It’s time to take a fresh look at leadership development from a design rather than ritual perspective.

Elliott Masie calls out but does not criticize organizational rituals in this article.  A new year is a good time to reflect on your organization’s “rituals.”  Here’s an example from the article.

For example, one ritual might have well-known leadership experts and authors from top-tier business schools spend half a day with potential leaders, summarizing their latest books or research and telling powerful stories about their work with other corporations. This might cost an organization $10,000 to $50,000. It’s powerful, memorable, fun, stimulating – but it’s still a ritual. Why a half day and not three days? Why bring the person in instead of showing a YouTube video of the same story?

Notice he does not criticize the ritual.  He suggests ways to make the experience more meaningful or utilize the money more effectively through technology.  The article specifically focuses on leadership rituals, but I believe it is healthy to look at all our rituals, personal and organizational, to find ways to improve.

We are planning a week-long event that will cost thousands of dollars to put on.  It will take hundreds of hours to organize.  We expect it to be “powerful, memorable, fun, stimulating.”  Is this what we want?  Are we getting the desired result?  Are we seeing improvement?  How do we measure improvement?

Here are recommendations from the article:

  1. Consider duration and delivery: Most leadership programs, particularly at the senior level, are structured as face-to-face events — usually over five to 10 days — often as immersion programs after someone is nominated as a high-potential employee or promoted to a senior level. From a design perspective, let’s consider alternative durations that are shorter or that stretch over two years. Play with hybrid and blended learning modes that decrease the time in the classroom and increase field-based learning.
  2. Leverage technology: Imagine handing leadership candidates a tablet that would serve as their connection to key expertise and feedback — from coaches to video segments done by other leaders — via live video chat. Add a GPS link between the tablet and the talent system, and provide suggested conversations or lunches with key leadership exemplars as they travel to various corporate offices.
  3. Promote expertise shifts and project-based learning: Imagine using the leadership faculty differently. Rather than using sages on the stage, bring them in to observe and facilitate real-time, project-based learning, where the leadership cadre tackles a major challenge facing the organization.
  4. Create real-time redesign: At the end of the next leadership program, take two hours and ask the learners to redesign the program for the next batch of rising leaders. You will be amazed by what they change. They will not see their experience as a ritual; rather, they will give you fresh input about alternatives.
  5. Random selection: Slip a few people into the leadership program who might have been chosen randomly. In other words, challenge your own assumptions about who might be the next leader. If the leadership training is really impactful, it might be interesting to see its effect on a counter-intuitive leader.
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