Leadership Development through Experiential Sprints

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Change, chaos and ambiguity have become the new normal in the current digital age. The digital age is not only about technology, it is fundamentally about the way customer and employee experiences are changing in response to the rapidly evolving technologies. On the other hand, for businesses it is about leveraging technology to provide superior customer experience and unlocking the hidden potential of value creation. Gone are the days when organizations could predict what’s coming their way and prepare much in advance. Long term scheduling has given way to short term planning, rigid organizational boundaries have given way to fluid structures and process efficiency has given way to relentless innovation. Organizations need to be fundamentally AGILE to embrace and cut through these changes and many more unforeseen changes to come. Which in simple words means that organizations should be able to course correct and pivot multiple times in a short duration based on the changes in the external and internal environment. This can only happen when LEADERS in the organization are able to pivot their behaviors multiple times in response to the changing business realities.

The need is to have a ready ‘Leadership Behavior Transformation Playbook’ with specific set of repeatable experiences which can be provided incrementally and iteratively while providing feedback to the leaders at all times. In simple words we need to make leadership behavior transformation also AGILE.

The leadership behavior transformation playbook is based on the basic science of how and why people change behaviors in a workplace setting. It helps us answer the following questions.

  1. Can we do leadership development in sprints? What types of iterative development interventions should be used to make such a transformation?
  2. Are external interventions sufficient to cause sustainable behavior change?
  3. How do we ensure that the learning gets translated into on-the-job performance?
  4. What role does the environmental factors such as rewards and recognition, measurement, culture etc. play in the process of behavior transformation?
  5. Changing set patterns of behavior is often emotionally and mentally taxing. How can leaders restore their depleted energy?

Leadership behavior transformation playbook attempts to answer the above mentioned questions. It is primarily based on the following three premises.

  • First, the brain continuously reorganizes itself to form new neural pathways based on the learning experiences leaders go through in their lives. These experiences can be provided by internal or external interventions. Most of these interventions can be imparted in short sprints with continuous feedback.
  • Second, the leader should have the intent to assimilate the learning from these experiences and be willing to change behaviors.
  • Third, the environment should encourage the leader to demonstrate the new set of behaviors.

Thus the approach presents a series of interrelated short learning sprints which the leader goes through and learns from. These sprints consist of external and internal learning experiences. External experiences are triggered by the events in the external environment. Examples of such experiences include creating baseline of behaviors, passive observation, active observation, passive experimentation and active experimentation. Internal experiences help self-regulate the leaders by practices such as meditation, healthy eating, regular exercise, investing time in blissful activities etc.  These practices replenish the depleted energy in leaders and also help in managing the stress associated with behavior change.

Leadership Behavior Transformation Playbook

Leadership behavior transformation playbook presents a series of 5 experiential sprints which help the leader to transition from her ‘As-Is’ behavior state to the ‘To-Be’ behavior state. Each of these sprints provides unique learning and progressively builds on the preceding sprint.  Personal energy management techniques are deployed alongside each sprint to restore the depleted energy in the leader as she goes through these experiences. Continuous coaching and feedback, from start to finish, is also provided to assimilate the learning and to ensure its translation into behavior change.

Thus leadership behavior transformation playbook consists of following 7 interrelated elements – 5 sprints, personal energy management and coaching.

  1. Creating baseline of behaviors
  2. Passive observation
  3. Active observation
  4. Passive experimentation
  5. Active experimentation
  6. Personal energy management
  7. Coaching

Next we briefly talk about each of these elements in the process of behavior change.

Experiential Sprint 1: Creating the Baseline of Behaviors

Before the leaders go through any structured behavior change intervention, they should clearly understand their ‘As-Is’ behavior dispositions and ‘To-Be’ behavior inventory.  This also provides the clear understanding of the start point and the end point of the behavior transformation process. Techniques such as assessment/ development centers and 360 degree evaluations help the leaders in this regard. Many leading HR consulting firms have tried and tested assessment tools in this regard

Experiential Sprint 2: Passive Observation

Under passive observation, the leader gets to observe the application of the ‘To-Be’ behavior inventory in a ‘secondary context’.  The secondary context is defined as any general context which is outside the realm of the organization or a context which is not connected to her work environment. Such a context may be created through a case study, a movie or a story book. For example, behaviors around impact and influence were brilliantly demonstrated by Aamir Khan in the movie ‘Lagaan’ when he convinces the entire village to support him in the cricket match against the British. Also the famous speech by Al Pachino in the movie ‘Any Given Sunday’ is a great example of aligning the larger vision to the individual goals.

