Most organisations have accepted that when it comes to developing a leadership pipeline conventional classroom trainings might not be enough. As a result, they are now looking at creating leadership incubators to impart the required leadership and management skills to their HiPos and to help them assess their ability in applying learning and leading others. Leadership incubators, also popularly known as greenhouse programmes, are based on action learning. They are organised with the idea of identifying HiPos, training them for future leadership roles, assessing the time frame in which different HiPos will be ready to take leadership responsibilities.
Different organisations have different ways of conducting these programmes but there are some commonalities: Incubators are usually conducted over a few months and are a structured mix of learning modules, on-the-job coaching and action learning through group working on real life business problem statements. Usually,these modules are prepared in respect with the 70-20-10 guideline.
Incubators are designed on the basis of a company’s requirements. For example, a Fortune 100 IT company identifies project management, creative problem solving, decision making and effective communication as critical behaviours for their future technical leads. The incubator starts off with a kick-off programme led by senior technical leaders to set the context for participants. Different activities are designed to understand the expectations of all 160 participants in the incubator and integrate these into the design of the intervention.
Participants are then divided in eight batches, with each batch divided in four Action Learning Groups (ALGs). Each ALG is assigned a real life problem statement to work on during the incubator. Based on inputs from the business, HR and the participants, three learning modules are designed. Each batch goes through these modules with a month between each learning event. After four months, ALGs pitch their solutions to their senior technical leaders.
The objective of the final pitch is to assess the participant’s ability to apply essentials of project management, creative problem solving and decision making and their ability to “sell” their solutions to others. The company then decides whether the solutions presented are implementable or not.
The advantage for organisations is clear: The selections to these programmes help them identify highest potential candidates in their organisation, get senior leaders to act as mentors to these high-potentials and get a clear idea about where the leadership strength of the organisation lies and who is ready to take on leadership responsibility. Another not-so-direct benefit is getting cross-functional group of managers to work towards different business problems and providing solutions to them.
I believe that the introduction of action learning is probably the most important change to have happened in the leadership development training space in the last few years.
One important trend that is being seen in this regard is that some organisations are engaging their senior leaders to impart these trainings. In such cases, service providers design the learning content and process for them and engage senior leaders in the role of coach or mentors. Many organisations have also started investing in training senior management in coaching skills so that they can effectively support participants of leadership incubator programmes.
Leadership incubators have a clear advantage over classroom trainings, which do not allow organisations to assess leadership preparedness of their HiPos. These are an effective way to assess how participants apply organisational learnings to provide solutions to real business problems and to lead others. For participants, it is a more engaging way to develop critical skills that they will need as they grow in the organisation but also a sign that their leadership trusts them to solve mission-critical problems.