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Making Learning Last — Increasing Leadership Development ROI

The Institute for Corporate Productivity recently completed a case study about Ford Motor Company’s Global Executive Leadership Program.

The research correlates the design practices and methodology approach with the impact on leaders. It highlights their creative and effective use of business simulations.

In their words:

Fewer than 20% of companies use live simulations to develop leaders, and only about 12% use virtual simulations. However, about one in four market-leading firms take Ford’s blended approach, a method strongly correlated to market performance and organizational learning effectiveness.

The Power of Business Simulations

The power of business simulations as an effective way to build insight, skills and relationships has been proven time and again.

  • Simulations by design enable participants to practice and deepen new skills.
  • Simulation experiences help shift participants’ mindset and perspective about their role, about company strategy and about the decisions that they face. (One R&D scientist after taking on the role of a business unit lead in a simulation commented, “I realized how little time leadership has to focus on the deep details of R&D. We think we’re the most important function, but we’re one of many.”)
  • Simulation experiences also create a network of new relationships for leaders. There is no better way to network than to tackle a business challenge together. A simulation experience accelerates relationship development in teams of leaders — who in a few hours in the classroom build invaluable connections that enable knowledge sharing, networking and business progress back on the job.

Increasing ROI by Extending the Learning

The business value from a simulation experience can be significant, but as Ford’s experience suggests, it can be even better. With the proper planning, the return on investment (ROI) from simulations increases by keeping the lessons top of mind.

Extending the experience can take many forms and approaches.

Some companies focus on reinforcing the content: Send a ‘drip campaign” of curated content that prompts leaders every few weeks or months to remember the insights offered in the program.

Some companies focus on reinforcing the connection: Create a LinkedIn group of participants to share news, knowledge and find each other quickly. Some companies expand the network created in a learning program by bringing together multiple cohorts for alumni events.

The goal is to sustain learning and keep leaders using the lessons, reflecting on how they impact daily responsibilities and financial/organizational outcomes.

Sustain Learning Outcomes

Here are the five elements that we suggest when we help our clients sustain learning and increase their ROI:

1. Keep it simple: only a few big ideas or a single request per contact.

2. Make it useful and actionable in any time zone in any time window: leaders will be more responsive to learning reinforcement that they can fit into their schedule rather than vice-versa.

3. Periodically ask for a simple response: it will help gauge interest and sustain involvement.

4. Reinforce the community: give leaders a way to see the insights and participation of others, but get creative with the design to keep it doable.

5. Give leaders the opportunity to “opt-out”: they will have more engagement if they have more control. Few will use the option, but those that do will be more positive.

Sustaining and deepening learning back on the job is up to every individual, but systemic prompts and reinforcement can provide a tremendous nudge.

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