Client Story: Norfolk Southern 2018-11-08T16:22:06-05:00
Developing the Next Generation of Leaders
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Norfolk Southern

Norfolk operates 36,200 miles of railway in 22 eastern states. The railroad also offers the largest intermodal network in eastern North America.

  • US $11 Billion in revenues

  • 30,000 employees

  • Serves customers in 22 states

The Challenge

Norfolk Southern is a transportation company and a year ago, due to globalization and a fast growing domestic economy, it was experiencing remarkable growth. At the same time that it was doing its best to capitalize on that growth, the company realized that it had amazing, untapped talent. To empower that talent to reach its full potential, Norfolk Southern took major steps to improve its management development program. In order for managers to succeed, they needed to understand the changing nature of their business, the accompanying opportunities, the needs and expectations of each customer segment, and the different ways Norfolk Southern could become more customer-centric. Additionally, to develop managers into stronger leaders, the managers needed to acquire the different business perspectives that other managers from different areas of the business could provide.

The Approach

To prepare the next generation of Norfolk Southern leaders, we partnered with the Norfolk Southern talent management team to contribute to a four-day leadership development program complete with three Knowledge Maps engagement tools, workshops, simulations, and speakers. The program would be taught throughout the year in cohorts of 30-40 leaders at a time. Among other things, the leadership development program emphasized the interconnectedness of the business and the importance of each leader looking beyond their own functional silo. With an advanced perspective of the business, the participants came to understand that not only did customers have an impact on the company in more than obvious ways, but customers had an impact on each other too – this exposed the real complexity of the business and revealed operating issues that were then discussed within the experiential aspects of program. Also, not only did transportation trends have an impact on the company, but global markets had an impact too; for example, increasingly demand for advanced metallurgy in China was affecting the coal business. These wider views of the company and the many different factors affecting its success gave each participating manager an excellent base of knowledge that could help them as they advanced into more and more complex leadership positions.


To achieve full engagement and to help the participating managers get the most out of their four days, Norfolk southern relied on the experience of Applied Learning to enable useful conversations to train the Norfolk Southern team of facilitators. After that, they were able to build rapport with the participants and engage them in meaningful conversations. By putting leaders from diverse business divisions into each cohort of Knowledge Map participants, Norfolk Southern was able to capitalize on the learning opportunities that each leader presented to the others, by exposing them all to different perspectives on business issues. For example, due to the growing demand, the railway shipping couldn’t keep up, and repair yards were full of locomotives which were being damaged faster than they could be repaired. However, after repair yard leaders explained the issues, different cohorts of program participants were able to discuss different ways to minimize the number and types of damages to locomotives and maximize the number of locomotives in use.

The Result

The leadership development program exceeded the expectations of executives and program participants alike and its reach was expanded to 3,000 managers from all parts of the business, from corporate to the railyards.

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