How to Lead Change with Experience-Driven Development

(This post was originally published in September 2016 on LinkedIn.)

time-for-changeA new Center for Creative Leadership white paper Putting Experience at the Center of Talent Management revisits the 70-20-10 framework for development that stems from CCL’s Lessons of Experience longitudinal research initiated over 40 years ago. The authors of this new report make the case for experience driven-development (the 70%) as a requirement for attracting and retaining talent and for accelerating the development of leaders at all levels.

They sum up the current status of talent management as follows: “But most organizations have one thing in common: They are not maximizing on-the-job opportunities that prepare leaders, develop employees and advance business goals. Learning from experience is the number one way development happens. People gain or fine-tune their abilities and perspectives through their day-to-day work. They learn by doing, by trying, by figuring out.” 

According to these experts, “In spite of the importance of experience-driven development, organizations struggle to tap into this powerful source of learning.” They recommend a comprehensive talent management approach with experience at the center and suggest that organizations get started by asking “How can we incorporate experience-driven development practices with small changes or big steps?” 

With many corporations revising their performance management processes and some eliminating the annual performance review altogether, Individual Development Plans (IDP’s) take on even greater importance. An Individual Development Planning process (or pilot) would be a good starting point for an organization that wants to maximize on-the-job development opportunities. Here are four critical success factors for organizations to consider if they wish to accelerate development through experience-driven individual development planning. These recommendations are gleaned from my experience facilitating development planning with over 300 leaders in four global corporations over a 15 year period at sites in the US, England and France.

1.  Link development planning to change management efforts and strategic goals.

In their recent article Change Management and Leadership Development Have to Mesh authors Ryan W. Quinn and Robert E. Quinn state: “One major reason organizations struggle is because they treat both leadership development and change management as separate rather than interrelated challenges. Cultural changes cannot happen without leadership, and efforts to change culture are the crucible in which leadership is developed.” 

Individual development planning processes that support the 70-20-10 model put the correct emphasis on the 70% of development that comes from challenging work experiences as opposed to traditional development plans that emphasize mentors (accountable for 20% of development) or participation in training programs (accountable for only 10% of development). A “stretch” project that supports organizational strategy and change management needs to become the focal point (the 70%) of the individual development plan.

To integrate development into the “real work” of leaders at all levels, have participants collaborate with their managers on the selection of one challenging project or stretch assignment or stretch goal that supports the organizational change or strategy and make that project the centerpiece of their development plan.

For example, in one pharmaceutical R&D organization that was undergoing globalization and simultaneously forging earlier and more collaborative relationships with their drug discovery counterparts, development planning participants selected projects related to new roles on drug discovery teams, the development of new technologies (e.g. in the realm of biomarkers, animal models and informatics) and leadership roles on Global Practice Networks. These stretch projects and new leadership roles, aligned with change management challenges and priorities, accelerated the growth and confidence of these scientific leaders and provided opportunities for the organizational recognition that is an essential element of leadership development.

Integrating individual development planning with change management also creates buy-in from executive leaders who see the alignment of these individual projects with their visions for change. One global pharmaceutical leader commented on the benefits: “It is very much an applied, practical approach that aligns individual development with the “real work” (projects, portfolio) of R&D effectiveness. The program has enabled me to successfully implement my vision (for change)…”  

2.  Design and use a process that involves assessment, development planning, and implementation of a challenging project over a 9-12 month period. 

Provide participants and their managers with a process, development plan template, discussion guides and timeframes and/or a facilitator to keep the process on track. Here is one example below.


3.  Have participants incorporate an action plan for the challenging project as well as a plan for addressing “soft skills” in the context of the project.

Development plans should include an action plan for the challenging project indicating progress goals and benchmarks–“what” needs to be accomplished “by when.”

The focus on the development of soft skills or interpersonal leadership skills in the context of the challenging project is likewise critical to accelerating development.  Lominger’s Leadership Architect sort cards have proven useful in identifying the soft skills that are needed to address strategic challenges. Participants can zero in on two mission critical soft skills to work on as they execute their development plan over the course of 9-12 months.

For Your Improvement: A Guide for Development and Coaching is a useful guidebook in helping participants define their interpersonal needs and goals. With respect to a specific skill, the participant and his or her manager can identify in behavioral terms, where the participant is unskilled or overusing a skill to the point that it represents a barrier to the implementation of their stretch project or new leadership role.

In the world of scientific leaders, some commonly worked on competencies from the Leadership Architect include Conflict Management, Dealing with Ambiguity, Negotiating, Motivating Others and Political Savvy, to name a few. The FYI book (as it is called) is a source of self-directed learning in that it provides ten remedies for each of the 67 competencies and 19 career stallers included in the book. Participants can select two or three remedies for each of the skills they are working on, apply these remedies in the context of their challenging project or stretch assignment and then reflect on their success and the changes they are making in a follow-up discussion with their manager.  One participant who developed a new technology and then executed its transfer to other global sites states:

“During this process I had to utilize both science and project management, forming teams across the organization. I have learned to recognize the complexity of the organization. Since I had the opportunity to work with colleagues from different sites and lines, I exercised my skills of motivating others. The program increases learning via communication and dialogue with managers and mentors.”  

4.  Hold participants and their managers accountable. 

Accountability is critical to the success of an experienced-driven development process. A workshop to launch the process, attended by both participants and their managers and also guest executives, can be useful in stimulating discussions about organizational strategy or culture change and how these translate into individual stretch projects and assignments. Participants and their managers can be introduced to expert tools like the Leadership Architect and FYI guidebook and to their roles in executing a successful experience-driven development process.

Managers can expect to invest a minimum of five hours per direct report in the meetings needed to create, execute and follow-up on an experience-driven development plan. If participants are requested to send their development plans “up the line” to their executive managers, this increases accountability and opens up dialogue on the challenging projects that are aligned with strategy and cultural change. One organization held an annual celebration to recognize participants and their accomplishments on their stretch projects and another selected participants to give formal presentations to executive management on the challenges and outcomes of their projects.

As Morgan McCall stated in his book High Flyers: Most of the (development) cost is sunk.  Challenging assignments, bosses, hardships, mistakes, etc. already exist.  The key is providing a systematic approach to maximize the development from the challenging assignment and from other people.

In conclusion, these comments from participants in experience-driven development processes sum up their value in driving change, both organizational and personal:

“I learned a lot about how the organization works and how to successfully navigate within it, particularly in forming collaborations and negotiating with Discovery colleagues. It has helped me to develop a good understanding of the specific issues pertinent to the drug development process, how to align my work with the goals and initiatives of multiple groups, and how to develop new technologies and approaches to preclinical work. These things were largely motivated by my goal-setting in this program… “

“Program has required me to think about the context in which organizational decisions are made and resourced. This, in turn, has allowed me to begin to understand how to work more efficiently within the system to attain goals and provide deliverables. It has also motivated me to reach beyond my comfort zone in dealing with problems and issues and to try to develop novel solutions to overcome obstacles.”

“Project provided additional vehicle for feedback on leadership behavior.”

“This program greatly enhanced my organizational agility. Dealing first hand with serious issues of ambiguity and taking on the challenge necessary to make a change enabled me to meet critical business needs.”

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