Experiential Sprint 3: Active Observation

Under active observation, the leader observes the application of ‘To-Be’ behaviors in the ‘primary context’. Primary context is defined as the actual organization context. This helps consolidate the learning of the leader with respect to the behavior observation in a more direct and immediate surrounding. There may already be people in the organization who may be demonstrating the ‘To-Be’ behaviors in their respective roles. The key here is to connect such people with the leader who is to be developed. This provides a great opportunity to the leader to directly observe the application of ‘To-Be’ behaviors. For example, one such company creates a drama/play around the ‘To-Be’ behaviors (with real life characters) and enacts the play in front of the leaders to make them understand the behaviors. For example, companies such as Vodafone India and ITC use theatre to model the ‘To-Be’ behaviors and enacts the plays in front of the leaders to make them understand the behaviors.

Experiential Sprint 4: Passive Experimentation

Passive experimentation is an opportunity provided to the leader to start the self-application of ‘To-Be’ behaviors in a simulated or pilot environment. The opportunity may be put into practice in three ways, namely through special assignments, through on-the-job experimentation and through business simulations. The objective of the interventions is to encourage the leaders to start applying the ‘To-Be’ behavior inventory in a low risk and amenable environment.  Leaders, on the other hand, must reflect on their experiences and devise better ways of applying the learning in their existing or potential role.

Experiential Sprint 5: Active Experimentation

Under sprint 5, the role of the leader is enlarged to provide the opportunities in which the leader can demonstrate the application of ‘To-Be’ behaviors in the primary job specific context. Specific activities are systematically added to the existing role to create situations where the leader can practice the application of the ‘To-Be’ behaviors. The risk of failure is slightly high here.

Personal Energy Management

Changing the set behavior patterns in the leader is quite a difficult task and requires lot of perseverance and commitment on the part of the leader. She expends a lot of energy in continuously stepping out of her comfort zone. Personal energy management techniques help restore the energy balance in the leader as she goes through the above mentioned external interventions. Multiple studies have shown that we derive energy from three basic sources of energy, namely, physical energy, emotional energy and spiritual energy. These three sources of energy are strongly interrelated and depletion of any one source strongly impacts the others. Personal energy management is all about maintaining the right balance among the three sources of energy.

Coaching

As the leader goes through multiple external and internal interventions, it is important that all the experiences provided by these interventions get converted into learning, and further this learning gets translated into behavior change. Coaching is a great support in this regard and helps the leader in the following two ways.

  • Consolidates the feedback in each sprint and shares with the leader
  • Helps the leader to assimilate and internalize the learning
  • Helps the leader to translate the learning into behavior change

Key objective of all the above mentioned experiences, put together, is to help the leader to transition from her ‘As-Is’ behavior state to the ‘To-Be’ behavior state.

One of the most important conditions to bring about a successful behavior transformation in leaders is to simultaneously provide them with the supporting environment. Supporting environment is marked with two distinct features. First, it encourages the leader to wholeheartedly participate in the above suggested experiences; and secondly it also encourages the leader to start demonstrating the ‘To-Be’ behaviors. We have seen many effective and powerful interventions fail because of the absence of the supporting environment. It provides the necessary tailwind to the entire initiative. On the other hand, absence of the supporting environment is a sure shot guarantee for failure. Supporting environment is defined in terms of having in place a legitimate business case for behavior change, rewards and recognition, top management commitment, measurement mechanism and learning culture.

Leadership in its lowest common denominator is described in terms of some specific desired behaviors, whereas leaders over the period of time develop fixed neural pathways to behave in particular ways. This approach on leadership behavior transformation helps the leaders to transition from their ‘As-Is’ behavior state to the ‘To-Be’ behavior state. Working in short experiential sprints with regular feedback and coaching helps the leaders to continuously calibrate herself against the changing realities.

Author- Bhrigu Joshi currently works as Director – Human Resources with Makemytrip Group. He is a well published author on subjects like Leadership Behavior Transformation, Post Merger Integration and Creating an Optimized Organization. He regularly conducts corporate workshops in the area of HR visioning, leadership development and assessor training. He is a visiting faculty in institutions such as TISS, IMI and Fore School of Management.

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