By Bonnie Hagemann, CEO, Executive Development Associates, and Steve Terrell, Ed.D., President, Aspire Consulting
Despite the lingering recession and the many challenges leadership and executive development professionals face today, innovative and exciting executive/leadership developmentprojects are gaining momentum. Demographic shifts alone are forcing corporations, governments, nonprofits, and educational institutions alike to evaluate their current leadership capabilities, as well as the strength and depth of their bench.Statistics tell us that Baby Boomers are retiring at a rate of one every eight seconds. Today’s companies have as much as 60 percent of their workforce eligible for retirement within the next five years. On top of all that, technology continues to progress at warp speed, and the skills senior leaders needed in the past are no longer enough.
While great leadership fundamentals remain the same, there is increased pressure to understand the global marketplace and technology advances, develop the leaders of the future, and make complex decisions at the speed of light, while simultaneously considering both the macro and the micro level impact on the people and the organization. Executives today are up against some challenging problems, and they are expected to make sound judgments. One of our clients said:
“Our business is changing rapidly and more decisively than ever before, and we need to quickly have something in place to redefine our expectations of leaders during this time, and to provide specific ways of preparing them to lead differently…can we have this in one month?”—Director, Executive Leadership Development
In today’s complex and fast-paced work environment, this type of expectation of executive development resources from the top leaders is becoming more the norm than the exception. In response to the need for both speed and executive engagement, leadership development professionals must create new approaches to assess and design executive and leadership development strategies and programs.
It is practically impossible to gain the full engagement of executives unless they have been involved in the process, and getting them involved in the process is a challenge in itself. However, there are ways to engage your leaders in a fairly unobtrusive manner where they feel that, at a minimum, they have had a say in their own development needs.
Two primary ingredients necessary for a successful and executive-owned design are:
By including these two primary ingredients, you not only will increase senior line leaders’ understanding, acceptance, and support of the solution by actively involving them in the process, but also enhance the business value of the designs and reduce the “time to market” by half.
Include Them in the Needs Assessment
Companies frequently express a concern that their line executives don’t have ownership, at best, and don’t even support, at worst, their executive/leadership development strategy or programs. The standard of dependence upon Human Resources for design, development, and delivery of executive and leadership development programs has come into question as line executives seek to ensure that their development investment is clearly linked to and in support of company strategy and line management priorities. Too often, HR has been solely responsible for developing or choosing executive/leadership development programs that then are presented to line executives for review and approval. Since the line leaders typically have little or no input to the solution, HR is put in a position of having to “sell” their solution to a skeptical audience, resulting in low sponsorship and support from the line organization. When leaders feel they have had a chance to voice their needs and concerns, they are much more likely to feel engaged in the process. They also want to know that either they or a credible representative has been involved in the design to ensure that the learning meets the needs and is practical versus theoretical.
Include a Subset of the Executives in the Design Process
In addition, many organizations are experiencing an increasing need to shorten the “time to market” of new executive and leadership development projects. This need for speed is in direct response to rapidly changing dynamics within organizations, industries, and the global economy. Traditional approaches to assessment and design involve conducting large numbers of lengthy executive interviews and highly iterative design and development processes, and often require six months or more to complete. Emphasis often is placed on designing the “perfect” solution, giving too much attention to design elements that often change upon review and adding to the time investment with little return on that investment.
However it doesn’t have to be that way. The design can be developed with great speed and leader buy-in with an appropriate process. One example of an approach we have found helpful is the Rapid-Cycle Design (RCD) process. Through this process we can quickly, and with a high degree of confidence, validate/identify specific executive/leadership capabilities needed to address marketplace challenges, achieve business objectives, generate creative strategy and program design options, and build early understanding and acceptance by key stakeholders through involving them in the process. RCD reflects the new realities of today’s rapid pace of change in the business world, higher expectations of leaders, and the ever-growing demand that executive/leadership development be tightly connected to company strategy.
