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Synopsys Turns Tech Talent into Business Leaders


With a large engineering population and a strong global reputation for innovation, Synopsys was known for its technical leadership. The company recognized the need to invest in the business and financial fluency of its executives across all functions and regions. However, a formalized executive development program was uncharted territory for Synopsys. In 2011, Jan Collinson, Senior VP, Human Resources, gave Heather Hoerdemann, who had recently moved into the VP Talent position, the green light to test the waters with a small group of executives. Upon retaining TRI Corporation, Hoerdemann said, “I found a willing partner and capable team that worked closely with me and took the time to get to know Synopsys and our business.”

SOLUTION
TRI’s Software as a Service (SAAS) simulation served as the framework for the Synopsys program, which launched with a small pilot group in fall 2011, followed by a second that winter. In all, 59 Synopsys executives participated in the two sessions. “Initially it was challenging to get executives to participate in such a time-intensive and rigorous learning experience, but the feedback was coming back so positive that in 2013, we were given the green light to put 200 executives through the program over the course of a year,” Hoerdemann said.

Between 2013 and 2014, TRI conducted simulations for cross-functional groups of directors and senior directors as well as two simulations for vice presidents. The programs brought together executives from across the globe, representing engineering, marketing, sales, services, human resources and other functions.

Pre-work ensured a level playing field. Before arriving, participants reviewed videos of Synopsys executives outlining key issues in their respective areas and completed a finance essentials course presented by their CFO.

Participants grouped into five teams of seven each, representing diverse regions, functions, years of service, and education. Each team took on the role of a new leadership team tasked with transforming a failing global software business over six fiscal year quarters. Using extensive role play and facing leadership challenges that simulated Synopsys’ real-world issues, teams focused on financial metrics to drive decisions and analyze results. The winning team was determined by its ability to establish a business plan and grow revenues, operating income, cash flow and return on equity.

“In every simulation, we would stop mid-course and change it up, based on the skills of the group or what was going on in the organization,” Hoerdemann said. “It was extremely nimble. Participants never knew what was coming next.”

TRI facilitators provided real-time coaching and feedback throughout the interactive role-play. Lectures and discussions were facilitated by Synopsys executives from finance, engineering and the field. “Strategically we made this a very high-touch program,” said Hoerdemann. “Each participant received special attention for the full time they were there, both from my team and from TRI, and everyone’s individual needs were met.”

Teams learned to take decisive actions to execute strategy; understand the financial impact of decisions; improve areas of development; leverage strengths; provide timely, actionable feedback; create vision, set strategy, and communicate; manage interdependencies across functions; develop, coach, and motivate teams; and better understand Synopsys’s competition and customers. During the debrief, each team member shared a key learning and committed to develop that area in his or her role at Synopsys.

“Throughout the process, TRI had an ability to think out of the box and connect me with the right people to enhance the learning,” said Hoerdemann. For the vice president simulation, for instance, TRI introduced Hoerdemann to a theatrical-style troupe that presented leadership lessons from the life of Nelson Mandela.

BENEFITS
To date, more than 350 Synopsys directors, senior directors and vice presidents have completed the program. According to Hoerdemann, a significant benefit has been a newfound sense of community. Participants not only learned to solve problems within the simulation, but they have continued to solve real issues together in their daily roles. The program enabled executives to get out of their silos and value others’ contributions, both functionally and technologically.

Another benefit? “It shrank the globe for us,” said Hoerdemann. “We could shine the light on the talent that was outside of North America and they could be seen and make connections.”

She concluded, “Many of the executives I work with point to the TRI simulation as one of the most valuable development experiences of their career.”


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Tech Leader Synopsys Builds Business Leadership through Experiential Learning

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