Leadership Development at Junior Achievement USA

Penn State Executive Programs has been working with Junior Achievement USA, one of the world's largest non-profits, since 2005 to ensure consistent and effective organizational leadership now and into the future.

Developing Leaders at Junior Achievement USA® Leadership and managerial effectiveness are pivotal for the success of any organization from the locally owned small business to the multinational corporation. When an organization faces the prospect of losing multiple leaders, it can be difficult to find suitable replacements. Establishing a leadership pipeline can ensure the organization’s continued success and growth.

"I spent 15 years working in the private sector before joining JA, with varying degrees of managerial authority, and was never provided any kind of managerial training. The process of being promoted at most organizations usually entails being given managerial authority over staff, as if somehow the promotion itself magically bestows upon you the skills required to be an effective manager. I am very confident that what I learned in the DME-JA program will allow me to improve my skills as a manager.”
- Steven Sherrick, Junior Achievement of New York

Junior Achievement USA® (JA) saw the impending retirement of a significant number of senior leadership approaching in several years and recognized the importance of creating a strong leadership talent pipeline to ensure a smooth transition. Partnering with Penn State beginning in 2005, JA developed a learning initiative designed to take management staff to the next level of professional development and expand their management and leadership potential.

Challenges of Maintaining Consistent Effective Leadership

Junior Achievement USA® is the world’s largest organization dedicated to giving young people the knowledge and skills they need to own their own economic success, plan for their future, and make smart choices. JA’s unique approach allows volunteers from the community to deliver its curriculum while sharing their experiences with students. Embodying the heart of JA, 214,000 classroom volunteers transform the key concepts of lessons into a message that inspires and empowers students to believe in themselves, showing them they can make a difference in the world. Junior Achievement USA® reaches 4.5 million students per year in 115 markets across the United States, with an additional 5.7 million students served by operations in 120 other countries worldwide.

The nonprofit sector is currently facing an exodus of senior leaders; in 2005, the Bridgespan Group estimated that by 2016 approximately 80,000 new senior managers would be needed each year among nonprofit groups. When JA’s initiative began, the turnover among senior and middle management within the organization was projected to reach up to 60% over a seven year period.

In order to respond to the coming challenges, JA needed to create a strong leadership “pipeline” to ensure consistent organizational leadership in the future. JA addressed these challenges with a comprehensive talent development program that included: 1) an Annual Talent Review process that identifies high-potential employees, 2) enhanced programs that provide functional training for securing resources and recruiting and introduction of programs, and 3) the JA Recruiting and Selection Toolkit and a performance management process that assists in recruiting and retaining qualified staff.

Investing in Future Leaders

JA recognized the need to incorporate both managerial and executive-level leadership development programs that would effectively provide talented, experienced leaders with the competencies and skills to assume positions of greater responsibility.

The need for an outside partner with expertise in leadership development and organizational best practice was clear. JA chose Penn State Executive Programs and the Smeal College of Business to develop and implement a sustainable professional development effort to address its managerial and executive leadership development challenges.

Developing Managerial Effectiveness Program

Penn State partnered with JA in 2005 and created the Developing Managerial Effectiveness for Junior Achievement USA® program  as a customized learning experience that incorporates JA’s culture  and  values;  assesses  JA’s  leadership  competencies;  and  delivers skills that are relevant, practical, and directly contribute to business results. Also known as DME-JA, it is designed for JA associates who are currently managing others or are expected to do so as part of their career.

DME-JA was created to build both managerial and leadership talent for the organization. The main objective of the program was to improve the participant’s contribution to the organization’s performance and results. The program helped broaden participants’ leadership skills and their effectiveness in implementing strategies and tactics to achieve goals.

As a result of participating in DME-JA, participants develop:

  • An enhanced ability to lead others toward implementing business goals and achieving desired results,
  • A better understanding of the quality of the decisions they make, and
  • An increased awareness of their personal management and leadership styles.

Leadership Pipeline

In 2009, a strategic leadership initiative was launched by Junior Achievement USA® and Penn State to bring together business strategy with cutting-edge research and organizational practices. The Strategic Leadership in JA program was designed to build both leadership and executive talent for the organization.

A key goal of this effort is to take participants to the next level of their executive development. Participants in the Strategic Leadership in JA program enhance their ability to:

  • Expand their management focus beyond effective operational tactics to a strategic understanding of issues and techniques required to compete in a changing, expanding external business environment;
  • Lead their organization through change to ensure sustainability and effective growth;
  • Develop practical tools to grow their JA Area and the broader Junior Achievement USA® organization into a fully integrated, financially successful enterprise; and
  • Apply advanced leadership skills and techniques to develop and guide their staff, boards, volunteers, and donors.

In addition to expanding local leadership effectiveness, participants are also positioned to engage in developing strategies and solutions for the larger organization that will further enhance the effectiveness of JA in every market.

Outcomes and Impact

Outcomes of these JA talent development programs include:

  • Employee retention has seen significant improvement. Nearly 89% of the program participants are still with Junior Achievement.
  • Excellent reviews from many new leaders who are either emerging or have been developed within the organization.
  • At  a  recent  JA  Leadership  Conference,  roughly  68%  of those  winning  awards  for  outstanding  performance  and accomplishment were graduates of the DME-JA program.

Since attending the SL-JA program, several graduates have received promotions within the organization:

  • Two graduates have been promoted to Senior Vice Presidents at JA Worldwide Headquarters.
  • Four graduates have been promoted to Presidents of JA Areas.
  • Two graduates have been promoted to Regional President in JA Worldwide

It is notable that the candidates for the two Senior Vice President positions at JA Worldwide were all graduates of SL-JA. The two individuals who were selected were identified as likely candidates based, in part, on their performance during the program and on subsequent project assignments. It is clear to all involved in the selection process that the SL-JA experience and exposure contributed to their selection.

“Junior Achievement USA empowers students to succeed. Penn State Executive Programs is very pleased to be a part of helping JA achieve its goal of developing consistent leadership capability deep within the organization. We are honored to be recognized by CLO for our effort.”
- Jeffrey Spearly, Senior Director, Learning and Development for Penn State Executive Programs