A Case Study: Improving the Impact of Leadership Development

By: Daniel Russell

Second of two-part series

In our last blog post, we talked about how organizations are integrating leadership development and transformational-change programs to more effectively align human capital to the business strategy. That post highlighted how programs that provide distinctive and sustainable impact are (1) embedded in the context and strategy of the organization, (2) focused on the organizational journey—rather than a cohort, (3) designed to ensure transfer of learning, and (4) aligned with supporting processes and systems. We have seen the success of this approach firsthand with multiple companies, and we provide a case study in this final part of the series.

A global outsourcing company needed to create more client-centric account teams that were more innovative and focused on value rather than simply keeping the lights on. The commercial leadership in this organization clearly had to embrace and model new behaviors for the entire business unit.

We began the process by interviewing members of the commercial and operations leadership team to gain an intimate understanding of their business challenges and context. We learned a great deal about the services they provide, their clients, capabilities, and aspirations. We also gathered detailed information about the processes, systems, and frameworks within which they operate. Pulling all of this together, we designed a skill-building and practice program that was true to life and relevant to their day-to-day work.

The senior-most leaders in the business unit were coached to deliver the program with enthusiasm and authenticity. To kick it off, the participant leaders were gathered into small teams and each given a business challenge to solve. These challenges were basically loaded questions highlighting the need to change their ways of working and leading. After the leaders had worked through the scenarios, the business-unit president debriefed the team, tying their responses to the new business-unit strategy and emphasizing the urgency of change. The exercise created a psychological “burning platform,” which could be easily addressed by embracing the new strategy.

Leaders were taught new skills and provided an opportunity to practice them in an offsite environment, which felt safe yet was still contextually relevant. Leveraging carefully trained senior leaders as teachers helped contextualize the learning as well as provided an opportunity to reinforce and model the new skills. As leaders gained comfort with the new ways of working and leading, they were asked to apply them to a real business issue they had been previously asked to prepare and bring to the offsite. Working with peer leaders and applying the new skills to a real-life situation served to bridge the learning back to the job. During the program-design phase, we were able to ensure that adjacent processes and systems were aligned to the new ways of working. Following the training, peer mentoring bolstered the momentum and accountability as executives faced the challenges of leading their teams under the new strategy.

In this and other cases where we have done this work, our clients have realized distinctive, sustainable impact by developing leader capability around the change quickly and definitively.

Dan Russell recently presented at the Society for Consulting Psychology in a session entitled,With a Little Help from My Friends: How Strategic Collaboration Among Consultants Improves the Impact of Leadership Development Programs.”



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