How SKF is nurturing future sales leaders

This Swedish company that manufactures bearings and seals has a series of leadership- and self-development programmes especially designed for each segment of its workforce   


Swedish bearing and seal manufacturing company, SKF, has a comprehensive programme to nurture the talent of future sales leaders.

One of these initiatives called ‘I Aspire’ is led by the HR team, and focuses on enhancing the go-to-market capabilities of its sales professionals at all levels to make them more competitive and effective in their roles.

Gautam Kumar, CHRO and director-people experience, SKF India and South East Asia, shares with HRKatha, “The programme emphasises on four key dimensions through an internal process of funnel management.”

It begins with assessing the potential of sales team members based on factors such as complex mental processing abilities, problem-solving skills, decision-making capabilities, learning agility and alignment with their roles in sales and marketing. This potential assessment, which includes evaluating the complexity of their thinking processes (Complex Mental Processing or CMP), determines the individual’s potential within the organisation.

“We create individualised development plans based on potential and performance for our people. For those with potential but lacking in decision-making abilities, we equip them with tools and techniques to enhance their decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities.”

Gautam Kumar, CHRO and director-people experience, SKF India and South East Asia

Additionally, the programme considers the past three years’ performance of potential sales leaders and assesses whether their performance and potential align with each other. This helps identify gaps that need to be addressed to enhance their market capabilities.

“Once the assessment is complete, we create individualised development plans based on potential and performance. For those with potential but lacking in decision-making abilities, we equip them with tools and techniques to enhance their decision-making skills and problem-solving abilities,” asserts Kumar.

SKF also runs the ‘LeadX’ leadership programme for high potentials from different functions. This initiative aims to cultivate future leaders through cross-functional experiences across the organisation, including a comprehensive understanding of operations and business practices, exposure to cultural diversity, involvement in different business units or functions within SKF and externships beyond SKF to learn from external best practices.

Launched on 1 September, 2022, the first batch of the ‘LeadX’ programme comprised a total of 22 participants. These participants were then divided into three categories: Inter-Regional Talent Exchange (IRTX) with 10 participants, X-functional (cross-functional) with nine participants and Externships with three participants.

The duration of the programme varied depending on the category. For instance, participants for IRTX were offered a range of options, including short-term international assignments lasting three to six months, mid-term international assignments lasting six-11 months, long-term international assignments spanning one to five years, and even permanent relocation to a different country.

Similarly, X-functional participants were offered dual roles, along with permanent relocation.

Externships, on the other hand, are shorter in duration, lasting up to 6 weeks. This diverse range of opportunities allows LeadX participants to gain valuable international experience and contribute to SKF’s global presence. In fact, high potentials at SKF have been allowed to gain hands-on experience outside their home countries, including locations such as India, Australia and Indonesia.

“I am confident that spending three to four months immersed in a different culture has allowed them to absorb fresh perspectives and adapt to working with a diverse range of talents. This experience has undoubtedly made them more agile, socially and mentally. This, in turn, enhances our organisational leadership capabilities,” points out Kumar.

He shares that the programme received a high number of applications within the company.

Apart from the two leadership-development programmes, SKF also has a self-development programme, which combines online and offline learning to cater to different learning preferences of employees. Moreover, the interested employees get the freedom to enrol in these courses without requiring permissions, making it accessible for individual growth.

The company also has a structured comprehensive learning ecosystem framework.

The first one caters to transitions at different stages of an employee’s journey – starting from campus hires to eventual CEO roles. This structured programme encompasses four key transitions, each with a meticulously designed curriculum.

These programmes are a blend of various learning methods, including online initiatives and classroom training, and typically span a duration of six to nine months.

The other learning programme is called the ‘Manufacturing Learning Academy’, which specialises in honing skills related to manufacturing processes, such as heat treatment, digitalisation and the future of manufacturing workplaces.

The next learning programme is called ‘Core Competencies’. It focuses on essential skills that remain vital regardless of external circumstances, such as cost management, quality and safety.

The company claims to be putting great emphasis on gathering employee feedback when designing its learning programmes and initiatives. Additionally, it also customises each programme effectively to meet the unique needs of employees, whether in sales or manufacturing.

“We follow the ADDIE model, which stands for Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation and Evaluation. This model involves a structured five-stage development process, with a focus on reflection and iteration, making it an agile approach for us. It allows us to create highly customised programmes that are perfectly aligned with the specific needs of the business and the unique characteristics of our participants. This approach ensures that our training is not a one-size-fits-all solution but rather a tailored and effective strategy to address our evolving requirements,” reveals Kumar.

SKF also has a dedicated leadership programme called ‘She Leads’, aimed at empowering women leaders to take on more substantial roles and unlock their full potential.

The employee value proposition (EVP) policies have also been updated to meet the changing expectations and needs of the workforce in recent times. The company has now articulated them as ‘Together, we reimagine rotation for a better tomorrow.’

The framework revolves around three central themes, known as their employee brand statement ‘Reimage your Potential.’ The first theme, ‘Everyday Impact’, focuses on empowering employees with the skills, expertise and commitment necessary to make a meaningful difference each day. This extends to their interactions with colleagues, customers and the society at large.

The second is about helping them make ‘Real Relationships’, which emphasises the importance of building authentic and meaningful connections, fostering personal and professional growth.

The third theme, ‘Endless Opportunity,’ gives employees access to the tools and resources needed for creativity, imagination and experimentation. This approach fosters continuous learning and development, exposing employees to new challenges that push them to excel in their roles.

“These pillars reflect our commitment to nurturing our employees’ potential, offering a work environment where they can make a difference, build genuine relationships and explore endless possibilities while continuously learning and growing. This framework has been designed to adapt to the evolving expectations and needs of our workforce, aligning with our broader purpose of shaping a better future,” enunciates Kumar.

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