Let’s imagine you are tasked with this challenge: Your CEO will host an annual meeting with your company's top 300 leaders. These precious three days are the only ones during the course of the entire year that these leaders will spend together — in person or virtually.
You are responsible for facilitating the gathering with an activity that supports the organization's messaging. It needs to be strategic. And interesting. And relevant. It needs to be something that the senior leaders (as the audience) give rave reviews.
No pressure, right?
At Insight Experience, we have partnered with organizations over the years to respond to this very need. These solutions tend to be our shortest, and most customized, experiences.
In May 2023, I shared our recipe for successful executive sessions to an audience at the Association of Talent Development's annual conference. This blog post is the first in a series about the design, delivery, and reinforcement of these custom experiences. Here, I outline the best practices for design, whether you work with a partner or build it yourself.
We’ve developed senior leader experiences for a range of companies and audience sizes, but they all had several things in common:
At their core, these experiences are linked to a strategic initiative. The annual leadership conference is an excellent venue for creating alignment, gaining momentum, and communicating a clear call to action for that initiative. Here are some examples of initiatives we supported:
Before we dive into best practices, let’s first look at the final product.
We choose scenario-based business simulations as the most impactful methodology for these audiences. The simulation creates a bridge between the strategic initiative and the executives’ real-world call to action. In between, they are immersed in a realistic, fiction-based-on-fact business challenge that mirrors the one they face.
Best Practices for Design
To design a high-impact experience, we rely on these best practices:
Customize the learning. Your most senior audiences will require a highly customized experience to see the relevance to their strategic initiative. You can set your scenarios in a metaphorical business, but be sure to give that business the same leadership challenges as your company. If your leaders are being asked to double operating margin in three years, that must be a goal in your fictional business as well. This exercise should be a credible trial run for your leaders and prompt thoughtful conversation about what lies ahead for them. If you choose to partner with a vendor, choose one with deep expertise in custom solutions. Otherwise, you will be spending time and budget funding their learning curve.
Plan for more subject matter expert (SME) input than you would normally schedule. A custom experience requires that you nail the terminology, processes, tensions, and daily lives of your executive team. Don’t ask for high-level learning goals. Ask for stories. Encourage your SMEs to include the details of those stories. These will help you to mirror those experiences in your fictional scenarios.
Engage more junior resources for the next level of input. Your most senior SMEs will not have the time or patience to walk you through detailed business processes or review scenario drafts to correct terminology. For your session, ask for referrals to people one or two levels below the target audience. They are closer to the details, which will bring realism to the experience.
Run a pilot with a small group (4-8 people). You can include a few people from the target audience, but do remind them they can’t drop spoilers during the event. Mix in some of your junior SMEs as well. Put your scenarios in front of them and ask them to make decisions. Listen to the way they process the information and the data that you include and how they make trade-offs in their decision-making. You will undoubtedly identify a list of changes to make before the big event.
Connect to other parts of the leadership meeting. It is likely that your portion of the meeting is only one of many items on the agenda. Talk to the other activity/topic owners to understand their key messages. Based on your placement in the conference, you can transition from earlier parts of the meeting or tee up the sessions that come next. Because your activity is highly interactive, you can also schedule your scenario rounds to weave through the other parts of the meeting.
These design tips will set you on a path to a highly engaging and impactful experience for your senior leaders. In the next blog post in this series, I will discuss best practices for the delivery of your session.
Are you interested in more detailed insights about our approach to custom leadership scenarios? Submit a request here, and we will schedule a conversation.
Karen Maxwell Powell
Karen Maxwell Powell is the General Manager of Insight Experience, an award-winning global leadership development company with an expertise in business simulations. We develop and deliver group-based learning programs that grow leadership skills, develop business acumen, deepen relationships, and reinforce culture.