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Program design should reflect development offerings that meet the unique needs of each leader
As leadership development evolves, we’re seeing clients implement methods to make learning personal and experiential for their leaders. Whether that is balancing classroom activities with on-demand resources or promoting both internal and external opportunities, L&D is giving leaders more choice in the development opportunities that fit best with their leadership needs and challenges.
Designing Programs for Personalized Development
If we contemplate instructional design starting at the foundation—needs analysis—we intuitively know from our day-to-day work with leaders that there are plenty of challenges leaders share in common. They have a set of results they must deliver through their people and they struggle with influencing their teams to achieve objectives. They deal with uncertainties and volatility in the marketplace every day and organizational changes that are more dynamic by the moment. They are also navigating a set of complex relationship up and around them (with their manager and peers). Just to name a few!
Outside of these shared challenges, leaders also have their own unique context and situation:
- They could have inherited dysfunctional dynamics within their team
- They could be new to the organization and still learning the culture and industry
- They could be a first-time manager
- They could be making the transition from leading one team to now leading multiple teams
- They could have a seasoned team that is now being asked to shift strategic focus to a brand-new set of priorities
Whatever the situation, leaders are first and foremost individuals and we need to meet them where they are right now.
Therefore, leadership development solutions should be designed to provide learning opportunities that address BOTH what they share in common and what is unique to them as individuals. Personalization and choice, then, are the mechanisms to address vast differences in leader needs.
How to Leverage Personalization + Choice
Classroom learning remains a powerful learning opportunity and it won’t go anywhere soon. One way to adjust for more personalization in your program frameworks is to leverage multiple learning modalities, both inside and outside the classroom.
We’ve written before about “choose-your-own-adventure” style programs and how the element of choice paired with variety of experiential opportunities can impact leader engagement and participation levels. Leaders want to learn in a variety of ways and allowing for these more personalized components means that leaders are able to choose the format that best fits their learning styles, the topics most necessary for their role, and even the amount of development they want to attend.
We’ve been encouraging clients to leverage more than just formal methods of development in their portfolios too. We often recommend providing a balance of informal on-the-job and cross-functional learning opportunities for participants. On-the-job learning has become the standard with more than 90 percent of organizations including it within their programs (according to ATD’s 2016 State of the Industry report).
Here are some of the ways we’re seeing clients incorporate more personalization and on-the-job experiences in their leadership programs:
- Coaching and Mentoring: Individual and group coaching have always been a great way to help individuals personalize what they’re learning by giving them a space to discuss how knowledge applies in the context of their daily work. Having a mentor as a part of a leadership program not only helps with retention, but can give a leader insight on how to best navigate the culture and structure of the organization so they can overcome obstacles and understand the business more deeply.
- Peer-To Peer Learning: Peer coaching and coaching by the leader’s one-up manager also facilitate understanding by learning from others’ insights. In our work, we’ve been leveraging peer coaching and manager coaching to provide participants with a full circle of support up, down, and around them as they learn. Also, many clients match participants and ask them to serve as accountability partners through a development experience.
- Experience Outside Your Company: External activities such as community service and board leadership can be incredible development tools for leaders, as well as multi-disciplinary and cross-functional group learning across the organization. Leaders build networks, broaden their view of the business, and even gain industry insight through these informal methods of development.
Program Structure Plays A Role
Finally, we also shouldn’t underestimate the structure of the program itself.
How can a program framework be better designed so that leaders have time to apply learning to their own situations?
For example, breaking up learning objectives into digestible pieces and spreading out leadership programs over time can allow time for practice and for the leader to try a few things and reflect: What works for them? What doesn’t? Leaders can then share successes and challenges with their manager, accountability partner, coach, or mentor in between formal sessions. In addition, program design can account for targeted on-demand resources for leaders to access just-in-time at the right time and place for their own situation and needs.
We believe leadership development should be creative and measurable, so we’re not surprised that research shows the “one-size-fits-all” development program doesn’t usually meet the needs of learners or the expectations of program managers. For programs to be effective, they should provide leaders with development opportunities that provide personal learning experiences. What can you “try on for size” in your own program design that will drive deeper personalization and application for leaders?
Related pieces on best-practices for designing leadership development programs:
- Design Leadership Development Programs that Succeed: Top Trends
- Leader Needs and Preferences Are Changing. Leadership Development Needs to Keep Up.
- Measurement is About Purpose, Not Just Metrics