learning projects after a program ends. These projects, if crafted carefully and facilitated well, can deliver positive results. However, talented individuals should not have to wait until after a program ends and a project begins to engage in active learning and apply what they have learned. The best leadership programs engage the participants in a vibrant dialogue. More important, they go well beyond case studies. While that pedagogical approach certainly has great value, it must be complemented with other active learning approaches.
WEAVE THE RIGHT ELEMENTS INTO PROGRAMS The best learning programs incorporate techniques such as role-plays, simulations, self-assessments, experiential group exercises, and others. They do not proceed in a linear fashion from content delivery at the front end to application back to the business near the conclusion. Instead, facilitators weave together the introduction of new ideas with discussions of how those ideas play out in that organization. For example, a case study illustrating a series of decisionmaking biases could be presented in two ways. You could go through the entire case study, discuss all the biases, and then talk about the prevalence of those biases in that particular organization. A better approach moves fluidly between case study and application. When someone identifies the sunk cost bias in the case study, you then move into a discussion of examples of this bias in action at the firm. People can share why they fell into this trap, and then they might brainstorm ideas for how managers can prevent or avoid the sunk cost bias. The facilitator can then move back to the case study to explore other decision biases, returning to application periodically throughout the discussion. This integrated approach makes the relevance of key ideas and frameworks immediately clear to participants and helps them begin to connect the dots to their own leadership experiences at the company. When they see those connections early on, they become more invested in the leadership development program.
GET SENIOR EXECUTIVES INVOLVED Of course, none of these efforts will have much of an impact unless they have strong executive sponsorship, support, and involvement. Korn Ferry’s 2015 study found that a “lack of executive sponsorship” remains the prime reason why many leadership development efforts fail to achieve their potential. People need to know that senior executives care about their development and believe in the importance of investing in future leaders. Here are the ways senior leaders can effectively sponsor these opportunities: Hold managers responsible for their people’s development. Top executives can demonstrate support for learning and development by making it clear to managers that they must
provide meaningful development opportunities to their people. Senior executives must hold managers accountable for more than just financial results. They have to hold them responsible for nurturing and developing future leaders, and they cannot tolerate it when managers stop people from taking part in key development opportunities time and again because of the need to “get the real work done.” Be personally involved in the development process. Senior executives cannot just delegate this work to their chief learning officers. They must be willing to spend time with key people in the talent pipeline, sharing their experiences, imparting knowledge, listening to their concerns, and asking for their input. At companies such as Mars, GE, Union Pacific, and Textron, senior leaders take the time to get involved with the participants in key leadership development efforts. That personal investment shows people that senior leaders care about the learning and growth of employees. It also creates opportunities for mentoring relationships to take root or expand. Most important, it allows for the direct sharing of ideas. When the lines of communication are opened through such direct contact, it often helps talented junior people feel more comfortable about speaking up when they have an innovative idea, or perhaps when they have a concern about product quality or safety. Companies clearly know that they can do better with leadership development, and they want a return on the $17 billion investment they are making. Addressing these four major flaws can improve the efficacy of leadership development efforts. In so doing, they can build the talent pipeline in their organizations, reduce skills gaps, and decrease the need for expensive external searches to fill key positions. More effective leadership development efforts will yield more engaged employees, and higher engagement is linked to the boosting of productivity and retention. Top executives can create better opportunities for their people to develop and grow, but it is also important that individuals partake in these opportunities and invest in themselves. Ralph Cordiner, the legendary CEO of GE who created the company’s management development institute in Crotonville, NY, put it best when he said, “Nobody is going to order a man to develop.... Whether a man lags behind or moves ahead in his specialty is a matter of his own personal application. This is something which takes time, work, and sacrifice. Nobody can do it for you.” AQ Michael Roberto is the Trustee Professor of Management and director of Bryant University’s Center for Program Innovation. He has written more than 30 case studies that are used in virtually every U.S. business school and are published through Harvard. Six are bestsellers, including a case study and interactive simulation of the Columbia space shuttle disaster. He has published two books, including the business bestseller Why Great Leaders Don’t Take Yes for an Answer (FT Press, 2005). Follow him on Twitter at @MichaelARoberto
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Journal of The American Management Association