be asked to move into an entirely new area of business. The completion of this course allows for employees to crisscross among different sectors within the business. The results are the diverse talent that is developed and recognized for new opportunities.
SB: After doing this for two years at Fox, how is your team internally branded?
SD: We keep expanding the types of services that we offer. We are the “one stop shop” when people are having problems with a business process or related issue. In the old days HR was the police department, today our OD, Learning/Training function is the fire department with a keen sense of what it takes to prepare leaders for success.
SB: Is there a demand from middle management to develop that level.
SD: I’ve been in contact with folks from the Fox Networks division to take this concept and apply it towards fostering innovation. This led to the creation of a program called the Fox Innovation Group (a twelve to sixteen week training). This group calls for Fox Networks’ best thinkers. They come from any sector of the company and from all levels, meaning anyone from coordinators to the senior VP. They all participate and are considered equals. These groups compete for cash prizes and thus far it has worked out quite well. At the conclusion of this program we are presented with amazing products that are actually realizable. This year we’re doing another round and have created the Master Program. The top two or three products from the previous years are taken as a starting point with the goal of turning that idea or concept into an actual product. Now, we are teaching our participants how to write business plans and pitch their idea to funders.
SB: Are there any other entertainment companies doing something like this?
SD: To my knowledge, no. And not only within entertainment, but many companies are not tackling this kind of innovation program. I am constantly researching what else is going on in our field and where is it happening and I am not aware of any similar practices.
SB: So what is the priority for 2013?
SD: My goal is to take one of our key successes and present it in the Harvard Business Review. Our teams deserve recognition and can share the learning. The unfortunate reality is that the entertainment sectors and OD/Training are not seen as leaders in People Development practices. My goal is to change that by the time I retire.
SB: What are the conditions that have been put in place that have allowed you to be successful?
SD: You have got to have an amazing relationship with your boss and they must be a boss that is willing to take risks. You’ve got to have a relationship in place with the big players: the President, the Chairman… whomever is making the big decisions regarding how money is spent. And you can’t start outlandish. You start small with something that incurs little risk and then push a little more, and then a little more.
SB: Where is OD and Training going in the next few years? What are the trends?
SD: Relevance to the business. At Fox four years ago, the focus was about how to climb the ladder to the number one position in the network group. Training and development is needed to get there. And then when you are there, how do you stay there. Innovation! How will you innovate? It requires an entirely different set of skills to be fostered and maintained and we help facilitate this.
SB: What have you learned most about yourself?
SD: I’ve learned a lot about risk taking. I didn’t take as many risks at my prior job. I’ve learned a lot about turn around. I have to be particularly mindful and driven when developing my own team. My team members move on to other jobs meaning I must be doing something right. I take personal responsibility for identifying talent. I carve out time to do this work. This requires me being on the lookout, pounding the pavement, connecting with thought leaders, academics and new graduates from premier programs. It’s a full effort on top of the day job and many leaders mistakenly, in my opinion, delegate that to others. It’s about putting together a team that is genuinely interested in learning, will be mentored and they know I am there for them. They know I value learning and expect them to teach each other and me too.
FOCUS ON INNOVATION
Our newsletter will continue to highlight innovative change agents. We believe that artists are catalysts for change. They bring wonder, new language and ideas. Enjoy.
Alix Pearlstein's Gold Rush
Celebrity, movie-making and pageantry make up the primary subjects of interest in fantastic performances and videos from NY-based Alix Pearlstein, who consistently collaborates with members of the film, dance and theater communities. In her 2008 work, Gold Rush, we witness half a dozen performers on a nondescript theater stage. They wear metallic gold shirts and black pants or skirts. A large white board is brought onto stage which is immediately torn apart in a physical frenzy of violent pulling, thrashing and hoarding. The three-minute video of frenetic edits and messy camera moves, documents these performers-for reasons unknown to us-ruthlessly fight for parts of this banal object as it is fragmented into smaller and smaller pieces. These actions symbolize, in all its horrifying and entertaining glory, the influence of a relentless, competitive spirit. http://alixpearlstein.com.