Case Study

Skill-Building in New People Managers:
A Conversation With Juniper Networks, Inc.

Juniper Networks Inc., identified a need for foundational skill-building in their newest people managers to enable them to fully engage their direct reports. They made the choice to seek external support, and our Best Boss™ manager program fit their needs. We spoke to Kaela Ishizaki, Talent Management Program Manager at Juniper, about the success of this partnership:

Q: How would you describe the need that Juniper was experiencing that made support in this area necessary?

We had people who were inexperienced in being people managers, which was starting to show. We needed a program to help bridge the gap between them and the more experienced managers. We were excited about Best Boss, because it was manager fundamentals that also incorporated the language of culture that we wanted people to get comfortable with.

Q: Now that you’ve experienced the program, how would you describe Best Boss?

The way that we use it here — and I know it can be used in different ways — is for people who are making the transition from individual contributor to people manager for the first time in their career. We intentionally pick those who have been in their role for 3-6 months, because we want people to start building experience and have something to go off of, so that by the time they start Best Boss, they can bring their trials and tribulations with them and learn from them. What’s unique about the way we use Best Boss is that it’s a learning journey over the course of 90 days, where you make connections with a 25-person cohort of other managers, and learn manager fundamentals and then build on them. Nothing feels disjointed. Throughout the process, things start to click, and by the end, you see how all of it ties together for you to be a Best Boss. It feels appropriate for our company too, because it incorporates our values and people practices. It helps our managers at Juniper speak the same language, and sets them up for success.

Q: What would you say are the biggest improvements, learnings, and changes you see in managers who go through Best Boss?

There’s a lot of “a-ha!” moments around the amount of personal connection needed to be a Best Boss. People come thinking that being a Best Boss is just being a subject matter expert, which is what you see with a lot of individual contributors who get promoted to management. There’s a mindset shift that happens during the program, where the managers begin to understand that the subject mastery is only a small portion of what it takes to support their team. The managers realize ‘I’m no longer measured by my own contributions. My main job is to make sure this group of people is successful, and there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach to that.’ 

Q: Knowing that Best Boss can be delivered as a full day program or series of shorter sessions, why did you choose the 90-day virtual approach for Juniper?

The time investment of a 90-day journey gives people permission to focus on this part of their job without overwhelming them. If you tell somebody that they only have to come every other week for 90 minutes, they can make that work. And the beauty of that is that you don’t forget the information, and you don’t get burnt out on it. Having it structured over 90-days and building on the topics allows managers to say ‘I remember that from last time!’ and allows them to actually apply learnings from each session in their day-to-day work life. Having a partner in the program to connect with and talk about the learnings helps deepen the understanding, too. People have also said that it’s just really nice to know more people at the company, who they may not have interacted with otherwise. That doesn’t always happen in those one-day, larger group seminars. 

Q: How do you see Best Boss integrating with and supporting Juniper’s culture and business goals?

One of my favorite sessions in Best Boss is the one that Blue Beyond customized to focus on our performance management process, because it tells managers what’s expected of them at Juniper, and it gets them familiar with our programs, our language, and what that looks like in practice. If we talk about this stuff at only a theoretical level, it’s going to be in one ear and out the other, and we’d lose our audience. I think that this session is a great example of how the program integrates with our culture and business goals; we see examples of what a Best Boss looks like in general, but then it’s directly applied to our people practices at Juniper, which is huge. 

Q: Are there any other bright spots you want to talk about?

One of my favorite things is the way it feels — the way the sessions are broken up and all the activities throughout; it always feels like a good balance of being introduced to new topics, and then having time to work through those topics with your cohort. People are engaged! They’re not just watching a screen for 90 minutes. The intentionality of having those break-out group activities is so key and unique to this program.

Q: Have there been any unexpected benefits?

Yes! We’re kind of creating “model citizens” with Best Boss. They learn the best practices of being engaged, being on camera, and participating more in Best Boss, and they’re setting that example in our other manager development programs. That level of engagement is becoming a cultural norm. 

Q: What have you found challenging about trying to implement the program?

Getting people to commit time for this kind of program needs to become a culture norm, so that people know why it’s important enough to prioritize. We’ve promoted the success stories from Best Boss, so that by the time a manager gets an email to say they’ve been selected for Best Boss, they’re already bought into it. Now we have managers reaching out to us who want to join, before we’ve even asked them to!

Q: Can you talk about what it’s like to work with the Blue Beyond team?

When working with Blue Beyonders, I feel like I have a partner who truly understands what we’re trying to do. You know our managers and our culture and we’re on the same page. We have a shared understanding and shared goals. It always feels collaborative and adaptable, taking our culture and strategy into consideration, which is so key. I trust that you understand what we are building towards, and the end result feels authentic. It just feels like a true partnership, and our collaboration has made all of our programs stronger. Our team truly trusts Blue Beyond to represent us.

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