Rather, the senior team had not articulated a clear strategy and corporate values, so managers did not understand what practices and behaviors were expected of them. Nor did the top team spend much time discussing talent and planning developmental assignments for high potentials. In fact, because senior management had not created an integrated corporation, leaders were hoarding the best talent and transferring the worst to enable their own business units to succeed. Clearly, the company had to tackle these systemic issues before it could implement a productive learning program for managers.
Indeed, improving cross-unit integration would itself be a capability-development experience for the senior team and key managers that would lead to a better understanding of skills gaps that training and education might address. Note that problems are diagnosed from the ground up. Those confidential employee interviews are critical for exposing the silent killers, including deficiencies in capabilities and talent management, because leaders often lack the objectivity to spot glitches in systems they have created.
By addressing management practices and leadership behavior that shape the system before training individual employees, leaders create a favorable context for applying learning. The systemic changes encourage—even require—the desired behaviors.
In practice, these steps tend to overlap and are periodically recycled for continual improvement. We list them in sequence to emphasize the importance of placing individual development after organizational redesign. You also want leaders, their senior teams, and lower-level managers to develop on the job, as they learn individually and collectively to enact their redefined roles, responsibilities, and relationships.
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A consultant in HR can take advantage of real-time successes and failures to help managers reflect on the consequences of their actions and see alternatives. Just as important, learning and performance improvements occur simultaneously, enabling the business to recoup its investment immediately and more effectively.
Their diagnosis revealed why and how interfunctional conflict, political behavior, and embedded managerial practices were undermining new-product development and employee commitment. The process exposed some barriers to effectiveness: unclear strategy and priorities, a senior team that was trying to manage new-product development initiatives from the top but lacked the necessary information, and a siloed organization that hindered coordination.
MEPD created cross-functional new-product development teams headed by leaders from marketing—a major departure from the structure that had blocked teamwork in the past. Roles and responsibilities were changed accordingly. For instance, senior management held the teams accountable through quarterly reviews at which they had to describe their progress in developing products and also report on their own effectiveness and any problems in collaboration among functional departments.
This ongoing assessment helped sustain behavioral change. Learning and development for both senior leaders and team members came in the form of hands-on coaching and process consultation. An internal organizational development consultant provided guidance as senior leaders conducted the reviews. Team members immediately embraced their new roles, which gave them a feeling of ownership and investment. Within a few months, after analyzing shared information, three teams recommended that their projects be canceled because they realized the products could not succeed. Project team members said that they had learned a lot about how to work together and had come to appreciate the complexity of business problems and decision making in different functions.
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That motivated them to enroll in classroom training, where they learned how analytics could sharpen their approach to product planning and product management. Coming after their immersion in the revised way of working, the knowledge felt relevant and useful. At the end of two years a rigorous evaluation showed a remarkable change in leadership and teamwork.
Performance had improved as well.
MEPD had developed nine new products in those two years, compared with five over the previous four years. Revenue and profits had increased significantly. The same organization that had not responded to a massive investment in individual training transformed itself by redesigning its roles, responsibilities, and relationships; learning how to live into them with the help of coaches and advisers; and then using targeted classroom training to pick up new methods and tools.
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Part of creating a favorable context for learning is making sure that every area of the business provides fertile ground. Soil conditions will inevitably vary within an organization, because each region, function, and operating group has its own needs and challenges. In other words, their groups were not ready for the training they got.
So companies should invest in capability development unit by unit.
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