Bluepoint Leadership Development

TriMet’s Story: Achieving an Ambitious Vision by Enhancing Leadership

Background  

The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) is an expansive mass transportation organization with a focus on light rail, bus, bike-sharing, scooter-sharing, and ride-sharing. The transportation organization aims to provide essential transit services and connections to efficiently serve its communities.  

TriMet’s overall mission is to connect people with valued mobility options that are safe, convenient, reliable, accessible, and welcoming for all.  

TriMet at a glance:  
  • Serves about 1.7 million riders  
  • Encompasses a 533-square-mile area in the Portland, Oregon, region  
  • Employes over 3,000 workers both in-office and in the field  

Challenge  

TriMet is a progressive organization with a strong growth mindset, which is focused on developing areas it believes will positively impact the organization, the region, and, most importantly, the community it serves.  

To support this mindset, TriMet recently set its ambitious “Vision 2030” plan, which includes improving upon five strategic areas of the organization: Ridership, Community, People, Infrastructure, and Resources. Additionally, to tackle its most significant challenge, it also established an ambitious stretch goal of expanding the use of its transit system to 120 million rides each year, by 2030.   

 TriMet’s Vision 2030 plan was meticulously laid out with actionable steps for each of its goals. To achieve these goals TriMet wanted to:  

  • Further develop and nurture its leaders at the director level whom it believes are critical to the organization’s success.  
  • Close the gap in learning for director-level employees who were currently not receiving formal development opportunities.  
  • Build upon its mission that “TriMet is where diverse and talented people want to come, stay, and thrive.  
  • Encourage essential skills in its directors, including effective communication, coaching conversations, and meaningful connections with its teams and direct reports.  

 In addition, TriMet identified that these directors spanned across 12 different divisions, and they include both in-office and on-site staff. This physical separation created silos where leaders would rarely communicate or interact with each other.   

“We recognized that fostering a sense of community and cross-functional camaraderie was essential to breaking down silos, so leaders could effectively work together.” – Darcie Hardee Laufenberg, Manager of Learning & Development at TriMet  

Solution  

TriMet had the clear vision, passion, and some in-house expertise to create a leadership development program for its directors, but not the scale nor the resources to deliver a world-class experience. 

The organization selected its partner, Bluepoint Leadership Development, because of the extraordinary success it saw from The Leadership Essential workshop, which has been offered to leaders across various levels since May 2017. The developmental program includes a 360-degree feedback survey, two-day experiential workshop, and several one-on-one coaching sessions. After about 80 leaders successfully graduated from the program, TriMet was motivated to extend this success further.  

Drawing upon its three decades of expertise in custom leadership development, Bluepoint collaborated with TriMet to design a transformative program, centered around the leadership competencies paramount to TriMet’s goals.   

The uniquely branded Director Leadership Academy provides a series of experiences and learning strategies, all used to build upon one another to develop its directors and unite the workforce.   

“What set Bluepoint apart for me was that everything wasn’t standardized. It’s a back-and-forth partnership thinking about what would work best for TriMet and our leaders.” – Darcie Hardee

Leadership Assessments  

Based on TriMet’s program objectives, participants first underwent two leadership assessments to ensure a comprehensive evaluation of their capabilities: The Leadership Emotional Intelligence 360 Assessment and The TalentProfiler ™ Assessment. Both assessments were specifically chosen to provide the directors with a clear understanding of their strengths and challenges in key areas, so that they could take actionable steps to build skills and leverage strengths.  

Three-Day, In-Person Workshop  

Each cohort engaged in a three-day immersive workshop designed with multiple layers of experiential learning. Leaders delved into mastering four core philosophies: leading oneself, leading others, leading teams, and leading organizations. Within these frameworks, they explored topics such as emotional intelligence, coaching, establishing leadership connections, and leading change.   

Day 1: The workshop began with the directors gaining a thorough understanding of themselves, and why the emotionally intelligent leader is so powerful. This included tapping into the power of their emotions and moods and gaining a better understanding of their own unique traits and triggers. The directors then discovered how this concept directly affects how they build strong connections with others, such as confidence and inspiration to influence their teams.   

Day 2: The second day focused on how connection, character, conversation, and culture all play integral roles in helping one to become a powerful coach and leader to others. The directors took deep dives into their own character dimensions to assess their unique values, motivations, talents, and intentions, and to analyze the influence these factors have on their coaching impacts. To further conceptualize, participants took part in experiential coaching to practice these concepts, and receive real-time feedback. They also understood the importance of developing a coaching culture, and how to begin cultivating one at TriMet.   

