Category Archives: Talent Management

Experience-Driven Formal Development Programs

SIOP2015Over the years, I’ve picked up a number of tactics for getting the most out of participating in professional conferences. One tactic is to organize conference sessions on topics you want to learn more about and invite people doing interesting work related to that topic to participate. In other words, create a session you can’t wait to attend, which is exactly what I did for the recent SIOP conference in Philadelphia (Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology).

Since I was intrigued with this notion of enhancing the impact of formal development programs by making them a force for experience-driven learning, I invited five colleagues who were designing and delivering such programs to share their work and insights:

  • Vicki Tardino talked about Boeing’s program for executives who have just moved into director-level jobs and how the program puts the transition experience at the center, surrounding it with tools and supporting roles to maximize learning from that experience.
  • Laura Ann Preston-Dayne focused on Kelly Services’ program to develop a community of “solutionaires” (senior consultants who can design creative talent solutions for clients’ complex workforce issues) via formal learning events and hands-on skill building with a sponsor.
  • Vicki Flaherty described IBM’s program to develop top MBA graduates on an accelerated path to general management positions—a program that integrates structured job rotations, coaching and mentoring, and training opportunities.
  • Lyndon Rego shared insights from a program CCL co-designed for middle-level managers in the rapidly changing microfinance environment in India and the learn-apply-teach approach that serves as the foundation of the program.
  • Erica Desrosiers described the key design elements in Walmart’s formal programs to accelerate the readiness of their top talent for new roles, including an emphasis on leaders developing leaders and opportunities to apply knowledge gained in the classroom to real experiences in the field.

Here are some key ideas I took away from the session—ideas about how to make formal development programs more impactful:

  • Build the program around people experiencing the same challenging assignment. We often call a group of people attending the same program a “cohort,” assuming that the shared program experience itself will band them together as a learning community. And it does to some extent. But when you connect people who are dealing with similar on-the-job challenges, like moving to a director-level job at Boeing or working as a microfinance middle manager in the rural part of a developing country, you up the developmental power of the experience. People are not just learning from their own experience, they are learning from each other’s experiences. They are able to bring different perspectives to bear on shared problems. And they find comfort and confidence in knowing that they are not alone, that others struggle with the same challenges, and that they now have access to companions on the same journey.
  • Make use of well-known methods for integrating learning and doing. For example, the sponsors in Kelly’s program employ an apprenticeship approach, building skills in participants by observing and coaching them as they do work side-by-side. Building on the notion that individuals deepen their own learning by teaching others, the program for microfinance managers requires participants to teach program content to their own staff members and together discovering ways to apply it in their own context. And Walmart’s Leadership Academy has intensified what I would label the “educational field trip” by making these experiences both practice fields for trying out new techniques and real work that benefits the organization.
  • Provide participants valuable experiences that are often hard to get. IBM’s program rotates participants through three key assignments to give them breadth of experience and to target each participant’s development needs. Several of the programs provide the opportunity to have real conversations and interactions with senior executives (rather than just see the “public” face of these executives). And it is important to make sure the program provides what formal coursework has often uniquely offered participants: the experience of stepping back, taking a deeper look at oneself, reflecting in the midst of new experiences, and being more aware of what and how one is learning.

Many thanks to the session participants (and audience members who asked great questions). To learn more, you can access their presentation slides here.

I’m still intrigued and would love to hear about your own efforts to design and implement more experience-driven approaches to formal development programs.

Getting the Most Out of 70-20-10

make things happenMany organizations claim to embrace the concept of 70-20-10 as a learning approach. The idea of 70% learning on-the-job, 20% learning through others, and 10% formal learning/training seems logical, thus the framework is pervasive in corporate learning. Unfortunately, many employees, managers, and even learning leaders misunderstand – and fail to leverage – the 70%.

Too often learning and talent professionals think, “OK – so the on-the-job learning happens anyway, let’s focus on the parts we can actually plan like coaching and formal training.” The first problem with just letting the 70% “happen” is the lack of focus on getting the right experiences, particularly those that will stretch people to gain new skills and competencies. The second problem is that the “20” and “10” parts are often disconnected from on-the-job experiences.