Figure 1: Comparison of the Traditional Approach vs. Rapid-Cycle Design Process
RCD provides a way to achieve greater results through the optimum combination of speed and engagement. In the typical approach, too much effort is expended to develop the perfect strategy or program design (to “get it right”), and typically not enough effort is invested in generating acceptance of the concepts by key stakeholders. Focusing too much effort on getting it perfect (a lengthy and ultimately impossible task) and not enough on generating acceptance often minimizes the potential impact of a great idea. However, by generating ideas early in the process that are directionally correct, and then engaging line leaders in reacting to them, validating them, and contributing to the design, we are able to increase buy-in and generate a much higher-impact solution for the organization.
This type of process quickly produces several critical outcomes, many of which would not be generated through traditional means:
Download Figure 2 at the end of this article to see an illustration of the Rapid-Cycle Designprocess.
The Rapid-Cycle Design includes two complementary components: Rapid-Cycle Diagnostics and the Rapid-Cycle DesignWorkshop.
The Rapid-Cycle Diagnostics process allows us to identify and/or validate the capabilities that are needed to address the company’s marketplace challenges and to achieve the strategy. In addition to traditional needs assessment methods, such as face-to-face interviews, Rapid-Cycle Diagnostics utilizes Web-based diagnostic surveys. This enables a broad reach into the organization to quickly obtain input from a large number of stakeholders regarding strategic business issues, marketplace challenges, competitive strengths and weaknesses, and required and current leadership capabilities. By using a Web-based survey, you can include all of your key stakeholders in the needs assessment portion. Everyone gets a say. The process generates significantly increased engagement and ownership, and is completed in about 10 days versus the months a traditional process requires.
Rapid-Cycle Diagnostics comprises four critical components:
Once the needs analysis is complete, the Rapid-Cycle Design Workshop processes utilize a blend of virtual activities and physical design workshops. This workshop engages HR and a group of credible line leaderswho will adequately represent the organization’s executives in defining the specific priorities and processes to be included in the executive/leadership development strategic solution. As a result, the ultimate solution is line leader “owned” and HR implemented. “If they build it, they will come.”
The Rapid-Cycle Design Workshop comprises four key components:
1. Preparation/Pre-Work: Workshop participants are invited to use a custom-designed Website to prepare them for workshop participation, to ensure that everyone starts at the same level of understanding.
2. Rapid-Cycle Design Workshop: This is a workshop that engages line and Human Resource/Executive Development/Leadership Development leaders in the work of converting business themes and capability gaps into the Executive Development/Leadership Development (ED/LD) strategy and/or program design.
3. Sponsor Review and Input: Following the RCD Workshop, key stakeholders review the recommended strategy and/or program design(s) with the sponsor(s) of the initiative and solicit their input in order to:
4. Final Strategy and Program Design: After the sponsor’s input to the recommended strategy and/or program design(s) has been obtained, the final version—integrating sponsor input and direction—is developed in detail.
As leadership development professionals adjust to the changing times, we are discovering that we can create meaningful learning experiences by using a powerful set of philosophies and tools that can significantly reduce the time required for needs analysis and design/development of executive/leadership development strategies and programs, while also significantly increasing senior line leaders’ understanding, acceptance, and support by involving them in the process. With the right preparation, follow-through, and implementation, we will be able to create powerful programs that leaders will value and incorporate. Ultimately, we will do our part to prepare our corporate leaders to tackle the extreme challenges and wicked problems before them.
Bonnie Hagemann is CEO of Executive Development Associates, a 29-year-old boutique consulting firm in custom executive development. Hagemann specializes in executive development, executive coaching, and high potential development. To date, she has conducted coaching programs for more than 65 leaders in medium and large organizations, including seven organizational presidents. She has delivered more than 250 presentations and speeches on leadership, teambuilding, communication, conflict, and behavior. Hagemann has 11 published works and is co-author of the 2010 book, “Decades of Difference: Making it Work,” on the shifting workforce demographics and their impact on leadership. Contact her at email@example.com.
Steve Terrell, Ed.D, is president of Aspire Consulting, a leadership development consultant with 30 years of experience in improving organizational and human performance. Terrell founded Aspire Consulting in 2002. A leadership development expert, his past roles include: executive director of Consulting Services at Executive Development Associates; director of the Leadership Practice at Dove Consulting; senior manager in Change Navigation and Leadership Development at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture); and SVP of Leadership Development at Nations Bank (now Bank of America). Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.