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Many companies have embraced individual executive coaching and mentoring as key approaches to fuel their talent development initiatives. But these tools are not the only leadership development strategies available. Under certain business circumstances, they can even be imperfect solutions because they don't address the real-world, group dynamics with which executives must contend.
Group-based leadership development, however, requires leaders and potential future leaders to work in unison to:
The group design is based on the following principles:
Group-Based Designs Solve Real-World Business Challenges
The group-based design is ideal for tackling a range of real-world business challenges, such as:
Work Study, Executive Style
VF Corp. is a Fortune 500 Greensboro, N.C.-based apparel company that markets well-known brands such as the The North Face and Wrangler. To help facilitate its executive development process, the company has created the Leadership Institute, a one-week program that brings together rising senior leaders—typically directors and vice presidents—and places them in an intense work group environment where they address real-world challenges.
With its global presence, VF's Leadership Institute attracts executive candidates from around the world. “They have to work together with a cohort of peers whom they don't know really well,” said Ron Lawrence, VF’s vice president for organizational development. “You go into that week, and you've never met this person before and you've never talked to them.”
In addition to conducting personal evaluations and inventories with the candidates, the program uses a case study. Candidates are divided into four teams that compete for a small but coveted award. Typically these leaders-to-be would have weeks to complete these business cases, but at the Leadership Institute, they have less than two days to present their case to an “operating committee” of VF's executive team.
“You've got to work together and depend on each other to make a presentation to the top executives of the company,” said Lawrence. “It’s an environment in which you have to make all the trade-offs [you sometimes have to make] when you're a real business [leader]. Participants ask themselves, ‘Where do I have time to work on something and give it more detail? Where do I have to accept an 80 percent solution and make it go? Where do I have to make assumptions about earnings and business performance and the pro forma? How good are those assumptions, what can I base them on?’”
Lawrence added: “They have to make tough decisions and defend them to the very top of the VF leadership, who ask them the questions they would ask if they were leading a business unit.”
The groups have proven so effective at problem solving in this intense environment, he said, that often organizers give them real-world situations with which the company is grappling to see what the candidates can do.
“We’ll throw a problem out there that is parallel with something that we’re really working on, and we’ll let our operating committee hear thoughts on how that problem could be solved,” he said. “It's a way to have a very real-world tie-in in an action learning mode.”
The program has yielded great results for the company. Thanks to the Leadership Institute and other VF programs, the company averages less than 4 percent voluntary attrition among its top 700 employees.
Program graduates typically see performance improvements in their reviews, especially in areas requiring strong communication skills. And ultimately, the program develops leaders that advance within the company.
“Twenty percent of our brand presidents were identified and developed through this program before they were promoted into their current jobs,” said Lawrence.
Economics of Group-Based Leadership Design
Fees for high-quality, high-impact one-on-one leadership development can range between $25,000 and $250,000 per candidate for roughly a year-long process and 50 hours of face-to-face work with a coach, according to data reported in The Global Consulting Partnership’s report, The ROI of a High-Impact, Group-Based Leadership Development Program. Under most circumstances, a high-quality, high-impact group-based leadership development solution can be delivered for less than the cost of one-on-one leadership development for just one candidate.
Group leadership development activities involving fellow team members are synchronized fully with the organization's strategy, taking advantage of the best combination of classroom learning and real-life business situations. When an organization is faced with the difficulty and complexity of the strategic task at hand, combined with the need to maximize training efficiency and development efforts, this design is an extraordinarily powerful solution for organizations to consider.
Mark Brenner is chairman of The Global Consulting Partnership, a company that provides leadership development and organizational performance solutions for for-profit and nonprofit organizations. For further information, visit www.tgcpinc.com or call (610) 975-9110.
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