To address both problems, development should start from the 70%. On-the-job learning should be a very deliberate exercise in choosing experiences that help a person grow capability by planning job situations beyond his or her comfort zone. An individual development plan discussion should be focused on questions like, “What are two experiences in the next job you want to be in that you could try now?” Once the right experiences are identified, additional ingredients like other people (20%) and formal learning (10%) can be introduced as direct supports to the on-the-job elements. Support from others should be directly positioned to help the person through the experience. Similarly, formal training should be positioned to support specifically-chosen, on-the-job challenges.

DHL2What does this look like in practice? Drawing on my doctoral research at the University of Pennsylvania, my team at DHL created a special accelerator program for technology project managers. The research looked closely at the kinds of experiences that information-technology project managers claimed to help them develop. The findings described a variety of challenging on-the-job events that pushed people outside their own comfort zones, but with strong support from developmental relationships. For a pilot “learning from experience” initiative, the company tapped 13 senior project managers to identify current challenges and work closely with top project leaders, who served as coaches and facilitators. The small groups met every three weeks for six months to review projects, work though challenges, and explore ways to steer the project to success. While all project managers showed positive development, the people who made the biggest gains were the ones who had been facing significant project challenges.

In addition, DHL has built a process to help ensure that on-the-job experiences are part of the DNA of learning. We have development guides outlining a menu of experiences for different job roles. These guides are based on the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA), a leading IT competency model. Managers and employees can select experiences based on current roles or next-step roles. For example, a junior IT service leader might pick “lead customer service review” as an action that, combined with support from others, might be one of the right stretches to help build capability and confidence.

Do people learn through experiences that just happen anyway? Probably—but organizations that constantly challenge people to plan the right experiences supported by other people and formal learning will build capability much faster and ultimately out-compete firms that miss this golden opportunity.

Getting More Than 10% From Formal Development Programs

classroomLast fall at SIOP’s Leading Edge Consortium, I was intrigued by a presentation by James Cameron, the Global Talent Development VP at Walmart. Alluding to the 70-20-10 framework for leader development, he talked about how to get more than 10% from formal development programs.

I like the idea of challenging the status quo:  Just because education and training programs account for around 10% of the key developmental experiences in executives’ careers as they look back doesn’t mean that these programs can’t (or shouldn’t) have more impact going forward.  James turned his presentation into a short case that you can find in the Best Practice Cases section of the website.

Now I see a number of the practices and programs described in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent and in Experience-Driven Leader Development through this “more than 10%” lens.  Among the contributions in these books, two main strategies are described for better integrating formal development programs and on-the-job development—boosting the power of each:

  • Generate more real-time interplay between the content of the program and the participants’ on-the-job leadership challenges. The program becomes a learning laboratory where knowledge and perspectives encountered via coursework can be immediately applied to current challenges and tried out on the job.  Spacing program sessions over time allows participants to share their on-the-job application experiences with one another, get advice and additional insights, and then fine-tune their next round of application. A recent innovation with this approach is the “flipped classroom” in which content is delivered virtually with assignments to make use of the content in one’s current work; face-to-face classroom time is reserved for interactions that test and deepen understanding[1]. Timing programs to coincide with taking on a new leadership challenge is a key design element for this strategy.
  • Make a stretch experience the centerpiece of the development program.  Other learning tactics (e.g., coaching, feedback, reflection, access to content) are employed, but specifically in support of maximizing learning from the experience. Often the experience is a team-based action learning project—a broadening experience outside of one’s current responsibilities. The intensity of the experience can be heightened, for example, by making it a short-term assignment in another part of the world or at corporate headquarters working with senior executives[2].  Or the central stretch experience of the program can be one that the participants already have in common, for example, all of the participants are in the first year of their first supervisory experience[3].

James shares similar strategies used at Walmart, although several have interesting twists.  For example, cohort groups in a program are facilitated by a manager who is currently in the job that the participants will be moving into. The facilitator’s job during cohort discussions is to connect the content of the program with the challenges the participants will likely face in the new job.

