Quality has long been Doug Palmberg's area of expertise and the focus of his career, long before he came to PMI LLC in Bloomer 12 years ago as quality manager. But as he grew into a larger leadership position at PMI, he found different sets of skills were called for as his role expanded. Fortunately, he had a good coach to help him along and keep him on track.

Dan Burns, an instructor with the Business & Industry Services Division of Chippewa Valley Technical College, is certified through the International Coaching Federation, and in 2014 became the first Gallup Certified Strengths Coach in Wisconsin. Burns conducts leadership training at companies throughout the area.

Burns was able to use his expertise to help Palmberg and his colleagues in leadership at PMI evaluate their own strengths, learn how to utilize the strengths of others, and establish a more positive and team-oriented culture at PMI.

"PMI experienced a tremendous growth spurt during my time here," said Palmberg, who is now research and development technology manager. "It was hard for the leadership team to keep up with all that was going on. There were some communication problems and kind of a disconnect with management."

There was, however, no overnight quick-fix. It started with some diagnostics.

"We had an employee engagement survey done in 2014 and we took the results of that and partnered with CVTC to reach our goals," said Jenn Richardson, human resources and public relations manager with PMI for the past five years. "It was really eye-opening. It gave us a clear direction we needed to go."

"We embarked on a leadership development opportunity with some of the senior leaders," Burns said. "In order for leadership to develop the skills to lead well, training is important. Coaching adds experiential learning, which can accelerate leader development."

One of the tools Burns uses in leadership training is the Gallup StrengthsFinder®, an assessment based on series of questions that help identify key talents of individuals. One of Palmberg's talents, for example, is being deeply analytical a good quality to have for a quality manager.

"I realized I tended to over-analyze," Palmberg said, "often delaying decision-making and looking for one more analysis to do without adding value to the process." He added that he tended to be slow to add his perspective, particularly if he disagreed with the consensus of the group, wanting to "think about it for a while."

As a result of the training and coaching, Palmberg says he is making faster decisions and learning to speak up more, recognizing when his own talents may be getting in the way of progress.

"We spent a lot of time learning about each other and about ourselves," Richardson said. "We realized when we were sitting around the table together that we have a good team."

Burns explained that in addition to the tools like the StrengthsFinder that he uses during leadership training, he holds regular classroom teaching sessions on leadership. The coaching is a separate one-on-one activity.

"Coaching is not mentoring, and it's not telling people what they should do," Burns said. "And it's not consulting or teaching. Coaching is helping the leader discover their own solutions to challenges and discovering opportunities to develop as a leader."

Burns noted that topics for coaching sessions are determined by the person being coached. to agree on action items and review results throughout the coaching process. "Coaching is very results-oriented and outcome-focused," Burns said.

"We have really made some big steps in establishing a positive culture," Richardson said. "We're very open about what we're doing and the reasons why and the employees want to know why."

Leadership training at PMI started with a core group of senior leaders. Area and production managers recently completed the training.

"The need for coaching in the context of leadership development is on the rise," Burns said. "For our clients, our certifications are extremely important. They don't want someone who was in a leadership position who just decided to become a coach. What makes us unique at CVTC is we are certified."

Chippewa Valley Technical College delivers superior, progressive technical education which improves the lives of students, meets the workforce needs of the region, and strengthens the larger community. Campuses are located in Chippewa Falls, Eau Claire, Menomonie, Neillsville and River Falls. CVTC serves an 11-county area in west central Wisconsin. CVTC is part of the Wisconsin Technical College System (WTCS) and is one of 16 WTCS colleges located throughout the state.

Shown Above:  At PMI in Bloomer, from left, shipping manager Denny Bischel, fabrication and soft tool manager Jesse Roettger, laser operator Jesse Roettger and quality technician Holly Poore discuss production issues. The management and leadership teams at PMI obtained leadership training and coaching through CVTC, enabling them to improve communication by better understanding the talents of the people involved.

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