Day 3: On the final day, participants learned the critical skill of leading change through the powerful change model, including: creating direction, accelerating mastery, and coaching others. This involved grasping the method of confidently navigating change within TriMet, tailored to the unique hurdles they were facing. They then engaged in a final coaching experiential exercise to learn how to guide and transfer these valuable skills among their team members and colleagues.  

Group Coaching Sessions  

To further utilize the material from the workshops, the cohorts broke up into three to four groups to attend two different group coaching sessions. These facilitator-led, interactive coaching circles allowed participants the opportunity to clarify their personal development plans, and identify ways to operationalize individual and team learning. They also provided the leaders opportunities to hone their coaching skills by engaging in coach-like conversations, and receiving and providing real-time feedback. Most importantly, coaching circles provided the directors with the opportunity to forge robust relationships with peers they typically didn’t engage with, which broke down silos, and allowed for open communication.  

“The directors have been able to build some strong relationships with peers in these group coaching sessions, which they can now go to as a sounding board, and to receive feedback.” – Darcie Hardee

1:1 Coaching Engagements  

Each director worked closely with a Bluepoint Leadership Coach for two, one-hour sessions to support their personal development plan, and reinforce key takeaways from the workshop and coaching circles.  

The coaching sessions allowed participants to connect their development plans directly to their most critical business challenges and assessment data to commit to performance breakthrough actions. These sessions also provided an unbiased, confidential perspective on any obstacles they were facing inside the organization.   

“Individual coaching hasn’t been something that TriMet has had a lot of, so, for the directors, it’s really something special to be able to work with somebody outside the organization and have it be completely confidential and objective.” – Darcie Hardee

Closing Session 

Upon the conclusion of the academy, each cohort participated in a culminating virtual workshop titled “Making Great Leadership a Habit.” This capstone session provided them with guidance on applying their newfound knowledge, and equipped them with concrete action plans for integrating their enhanced leadership skills into practice.  

Results  

As a result of The Director Leadership Academy, TriMet is one step closer to its Vision 2030 goals due to the renewed collaboration, communication, and connections that were established, and are now thriving. There continues to be excitement for future cohort learning environments, and directors have even requested similar programs for their own team members due to the extraordinary transformation they personally witnessed.   

TriMet was very pleased to recognize the substantial growth within each of its directors who graduated from the academy. One director was even promoted to a prominent position as Executive Director, overseeing a new division within the company, Transit System and Asset Support (TSAS). This new role required someone who could effectively handle the functions of Transit Asset Maintenance Support and Transit System Support Services, as well as Operational Training and Development. Historically, these areas lacked optimal development and alignment for maximum efficacy, necessitating someone capable of initiating comprehensive support. Recognizing the director’s success in the academy, the company felt that he was the perfect fit for the challenge at hand.   

Another common outcome of The Director Leadership Academy (DLA) was that directors were praising the program for allowing them to create bonds with their peers that they previously had little to no interaction with. This allowed TriMet to effectively achieve its goal of breaking down silos between directors in different departments. This theme was apparent in the program’s feedback, with different participants citing their favorite part as the “teamwork,” “getting to know my coworkers,” “interactive activities,” and “working with other directors.”   

Graduates of the program even took this initiative one step further. In June 2023, a participant identified an opportunity to enhance cross-departmental collaboration by creating a virtual meeting space for DLA alumni. This initiative gained traction, facilitating idea exchange, peer consultation, and networking among previously unacquainted directors. Recognizing its value, participants from the February 2024 DLA cohort were integrated, ensuring participation from all directors. Regular meetings are now held, effectively breaking down communication barriers, and enhancing collaboration across divisions. These connections are invaluable as TriMet embarks on the extensive work required throughout the organization to develop and execute many initiatives to achieve its Vision 2030 goal.   

“The DLA has equipped the directors in a short amount of time with critical resources, and expanded their knowledge around guiding their teams through change.” – Darcie Hardee

The second cohort for the academy has recently been launched, and it has already achieved extraordinary benefits for the participants, their staff, and the organization.   

What’s Next 

The directors from both cohorts were so motivated by the academy that they were intrigued by the possibility of implementing a similar program to foster the growth and advancement of their own teams and high potentials. Additionally, there has been a demand for ongoing learning opportunities among the directors to enhance their own growth.  

In answer to this demand, TriMet has already outlined plans to collaborate with Bluepoint in initiating a Director Academy Alumni program to cater to the needs of those seeking further leadership development. The alumni program will offer virtual quarterly sessions, which will be the next level of learning for the directors to continue their journeys to grow and develop as leaders of TriMet.

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