Senior Leadership Development – Get Them to Experiment

by Jennifer Miller on September 16, 2013

in Human Resources, Leadership, Training Delivery

Designing leadership development programs for members of an organization’s senior leadership team is challenging. They’re a time-starved bunch. Some of them aren’t big fans of formal learning. And, if they’re lucky, they’ve already had past access to excellent learning opportunities. So the program needs to be relevant, practical and extremely engaging.

How should training directors tackle this challenge?


I happened upon this word while perusing a white paper called The Leadership Odyssey sent to me by Kakushin, an organization dedicated to providing online education to HR professionals. The Leadership Odyssey highlights a senior leadership development program created in partnership between Danone, a French food-products multinational corporation and The London Business School.

Many of the learning methodologies highlighted in the white paper are tried-and-true ones: coaching, peer group mentoring, 360 degree assessment and feedback. But here’s one that was a new twist on action learning teams – the implementation of “leadership business experiments” – cross-functional teams designed to work on bringing more innovation to the company’s business practices. For example, the white paper cites these examples of “experiments” the learning groups worked on:

  • Adding in “incubation” time into the company’s structure
  • Strengthening innovations processes
  • Growing a new service business within the company

What we call things matters. In this case, “action learning team” – designed to bring people from different organizational disciplines together to share ideas, help each other think more broadly and to work on “real life” business challenges is too dry. “Experiment” on the other hand, signals trying new things, making mistakes and fostering true change. To experiment is care less about failure and more about innovation.

The authors of the white paper say:

“Senior managers are unlikely to be short of ideas, or lacking in knowledge or skills; they are more likely to need a new source of inspiration, a new angle on business, a re-discovery of a purpose worth serving… as well as peers with whom to share ideas.”

And what better way to get that new source of inspiration than by experimenting? According to the white paper, 150 of Danone’s senior managers have attended this learning program and 64 of them have since been promoted. An unheard-of 100% of participants say they have made lasting changes in their leadership style and that they are more effective at work because of the program.

That’s a significant endorsement. Based on my experience with designing senior leadership programs, the program’s success hinges on the ability to create measureable impact and go beyond just attending another conference or company offsite. It seems that focusing on creating an experimental learning environment was a very beneficial tact for this leadership development program.

Want to learn more? Kakushin is hosting their 2nd Annual Corporate Learning & Leadership Development Webinar for senior-level professionals in the human resources and learning and development fields. Thierry Bonetto, Director of Learning and Development for Danone, will be one of four presenters sharing their experiences from around the globe.

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