Features May 2018

Gainesville Cultivates The Next Set of Leaders


Written By: Ellen Andreu

Gainesville had a problem. The City of Gainesville noticed a large percentage of the workforce could retire within the next few years. The solution: a leader development program.

The city implemented the Emerging Leaders Development Program to create leaders with the knowledge and skills needed to compete for positions throughout the organization, Kristine Crothers, Learning and Organizational Development Specialist for the city of Gainesville, said.

The pilot program began in 2013 alongside 30 participants, with the second group of emerging leaders beginning in May 2016 with 11 participants. The program, which is facilitated by the learning and organizational development division of Human Resources, the City of Gainesville, begins its selection process of emerging leaders with a written nomination then panel interview.

“The programs are customized for each cohort, so they change based on what the organization’s needs are and what the participants in the program need,” Crothers said.

The program, made up of elements ranging from a personal assessment to a mentoring process, is designed to give the participants the most out of the curriculum.

Before participants begin, they complete a 360 assessment to determine their strengths as well as areas needing improvement. This assessment, which is also completed at the end of the program to track the progress they have made, is a great benchmarking tool, Crothers said.

Throughout the program, the participants attend group development sessions to focus on the needs of the emerging leaders. There are also courses available through the Gainesville Corporate University to help address these needs of the program participants, she said.

The emerging leaders are then paired with a mentor at the beginning of the program: usually a professional, manager or executive team member from their organization.

Rae Hafer, a current emerging leader, has a strong relationship with her mentor.

“In my case, my mentor is an assistant chief of the fire department, Hafer said. This connection has been enlightening and very, very helpful.” Crothers said the mentoring process begins with identifying interested mentors. All the mentors and mentees then go through a rapid interview to learn about the outlooks, personalities and philosophies of the perspective mentors. After the interview process, the mentees pick three mentor options and the learning and the organizational development team look at various connections to aid in pairing the mentors.

Hafer said the program has provided her with a team and projects that have helped her understand and develop her skills as an emerging leader.

“I came from a very technical background and the program has helped me understand areas to develop and broaden,” Hafer said. “It was the program and having a team to help me through the process and having projects where I was able to work with other people going through a similar process.”

Jennifer McElroy, supervising utility engineer and alumna of the program, was an emerging leader from 2013-2015. The director of engineering at the time, reached out to her boss to ask her if she would participate in the emerging leaders program.

Out of all the parts of the program, she said developing relationships and connections was the most impactful part.

New ideas come from people interacting with new people, McElroy said. The program takes people from all over the city who have differences in experience, personalities and skill sets and creates an environment for them to interact.

“You’re now having this regular impact zone with these other people,” McElroy said. “You gain these partnerships and you broaden your network, I think everybody benefits from that.”

Emerging leaders have been recognized at the city’s annual employee recognition ceremony, where employees are honored for their outstanding work and dedication to the organization and community. In 2015, five emerging leaders received awards and the learning and organizational development division was recognized for their work with the program. In 2016, eight emerging leaders received awards and in 2017, 10 emerging leaders received awards.

The curriculum, which has demonstrated its success with 77 percent of the participants in the pilot group having completed the program, also boosts a 63 percent success rate from its participants having either been promoted or having served in an acting assignment as a result of their involvement.

As for McElroy, she said the classes she took during her time as an emerging leader on how to encourage people and how to be a strong leader greatly helped her transition from a senior engineer position to a supervisory position.

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ELLEN ANDREU is a junior at the University of Florida studying journalism and Spanish. When she isn’t drinking coffee or writing, she is running Hawthorne Trail. She is known for her desire to travel, write stories and learn more about the world.

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