The case for incumbents spending time developing leadership content
By Jürgen Bank, Senior Director, BTS Assessment Practice
As a consultant, for the better half of the last year, my team and I spent time interviewing people that we identified as high performers in all kind of roles – from first-level leaders all the way up to the leaders of functions – for client projects. This initiative took a significant chunk of my work schedule and, on the client side, represented a significant investment of time that incumbents and stakeholders needed to spend on the project.
The goal of this project was to create tools to help the client’s organization react better to the rapidly and unpredictably changing consumer expectations and behaviors, which posed a threat to their current way of doing business. Of course, a massive disruption of the market caused by the internet, social media, numerous domineering web players, and an even larger number of unknown start-ups fueled with investor capital were quickly shifting the space that this company had dominated for over 60 years.
My first thought was that the time my client’s leaders spent in interviews and review meetings should be seen as a “cost” to the organization. However, I now understand that when looking at the investment of time in organizational development, we need to consider that the time spent is, in and of itself, organizational development time. The time and resources that a client spends being interviewed and discussing the summaries can be conceptualized as the first step towards achieving the goal of preparing the company for organizational development interventions, and better preparing the company for their current and future challenges.
Through closely examining the project steps and the involvement of client resources during this phase, a very a fascinating insight evolved. The following table provides an example of the process of developing content for a change initiative.
Steps one and two, setting up for the interviews and conducting them with high-performing incumbents, is a task that requires little guidance from the consultancy and is essential to getting the solution right.
Step three is the core consulting task, where we partner with clients to develop client-specific tools like Great Profiles and Moments-based Playbooks. This task allows us to create user friendly and meaningful tools for all types of HR activities, from assessment to development to selection as a team. This is the meaty core of the project, where consultants explore the job and context – they spend their skill and a significant amount of time gaining a thorough understanding of the company – getting it right. For the client, this step drives the cost.
Step four, incumbent reviews, ensure that the consultant has an accurate understanding of the organization. The main point, however, is that these discussions, where incumbents and line leaders discuss their understanding of great and not-so-great behaviors, represent applied organizational change. During these deliberations, participants exchange their views until a solid consensus is reached. The impact of this experience is significant. The participants walk away from the review session certain that the right change is about to happen in their job environment and they just articulated where it needs to go.
The point is: Investing employee time into these tasks is cost effective for the HR function, as very few consultant hours are involved in relation to the employee hours. Ultimately, any employee time spent in this phase supports Mindset, Motivation and Engagement in support of the upcoming change.
Steps five and six, expert reviews and drafting the experiences are essential for avoiding roadblocks that originate from functional leaders. Through these two steps, leaders understand their role, learn what will happen, and comprehend that they will be the ones driving change within their organization.
In terms of organizational development impact, this process yields a significant investment. The 1:1 interviews of step three are front and center, as this part is the content foundation for all organization development interventions to follow.
However, organizational development leaders significantly increase the impact and rack up a large number of high-impact employee and stakeholder hours at very little cost by focusing on phase four. It is realistic to assume that exposure hours have an effect that is many times larger on the organization, as the people directly exposed to the process will experience a shift in mindset and will continue to talk about their exposure to the project.
Incremental impact hours are often overlooked, but are essential for ensuring a smooth introduction of the change interventions that follow the development of organizational development content. In summary, each hour of incumbent and stakeholder involvement significantly contributes to organizational development. Ready-made models that consultants pull out of their “magic hats” do not achieve that level of support, much less drive change inside the organization.