Self-empowerment is alive and well at Hulu.

Having shifted several years ago from management-directed professional development to a model where employees own their own continuing education, the 2,000-person company is seeing increased engagement from team members that benefits both the individuals and Hulu as a whole.

“We made an active shift to a concept called Own your Development, which is really putting their career in the hands of each Hulugan,” says Shannon Sullivan, SVP, talent & organization. “It’s up to you to have self-awareness on what your strengths and opportunities are. We have very little we force anyone to do here around here regarding professional development unless it’s compliance-related.”

The manager-team member relationship is at the core of the shift. “We encourage our managers to not just be 9 to 5, check-in, come delegate tasks-type managers, but mangers who really get to know their team members and are career coaches,” Sullivan says. To help evolve these management skills, Hulu offers development training for managers along those lines. “It’s really about the relationship the managers have with their Hulugans so they can be clear what’s needed.”

For those who identify professional development opportunities outside the company, tuition assistance and a learning allowance are available. For approved employees, the company provides $5,000 per year for continuing education. In addition, a $200 per year allowance is available for things that advance individual development such as books, workshops and conference attendance.

“Maybe you want to talk to a career coach outside of Hulu and they’re $100 per hour. We would provide a couple sessions with them,” Sullivan says. “It’s not life-changing money, but money you might have spent on your own or chosen not to spend on your own for professional development—and so we’re going to offer that to help incentivize you.”

In keeping with its highly collaborative environment, Hulu is big on whole-team development activities. “We have budgets to do off-sites, and many departments do them two to three times a year,” Sullivan says. “Part of our culture is around collaboration and working together, so we’ll take the entire day off and do an exercise focused on that. So it’s not just going out and getting beers, but actually taking that time to do something that advances the team members and helps them professionally.”

And then there is the matter of emotional intelligence, which has risen to the fore in recent years after Hulu borrowed a page from a successful program at Google.

“One of their chief engineers developed this curriculum around emotional intelligence a few years back realizing that as people were trying to advance their career there and were not able to, one of the things was that their focus had been on developing advanced technical skills but lack of emotional intelligence at work was holding them back,” Sullivan says. “Emotional intelligence is really about being able to recognize your emotions and how do you use those, or how in some cases do they get in the way of productively working with others during times of change and high stress. Hulu is not a place for the faint of heart. We’re moving so fast, there are high demands and there can be high stress and so I think we’re not unlike Google in that respect.”

Last year Hulu surveyed employees and developed its own emotional intelligence curriculum, which is open to all team members and comprises online videos and self-assessment resources, a mechanism for feedback from co-workers and skill-building workshops that bring together employees from all areas of the company.

“It’s already very popular,” Sullivan says. “We rolled it out three weeks ago and within the first day every class for the year was filled up and now we’re scrambling to figure out how to provide more opportunities. To be honest, when our team created 400 spots I thought we should be fine, and I was shocked to see the demand. This is going to be a real game changer for us.” 

– Cathy Applefeld Olson

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