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Case Study
Jun 2, 2023

Creating Transformational Learning Moments to Develop and Grow Leaders

Written by: Will Smith & Jesse Gershuny



Your Leader Development Program is Built on a Faulty Assumption


As the global response to COVID-19 was underway, a leading pharmaceutical and biotechnology company was spearheading technologies and treatments to combat the virus at a breakneck pace. The team’s collaboration and adaptability during the crisis saved countless lives, and while many companies would become complacent following the success of their pandemic response, one visionary Chief Digital Officer (CDO) embraced an opportunity to embed these strongly forged leadership skills into the framework of the company’s culture and ways of working like never before, breaking the mold of traditional training by replacing stale leadership training with bespoke, scenario-based social learning.

The idea to facilitate employee learning and development through an interactive, self-directed platform that curates content from external and internal sources and provides a single source for the development needs of all employees took hold, quickly becoming the foundation of the company’s workforce transformation.

Each pathway is comprised of curated multimedia content (articles, videos, podcasts) that offer actionable tactics for building the skills and behaviors critical for success at their level and when navigating ways of work.​


With a sharp focus on using learning as a driver of growth, leader development, and community building, the one-stop digital learning platform enables employees to curate a personalized journey emphasizing growth in their current roles and upskilling for future ones. By starting with the CDO’s vision for a global, digital-first workforce, the company leaned on its longstanding partnership with McChrystal Group to redefine the standard for talent and leader development. The result is a shift from a mandatory, siloed approach to a cohort model where communities of colleagues are built and engagement is fostered.



Creating Opportunity for Everyone

Every person in the organization deserves to grow and develop in their roles, no matter their rank, seniority, or location. However, a collection of various learning management systems that lacked cohesion and intentional design prevented equitable access to transformative leadership growth pathways. The CDO needed to consolidate these disparate systems into a single platform accessible to all employees, while utilizing non-traditional learning models that did away with the tedious predecessors that did little to spark joy or excitement.

Fostering Value-Centered People

The company’s values were what drove unparalleled success during the pandemic; however, its talent development system lacked full alignment with the very values that allowed the company to develop breakthroughs that saved lives. The CDO didn’t just want periodic reminders of these core values, they envisioned a vibrant and inclusive learning experience encouraging continuous adoption even amid busy schedules that is accessible to all. This requires building and scaling a transformative learning journey rooted in the company’s culture aimed at unlocking the full potential of its people.



Driving Adoption, Building Community

Level-specific pathways connect to learning communities where learners can respond to prompts detailed in their respective pathway(s), discuss their experiences with peers, ask questions, provide guidance, and receive praise


Informed by the leadership’s goals and interviews with those using the current learning systems to determine existing gaps, McChrystal Group developed a plan to make the CDO’s vision a reality. McChrystal Group designed a blueprint architecture of the various learning pathways and created “learning moments” for recommended content curation at each stage of the user’s learning journey. An emphasis is placed on user-friendly navigation and click reduction throughout the platform to ensure ease of use and spur increased adoption.


The leadership learning pathways are loaded with content to help you lead with our values in mind. They take a bite-sized approach to learning, designed to be completed at your own pace and within the flow of work.”
Senior Manager


Bespoke, Curated Learning Pathways

The platform is designed with a narrative-based curation of content, featuring simulations, experiential learning modules, company-led signature programs, and online learning pathways. These efforts are buoyed with action learning projects that align with company strategy, and executive sponsors along with McChrystal Group-facilitated peer coaching guide progress and further embed the learnings​ into their ways of working.



Culture of Growth

The digital learning pathway is a core component of the ongoing culture transformation that puts a learning mindset at the heart of the company’s desire for innovation and breakthroughs. The transition to a learner-led culture positions the company for continued growth and makes for a more desirable and attractive workplace for not only current employees but also prospective ones. The self-directed learning moments rooted in personal and professional growth have flourished as social learning through the interactive platform is driving adoption and continued use.

Notably, the skills employees are actively developing are rooted within the company’s values, giving upskilling an increased value beyond simply the context of the role or for the sake of knowledge acquisition.

Being able to measure and quantify the impact of learning on the workforce allows the program to become entrenched in the company and drive culture change. The ongoing results show leaders across various levels—from new hires to senior directors—taking on cross-functional roles and networking with each other in the groups, often from different parts of the world, further contributing to the culture of experimentation and innovation that serves as the bedrock for the company and constantly pushes it forward.


As an organization and as individuals working together toward big goals with shared values, leadership defines us. These leadership learning pathways ignite the leader in us all.”


Worksheets detailing off-platform activities where learners are encouraged to complete to apply skills learned to daily work. ​


The collaborative and communal learning helps the company embrace horizontal thinking throughout its workforce rather than a focus on its own vertical, internal processes. The partnership with McChrystal Group has led to ongoing culture transformation through:

  • Enabling the mindset of leaders to encourage learning that coincides with their personal development, professional desires, and team-building growth.
  • On the day the pathways launched, the pathways received 1,000+ views and high engagement with the activities and learning communities.
  • Sustained pathway engagement has steadily increased ~10% per week in the months since launch. ​
  • 100% of participants self-reported having made progress on their selected growth priority.
  • After the conclusion of the first programs, leadership growth programs were rolled out across the company.
  • Leveraging the organization’s values and mission through content within the platform.
  • Continued embedded learning measured through feedback systems and metrics.
  • Inclusive access for the entire global company, including non-English speakers, through easy-to-find, translated content.
Emphasizing Progress, Not Perfection

Progress in the learning pathways is intentionally not connected to metrics tracking the performance or productivity of employees, allowing for a culture transformation toward self-promoted learning to take place. Although, results show that those leaders who are actively practicing their learnings from the platform have increased productivity, are encouraging feedback from the teams they manage, and have higher chances for promotion and retention at the organization.

As the company continues its push for digitally-enabled learning and development, the learning experience for its people will continue to be enhanced to meet the unique and evolving needs of its workforce. Learning at the company is becoming a destination, rather than a requirement, and one that employees are buying into as it is changing how employees interact with their teams and serve their patients and customers.

Employees are staying ahead of the curve, leveraging the best of digital learning to power the collaboration that fuels the innovation in support of its purpose.


My biggest takeaway from the pathway was that I could always go outside of my comfort zone, which is where the most growth occurs.”


Your Leader Development Program is Built on a Faulty Assumption