However, James also shares an additional strategy for getting more than 10% from formal programs:  Make the program as challenging as a job.  You can get fired from Walmart’s Leadership Academy for not demonstrating that you are open to learning during the program.  Your facilitator could be a senior leader who will later make decisions about who has the right stuff to move up in the organization.  You will be assigned leadership roles in the classroom. High stakes, visibility, and influence without authority are characteristics of developmental assignments. The challenge is to build these same characteristics into formal programs.

It reminds me of an intriguing question I first heard from Mary Plunkett:  How do you make the “10” more like the “70”?  How do you do that?  And are there any downsides to such an approach?


[1] See how Lori Homer did this at Microsoft (chapter 14 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent) and how Lyndon Rego and colleagues apply the concept at CCL (contribution 59 in Experience-Driven Leader Development).

[2] See IBM Corporate Service Corps case by Vicki Flaherty and Mathian Osicki (chapter 10 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent) and the GSK Future Strategy Group case by Kim Lafferty and Steve Chapman (chapter 9 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent).

[3] See how Mary Mannion Plunkett and Dagmar Daubner created such a program at Heineken (chapter 15 in Using Experience to Develop Leadership Talent).

Refresh Succession with Role-Specific Development

question marksHow up-to-date is your succession plan for key senior roles? Not just in terms of candidates, but in terms of knowing what it takes to lead at the top levels of the organization?

To develop successors for C-level and other top executives, identifying competencies is just one part of knowing “what it takes.” Talent management and potential executives also need to understand the kinds of relationships and the experiences that prepare people to take on these complex roles – and then create role-specific development plans. We call those specific competencies, relationships, and experiences “role factors” for success.

Context is also a player in this equation. Business challenges and realities shift. Organizations grow, adapt, and pursue new strategies. Markets change and new challenges and opportunities emerge. What it takes to do senior-level jobs will change. So critical competencies, relationships, and experiences need to be regularly refreshed and development plans amended to keep pace.

In our organization, Kelly Services, we considered ourselves to be pretty aware of what was involved in six key, senior leader roles (CEO, COO, senior operation and function leads). We also place high value on experience-based development (EBD) and hold the belief that a well-selected or crafted experience could help to build both competence and relationships.

Even so, we wondered what nuances exist in each senior-level role that would help us better identify and prepare candidates to take these posts in the next 3-5 years. So, we launched a project to get us there.

Step 1: Interviews for Understandinginterview

We engaged a select group of current top leaders (e.g. COO) and their direct manager (e.g. CEO) to participate in 1:1 interviews. Our formal interview process first addressed the context, and then each of three “role factors” that contribute to effectiveness in each role.

  • What is the emerging business reality? We discussed the changing nature of our industry and our company’s strategy. What are the emerging business realities and will they require the same and/or new types of leadership? We began here to set an important context for understanding the role requirements of future leaders.
  • What competencies are critical? We asked, What are the key business challenges we will face in 3-5 years? What skills and abilities will executive leaders need to face these challenges? We focused the interview to identify competencies precisely and to limit the number (5-7) of competencies deemed to be most critical to success in the role. Critical competencies were viewed as useful from both a candidate identification and candidate development standpoint.
  • What relationships are needed? The increased complexity of our business model and organization structure yields more (in both number and diversity) relationships to manage. We asked, What key internal relationships do future executive leaders need to establish? What key external relationships do future executive leaders need to establish? We also discussed what makes those relationships important and how they might be established.
  • What experiences matter most? We dug deeply into the idea of experience, asking, Which were your most critical experiences in your development as an executive leader? and What new experiences will be critical for the next generation of executive leaders? Our staunch belief in experienced-based development (EBD) was a driver of this project, so the focus on key experiences was important and illuminating.

Step 2: What We Learnedmagnify

Understanding of the emerging business context, competencies, relationships, and experiences helped us create well-rounded role profiles. Analysis of interviews also identified role-specific information that could be useful in planning development of potential successors, including:

  • Each role required some unique, specific competence. Distinct requirements of each role demanded unique skills. For example, the CEO role involves running Board of Director meetings and building a relationship with the lead Director and Executive Chairman of the Board.
  • Some specific factors overlap. Some factors were important to a role, but not unique to just one of them. For instance, the ability to build relationships with large customers was critical for several roles and often learned by serving as a large account sponsor.
  • Some factors could shift. Some competencies were needed within the executive team – but the specific role through which competence was provided was unimportant. Policy making and legislative influence was one example and could be developed through legislative body committee membership.

