Jørgen Thorsell and Justin Bridge explore new perspectives on achieving immediate impact from executive development.
Executive development is no longer simply about offering learning that leads to new insights and changed behaviour. Today it is about creating immediate impact in support of change. The challenge is how executive development can keep up with the demands for successful leadership in times of rapid change.
Executive development has come a long way over the past few decades. The toolbox has grown to include a rich assortment of different approaches. But how effective are those tools when it comes to preparing executives to meet the demands for radical changes? Are these tools right for what we need today? And how well are they meeting the needs for achieving immediate impact on job performance?
This article argues that tools are a hierarchy of effectiveness in terms of their potential for delivering immediate impact. This hierarchy is determined by how effective a tool or method is in offering learning that is truly relevant to the actual challenges an executive is facing at that moment. The higher the relevance, the more likely the method is to deliver immediate and sustained impact on job performance. Figure 1 shows such a hierarchy, which is discussed in detail in the rest of the article.
The challenges of teaching business theory
Well-documented theory should be the basis of effective executive learning whatever the choice of method. When best practices are studied carefully and academically “processed”, theory is what all business development should be solidly grounded in.
The challenge is how to make theory useful precisely when it is needed in real life. Business schools have long taught theory in MBA classrooms and, generally speaking, “teaching theory” has been the preferred methodology for preparing students for a successful executive career. Even so, following graduation most students have felt a big gap between theoretical knowledge and becoming a successful executive.
Simply teaching theory as a one-way approach has been viewed by learning and development practitioners as the least effective way of preparing executives for success. That way of learning has consistently been rated lowest in attractiveness when we have studied successful executive development in recent years (Mannaz: Innovation in leadership development 2007, Mannaz: Global leadership development 2011, Mannaz: Preparing Chinese leaders for the global business world 2013).
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