Employees Love Kaplan Because They Get Opportunities to Succeed Like Their CEO and Students
This fall Newsweek, in collaboration with my company, the Best Practice Institute (BPI), will unveil the second annual Most Loved Workplaces list. The concept is simple: we feature the top 100 companies where employees feel respected and cared for—and have numerous opportunities for advancement.
But before the new list appears, we’ll spotlight a few of the companies on the inaugural rankings. We last featured Chris Chen, CEO of Miami-based ChenMed which ranked Number 36 in 2021.
Now we put the focus on Kaplan and its CEO Gregory Marino. Kaplan, ranked Number 96 on the 2021 chart, has provided educational services to millions of students and professionals across 28 countries since 1938.
Kaplan’s commitment to educating others includes not only its customers but also its employees. This focus on internal development has made the organization a leader in academic innovation and a Most Loved workplace.
Marino, who started his career at Kaplan as an intern almost 30 years ago, is the perfect example of an employee who flourished because of the organization’s supportive culture.
“I’ve worked in many of the different parts of the organization, and I personally know the functions and moved up through the ranks, but it is what we do, I think, and how we do it, that drives this attraction to the workplace,” he said. “We love our students, we love our partners, and there’s a true partnership, an investment in ensuring that our students and partners are successful.”
Driven by Learning
Every example of how Kaplan has operated and evolved has one consistent theme: learning and development. That’s why 14-year-old Stanley Kaplan started tutoring his classmates in the basement of his family’s home in Brooklyn during the Great Depression, and why the company he founded now prepares high school students for their SATs, helps professionals such as doctors and lawyers study for their licensing exams, and assists colleges with teaching courses in a virtual format.
That focus on learning and development extends to Kaplan’s employees, who are encouraged to pursue their professional goals in three major ways: Individual Development Plans, DevelopU, and Leadership Forums.
Individual Development Plans
Kaplan asks each employee to create an Individual Development Plan to identify their developmental strengths and areas where they want to improve.
These IDPs are the foundation of the company’s performance review process. Team leaders review their direct reports’ IDP with them to establish objectives that support both the organization’s and the employees’ needs and goals.
IDPs allow employees and their team leaders to discuss growth opportunities that can lead to promotions, and in some cases brand-new Kaplan programs.
For example, in his IDP the senior manager of the Learning and Development team focused on building relationships with internal business partners, his presentation skills, creating networking opportunities, gaining exposure, and elevating his strategic thinking.
He was promoted to director within a two-year span as the result of IDP, according to Rosa Finelli, executive director of learning and development at Kaplan.
“One of his big wins was being able to pave the way for the strategy for this company- wide virtual conference, which is the DevelopU virtual conference,” she said.
Another example is in 2020, Kaplan’s executive director of student finance completed an IDP that included a leadership tour in which he switched roles with a peer to understand another department unit better.
After working on his IDP, he was able to outline a plan to reorganize several teams within the student finance division.
The goal was to set up teams by function instead of by location.
Employees in Kaplan’s back office began working remotely in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The virtual environment allowed for greater flexibility than they ever had in the past, according to Rosa Finelli, executive director of learning and development at Kaplan.
“This new functional team ensured that all students received the same level of service regardless of staff location,” she said.
The skills and experience the executive director of student finance gained through his IDP led to his promotion to vice president of that department.
Kaplan launched DevelopU last year as a way for all employees to enhance their personal and career development. They offered 65 sessions in business essentials, health and wellness, leadership, and technology. Topics included time management, team-building, and strategic thinking. There was even a portrait drawing session to help participants unleash their creativity and create a better work-life balance.
One employee who benefitted from DevelopU was Kaplan’s military relations coordinator. She not only participated as a presenter and a producer, but also took some sessions herself. During the sessions she learned how to enhance her video editing skills and how to facilitate in a remote environment. She then created a strategy to enhance an onboarding process for students.
DevelopU gave her the opportunity to network and collaborate with Kaplan colleagues and leaders from all over North America. One of her new connections even told her about an open onboarding manager position with the company and encouraged her to apply. She ended up getting the job.
Kaplan also holds annual talent assessments to select 12 to 20 mid-senior leaders from throughout the organization based on their skills and their potential to elevate into a higher position. These employees participate in a six-month Leadership Forum involving real-world projects to enhance their skills.
One of the participants in the July-December 2021 Leadership Forum was a director with strong leadership and people skills who was leading Kaplan’s multi-brand strategy for one of its business units.
She was part of a cohort team in the Leadership Forum that identified opportunities to build communities for students to keep them connected and engaged in between Kaplan program.
Of the five proposals presented during the Leadership Forum, the student community project was selected to become a reality within the company. In addition, the multi-brand strategy leader was promoted to an executive director position within a span of one year.
Love All Around from Employees to Students
Kaplan’s focus on helping its employees achieve their dreams and goals echoes what it does for its students. In turn, the success of Kaplan students inspires the employees to continue their own improvement efforts and succeed in their careers at Kaplan – just like their CEO did.
Marino said Kaplan’s impactful work resonates with employees because when they go home at night, they know they “made a difference in somebody’s life, and possibly for generations to come.”
Louis Carter is the founder and CEO of the Best Practice Institute, Most Loved Workplace, and author of more than 10 leadership/management books, including In Great Company (McGraw Hill, 2019). See Lou’s interview with Marino click Here.