Demonstrating the Impact of a Development Program

How Electronic Arts used Progress Report in determining the return on development of a high potential program

In 2010, video game maker Electronic Arts was at a make-or-break moment. Sales were lagging. The digital revolution was creating a sharp spike in the pace of disruptive change. In response, the company initiated a strategic transformation of its core business model from selling games as products in retail stores to selling games as a digital service. To help drive the transformation, EA established its Xcelerators program, which is still running today.

Led by Andy Billings, VP of Profitable Creativity, the Xcelerators program was designed to prepare high potential talent for advancement into larger roles and energize them into evangelists for the company’s new digital strategy. The program was built on five pillars:

  • Carefully selected participants
  • Rich content aligned with the new digital strategy
  • Bite-sized modules spaced out over the course of a year
  • A “leaders teaching leaders” delivery model
  • Built-in evaluation and impact analysis

It’s important to note that this was a company in peril. The evaluation and impact analysis had to show real, measurable results. To do this, Billings and his team built Progress Report, a tool designed by Kaiser Leadership Solutions to measure behavior change, into the program.

The program also involved a focus on each individual’s development. The Leadership Versatility Index 360 was employed to provide feedback to pinpoint development needs and provide focus for 12 months of executive coaching.

Based on the feedback, participants worked with their coach to set goals for development and create a plan for achieving them. They also created a short list of targeted behavior items based on their unique goals. These formed the basis of a custom Progress Report 360 survey to measure behavior change and improvement at the end of the Xcelerators program.

Program evaluation results were positive on all fronts. From coworker feedback on their Progress Reports, individual participants saw how their commitment to development was making a difference that everyone could see. Knowing that their time, effort, and energy paid off in enhanced leadership capabilities, they were encouraged to continue improving.

Aggregating the Progress Report results across participants also provided Electronic Arts with objective data to measure the impact of the program. They could see that feedback and coaching were producing more capable leaders—both in terms of overall effectiveness and in terms of the specific behavior changes targeted by individual leaders. On average, superiors, peers, and subordinates saw participants making “huge” improvements in their leadership behavior and impact.

Improved Leadership

All stakeholders saw “huge” improvement
(on overall effectiveness and specific behaviors)

Moreover, these improvements in leadership were linked to accelerated career advancement and increased commitment to the company. Compared to a control group of high potentials who did not attend the program, Xcelerator participants were promoted nearly twice as fast and were more likely to remain with the company years later.

Increased Promotion and Retention

Higher rates for program participants
(compared to a control group)

The transformation has succeeded on the business front, as well. EA pivoted from selling games on discs in retail stores to delivering a range of content via digital downloads and streaming. Their products can now be played online anywhere at any time with any one, even in digital communities comprising millions of players. They have moved from one business model to multiple models, and from selling games as products to selling them as a service.

Investors have responded to the transformation with enthusiasm. Having fallen to a 10-year low of $14.94 in July of 2010, EA’s share price stood at $143.10 in July of 2021.

Electronic Arts Share Price

Since inception of the Xcelerators program to drive the strategic transformation

These results led to the Xcelerators program being recognized for excellence in the field of human resources development. It was honored with the Optimas Award for most innovative program, and with the Corporate University Best-in-Class (CUBIC) Award for quantified business impact.

Key to the accolades and business success has been the company’s ability to measure the impact of its assessment-driven leadership development. And key to that measurement is the Progress Report.

A big shout-out to Andy Billings and his team for showing us all how to drive strategic transformation by developing more effective leaders, faster. And for showing us how a simple tool, rigorously applied, can empower development professionals to determine the return on investment in development.

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