The challenge of customizing leadership development
Leadership development, especially at senior levels is about building perspectives
One of the most consistently talked about things in our conversations with organizations in the context of leadership development relates to ‘customizing’ the leadership program, and this discussion happens very early in the engagement. While the idea is apt and relevant, we need to appreciate what customization will mean and how much will make it too much. For example, how effective will a development journey be if it is too close to the industry which the organization represents?
Leadership development, especially at senior levels is about building perspectives. The learners are so familiar with their industry that certain paradigms get formed about what and how things work. An effective development intervention needs to challenge such paradigms. A leadership development journey needs to ensure that the learners are exposed to situations and circumstances that are beyond their industry as it broadens their perspective and encourages them to think beyond the obvious.
Study Missions and Leaders Speak Sessions are very effective tools in this regard as they allow leaders to observe and appreciate the on-ground challenges and how they are addressed. The leaders also get to interact with the key leaders from the host organization. The objective is to understand their leadership challenges, their perspective and their strategic responses to them.
However, here comes the customization challenge. It is important how the learning journey is carried forward post the completion of the Study Mission. If there is no action post this, then the Study Mission acts as just another “field-trip” for the leaders. The learners need to be given the opportunity to implement the learnings in their own organizational context – keeping their strategic priorities in mind. They need to interpret and apply the learnings to their organization’s reality, including their cultural context. Even a small process change implemented will ensure the success of the learning journey. However, the customization challenge is to take it beyond an interesting story telling session, ensuring the learnings are applied in the organizational context and culture.
The other challenge of customization is related to ‘personalizing’ the development journey of the learners. Personalization can happen at two levels. At the ‘Goal Level’of personalization, one needs to be mindful that individual learners’development goals are given due focus. The ‘Leaning Style’ personalization needs to be sensitive to how the learner is more comfortable learning. For example, is the learner a more visual or auditory learner?
One needs to be careful while designing development interventions and ensure that there is a balance between individual goals and organizational goals. The common minimum aggregation of development goals for all individuals allows one to address them through a common platform. Unique individual development goals can be effectively addressed by coaching or a separate intervention. However, it is important to be pragmatic about how wide one can go to address a diverse range of development needs.
Effective use of technology allows personalization of a development program both at a goal and learning style level. Use of multimedia content and learning apps have also been very effective in serving relevant content anywhere-anytime.Customization is a fine balancing act that needs to be done at the design phase of a development journey. One needs to be true to the development goals and to appreciate the benefits of looking beyond. A great design will tread in the middle of external perspective and the organizations context – and will marry the two. Layer it with content that is personalized and we have a high-impact leader development journey.