Step 3: Connect to Leader Development

Our interviews and analysis refined our thinking about what is needed in specific senior-level roles – and also areas that are needed collectively within the executive team.

Our next step was – and continues to be – connecting that insight to candidates for succession. How  will we help them get the experiences that give them the perspective, the skills, and the relationships they need for the future? Here’s what is currently underway:

  •  Assess and identify candidates for development based on role-specific capabilities and interest.
  • Use analyses to provide a realistic job preview for leaders being considered for specific roles.
  • Determine what experiences need to be designed or gained to fill in gaps.
  • Amend development plans of current and newly identified successor candidates.
  • Execute experienced-based development, with feedback and support.

While this process is far from over, we’re enthusiastic about the direction it is taking. We’re having new, analyses-driven conversations and thoughtful dialogue about the importance of well-chosen experiences to prepare for future roles. We’ve also seen heightened interest in EBD among leaders in the pipeline and are continuing to make progress. We have a plan to refresh our role-specific information every three years.

What about you? How detailed do you get in understanding the requirements of key roles? Are you finding ways to tailor individual development experiences for future leaders? How do you connect what potential successors are learning and doing today with what they’ll need for the next job?


Navigating the Promise and Peril of Assignment Re-entry

This article was originally posted on the Center for Creative Leadership’s Leading Effectively blog.

148204705-500One in four. That’s the number of organizations in a recent survey by Cartus that reported difficulties in repatriating international assignees and making good use of their experiences. When asked what aspect of their global mobility program they were most interested in improving, the top choice (58%) was repatriation and career management.

These are troubling statistics when you consider how much organizations invest in expatriates and how much is expected in return. They expose a common blind spot in managing developmental assignments. Not just international assignments, but other common types of experiences such as making a functional shift or playing a critical role in a turnaround or start-up effort. Greater attention is frequently given to putting the right people in the right assignments and prepping them for success than considering, “What happens next?”

Too often, they go off track. Employees experience frustration with limited opportunities to apply the insights and skills they learned during the assignment. Further difficulties stem from coming back to a job environment either very different or very similar to what they experienced before. Organizations experience a letdown effect from setting their expectations too high for what the employee can accomplish post-assignment.

When things fizzle after a high-profile developmental assignment, it’s a loss for all parties. The organization is unable to capitalize on its investment and is forced to consider other options for finding the strategic talent it needs. The employee is left to struggle with lower engagement, decreased commitment, and diminished career expectations. What started out with such promise can sometimes sadly result in a premature parting of ways.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way. Try these practices to avoid the post-assignment blues:

Ask the right questions at the beginning. What are the individual’s developmental needs? How does the experience provide opportunities to develop these needs? How can the organization leverage what has been learned? How does this relate to the person’s career interests and goals?

Maintain dialogue. A lot can happen between the beginning and end of an assignment. Individuals learn some things they expected and others they didn’t. Personal interests and priorities shift. Business conditions change and strategies evolve. Keep track of the changes as you go.

Continually assess learning. Learning from experience isn’t linear and occurs at an uneven pace. Depending on the length of the assignment, opportunities to apply and refine learning might be limited. Maintain a realistic view of how the individual is progressing against expectations.

Prepare for re-entry well in advance. Three months is too late. Six months might be okay. Better yet, be prepared to start thinking about next steps after the initial “settling in” period has passed.

Identify opportunities for application. Both parties need to weigh in on this. Look for opportunities to meet the organization’s strategic needs and the individual’s career aspirations.

Keep the learning going. Most individuals who thrive in developmental assignments are lifelong learners. They’re more inclined to seek the next challenge than a return to normal. Consider how the next assignment continues to stretch them.

The risk-reward ratio for developmental assignments is high. Commitment to planning, communication, and partnership needs to happen through all phases of the process: before, during, and after. That strengthens your odds of avoiding the mishaps and celebrating the successes.