For the past 15 years, a truism about talent development called 70-20-10 has been widely accepted. The logic goes like this: 70 percent of learning and development takes place “on the job,” 20 percent comes from feedback, observation and working with role models, and only 10 percent can be attributed to formal training such as executive education programs. When focus shifts to how a leadership brand can embed an organization’s brand through the actions and behaviors of its people, the realization arises that this formula has changed.
Branded leadership bridges a company’s identity in the minds of its best customers to employee behaviors throughout the enterprise. This type of leadership is more than the actions of an individual leader, and it requires a programmatic and innovative approach to learning interventions. Branded leadership — not just hero leaders — matters today for four reasons:
1. The pace of business does not allow for slow, evolutionary change in the branded leader over the course of a career. Insight and action must happen much more quickly.
2. What people learn from their job experiences varies widely, and some people learn the wrong things. Experiences can be like unsifted blogs that contain lots of information, much of it misleading. Random or misinformed experiences will not build the leadership brand that firms require. Instead, leaders must share a clear and common understanding of what their behaviors and actions need to be. And leader actions need to be organized so that they turn the requirements of external customers onto internal employees.
3. Role models for the desired brand behaviors might be few and far between, if they exist at all. Only through an intervention can the right messages get to the right people in the right time frame.
4. Branded leadership cannot reside in only the top 10 or 12 people — it must be more broadly disseminated if its cultural effects are to be felt. Only a program can create the critical mass necessary. Too often, we have honored celebrity leaders who perform great feats, but when they move on, their impact quickly fades. Branded leadership endures because it is not tied to one person but to the processes that created the leadership brand.
The New Model for Leadership Training: The Experience More than the Event
Effective training can contribute 30 percent of a branded leader’s overall development. The improvement comes when the training is less a discrete event and more an extended experience that supports the participants’ need to change ingrained habits and behaviors that might have served them well but do not support the brand.
Size Isn’t Everything
A bold statement indeed, especially considering how little time is spent in corporate training. But when you consider how “small” events can have enormous and lasting impact if they are the right sorts of experiences, you know it is possible. For example, how many people can point to a book that fundamentally changed their view of the world, or saw a movie whose exploration of a core aspect of human nature deepened their understanding of life?
The key is to develop an experience that creates a shift inside the leader, one that fundamentally — almost physically — moves his or her focus and attention to a new place. The shift must be intellectual (understanding), emotional (belief) and practical (new ways of acting). To illustrate this phenomenon, let’s compare the differences between a tourist and a visitor.
Tourists fly in, do a little sightseeing, snap a few pictures, buy some souvenirs and then fly home to resume their familiar routines. The visit is bound and bundled as an event outside the flow of normal life, and it is recalled as a distant memory.
Visitors, on the other hand, engage with locals, might stay in a home or a local bed and breakfast, learn the details and concerns of daily life and share something of their own life. Through the exchange, both the visitors and locals enlarge their perspectives, and they no doubt will view the strange “other” religion and customs more sympathetically. Neither person is quite the same afterward.
At home, the visitors might adopt some new habits regarding food, drink or dress and will certainly read the international news with new interest, hoping to learn more. When the visitors hear about that place on the evening news, they don’t say, “I was there!” as the tourist might. They say, “I know that town and those people, and I care about what is happening to them.” A shift has taken place — growth has occurred.
Wise investments in leadership training and development encourage engaged visitors and close the border to tourists. They engage their honored visitors in intellectual, emotional and behavioral changes that become a part of who they are. Ideas are not just observed but internalized. Actions are not abstract things that others could do or have done. Rather, they are specific and personal obligations for you. Interest in the leadership brand will continue. This happens with action learning, live cases, application exercises, pre-work, follow-up work and development focused on creating both intellectual road maps and behavior change.
Fundamental Principles of the New Learning
How: Research on adult learning has taught some truths about the fundamental principles behind this new way of learning if it is to have 30 percent impact on the leadership actions and behaviors of brand leaders:
What: Test the content to ensure it bolsters the leadership brand by asking the following questions:
Process: Many process choices are key to ensure the training experience furthers a leadership brand.
Faculty: Who teaches the program has a big impact on its effectiveness. Anyone in front of leaders should embody the leadership message. With this general caveat, four categories of faculty can be woven together for effective training:
1. Inside Experts. Training departments usually have excellent designers and facilitators credible in both their presentation and their experience. Often, internal instructors are successful former line managers who have acquired facilitation skills. Because they know the company and culture, they know how ideas can be turned into action.
2. Outside Experts. External instructors can make their broad range of ideas, models, frameworks and outside stories relevant by learning about the organization and seeking connections between their experience and life in the organization. Pairing them with internal experts can be invaluable.
3. Line Managers. Executive development associates found 75 percent of leading companies used senior executives to present training. One example is Pepsi, according to a presentation by Robert Fulmer at a Linkage Inc. conference. Senior Pepsi leaders make the training relevant to the company’s situation, according to Paul Russell’s presentation at a Linkage Inc. conference, they act as coaches and can even become mentors after the class ends. They share how leadership “really” happens over meals and by telling Pepsi stories in the evenings. They share their personal journeys of leadership at Pepsi, and they encourage learning leaders to craft their own.
4. Customers or Investors. Customers or investors can help in the design, delivery or presentation of the training experience either through their presence (physically being involved) or in essence (having their concerns designed in). Customers might show up as faculty, as the subject of a case study or on a panel. Customers might even be participants, working to make sure their expectations are understood and translated into action.
5. Boundaries of Training. Increasingly, training investments have malleable boundaries. Both pre-work and post-work are meaningful parts of the total experience. To make this happen, responsibility needs to shift to the participants — they are no longer passive recipients of classroom lectures but the prime movers of their own learning.
Real work happens before the seminar. Here’s how you can encourage participants to start the learning process:
Real work also happens after the seminar. Here’s how you can encourage participants to continue the learning process:
Developing leadership as a brand challenges those charged with learning to align both content (what is taught) and process (how it is taught) to establish a large cadre of leaders who truly can demonstrate the firm’s brand and influence its culture. To build a leadership brand that bridges customers and employees, training can be framed as an experience, not an event. Why? Because it will require behavior change, and most behavior changes require repetition and reinforcement, as well as support for the occasional slip. When done well, training has much greater impact on leadership than previously assumed.
Kate Sweetman is a principal consultant for The RBL Group. Dave Ulrich and Norm Smallwood are partners and co-founders of The RBL Group. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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