A hybrid approach to developing individuals and organizations
We live in exciting times in the world of executive development. Like most industries these days, ours is undergoing dramatic change. Globalizing organizations are searching for different kinds of leaders, and they are experimenting with new ways of developing them. They are also rethinking some of the fundamental assumptions regarding how business schools can help.
One assumption they are rethinking is how to use the two activities most business schools offer to their clients: development work aimed at the individual (Open Programs, for example) and development work aimed at the organization (Company-specific Programs, for example). We have seen many organizations use custom programs strategically, and some that use open programs strategically, but few that have blended together in the same learning initiative. Traditionally, organizations have focused almost exclusively on company-specific work designed with organizational needs in mind. They have left it up to individual leaders to choose their own open programs based on their personal needs and desires. Organizations typically valued development initiatives that were created just for them because these initiatives could be carefully crafted to suit their strategic goals and organizational capability needs. Some of the individual participants in these initiatives, however, might have been left the experience unsatisfied that their own personal needs were being adequately addressed. They valued the rich and diverse learning opportunities they found in Open Programs, where they could meet, exchange ideas with and learn from executives from all corners of the world. For their part, organizations sometimes doubted that Open Programs were relevant enough to address the organization's needs.
One of the most interesting trends we are seeing in the global executive development world is the tendency of organizations to embrace a strategic view on individual learning as well as organizational learning in their talent management work. Instead of only focusing on company-specific organizational development work, they are also creating specific individual development plans for each executive that include both company-specific (internal) programs and diverse, rich and focused individual development work through the strategic use of Open Programs.
We are starting to call these blended initiatives "hybrid" programs. Let me describe a recent example.
Last week I met with a learning and development leader who is responsible for building her organization's talent. She has a clear mandate - to ensure that the organization and its leaders remain strong and agile against whatever market pressures come their way - and she is in the process of renewing her strategy for reaching this goal.
During our conversation she mapped out over ten years' worth of development work that the leaders will undertake as their roles expand and responsibilities grow. She included everything you'd hope to see in a thorough and well-thought-out talent development plan: significant work to instil the right values in the organization's emerging leaders; regular discovery expeditions to keep them open-minded and curious; a series of focused and customized capability-building sessions at different milestones for the group to ensure that they build the necessary muscles to steer their organization through competitive storms. By undertaking all of these organizational capability-building activities she ensures that her leaders are always focused, strong and confident. In this respect, she has much in common with learning and development leaders in many organizations.
But she also integrated into her portfolio highly personalized development work designed for the very specific needs of each leader in the talent pipeline. And as part of this personalized development work, she included participation in a few carefully selected Open Programs at different stages in the talent development process.
Why this evolution towards hybrid initiatives that include a strategic approach to individual development? In our experience, for three reasons:
First, some business schools have put tremendous effort into ensuring that their Open Program portfolios are as relevant, innovative and market-driving as any company-specific program could be. They are building into these programs new approaches to learning that expose global leaders to the richest possible sources of learning while also allowing them to put the learning into practise immediately in the organization. They include individual action-learning projects, on-the-job application, personal coaching and even short company-specific modules before or after the Open Program to ensure that the ties between what individuals have learned and what the organization needs from them are strong. So, organizations no longer need to fear that participation in an Open Program is a generic experience detached from the realities of their business. Instead, they recognize that participation in the right Open Program can be a life-changing experience for their leaders that enables them to bring new thinking and fresh energy back to the business.
Second, some business schools have developed new ways of helping their organizational clients map out individual leadership development plans. Since it is not always obvious how an organization's strategy can be translated into organizational capabilities and finally distilled to individual development plans, the task of creating such individualized development is time consuming and sometimes difficult. The more we support this work, the more likely it is that learning and development leaders can integrate it into their talent management activities.
Third, many organizations recognize that while development work designed for the organization might be an excellent source of organizational capability-building, it might not satisfy the desire of each individual leader to create and explore his or her own world of curiosity and learning without a specific organizational objective in mind. It might not also allow their leaders to bring back into the organization the ideas and experiences of leaders from other cultures and industries.
The hybrid designs we're currently developing with our clients include a rich mix of company-specific program work, individual coaching and mentoring, individual action learning projects, and the careful use of selected Open Programs to ensure that certain capabilities are being built in a rich and diverse external environment.
How will we know when a hybrid initiative has been successful? When both the organization and each of its leaders are fundamentally transformed by the hybrid experience.
When the leaders who go through it tell us afterwards, "You changed my life!" By that they mean: I am now more confident, more curious, more capable, more energized to help my organization.
And when learning and development leaders and their CEOs tell us, "You changed our company!" And by that they mean: we are making smarter strategic choices, seizing new opportunities, and executing much more efficiently.
Michael Stanford is Executive Director of IMD's Partnership Program business, and serves on the Boards of the University Consortium for Executive Development (UNICON) and the International Consortium for Executive Development Research (ICEDR). He has been at IMD for 18 years.