Case Study 1: HiPo Programme with a Pure Development Centre

Current State:

We worked with the EMEA organisation of a multinational IT rm to re-develop a senior manager high potential programme. The existing programme was largely a stand-alone assessment centre that had no obvious purpose, as nothing was done with the results. Delegates reported feeling that they had gone through an interesting but impersonal experience, and then saw no actions following from it, such as recognition from their bosses or developmental assignments based upon their feedback.

Future State:

Our clients wanted something that learners could ‘own’ and use to enhance their self-awareness and potential, so we designed a year-long experiential development programme based upon these principles:

The learner and his/her work and life experiences are a resource
The learner should actively participate in learning
Improvement occurs through evaluation, either by self or others
Interaction with others facilitates learning
Learning that builds on job-related tasks is most motivational
On this basis, we created a third-generation developmental centre (‘purely developmental’), where diagnosis of developmental needs is the primary objective, the learner is in charge of their own learning, feedback occurs after each exercise, learners interact considerably with each other, and peer feedback is used. Learners went through a series of simulations; after each, feedback always followed the order of self, peer, and ‘assessor.’ Learners owned their feedback by writing their own development reports and action plans, which formed the basis for learning in various learning experiences throughout the year.

The other learning experiences included two further classroom sessions (Career Academy and Personal Presence & Impact), structured on-the-job training experiences, brief Lessons in Leadership delivered by executives (both face-to-face and via videoconference), non-directive coaching, and 360 feedback. Learners also created impact maps with their managers, which relates the objectives of a learning experience to one’s developmental needs. The maps act as a tool for discussion before and after each experience, and help ensure the manager is actively involved in one’s development.


Our new approach to HiPo development was received as a gust of fresh air, one that really set the tone for development of key talent, and not just something that ‘happened’ to delegates. After a pilot group, it was rolled out to all 400 key talent around the region. Participants reported the usefulness of the approach and feedback (although also said at rst the novelty of it was uncomfortable), and management reaction to it was overwhelmingly positive.

Carrick, P. & Williams, R. (1999). Development centres – A review of assumptions, Human Resource Management Journal, 9(2), pp. 77-92.

Case Study 2: A Leadership Development Programme for Volunteer Leaders

Current State:

A large professional division (4000 members) of a not-for-profit learned society was experiencing typical problems with leadership succession: there was often no one to take over at election time. Frequently they would ‘shoulder-tap’ a seemingly appropriate member, whose response was usually ‘if you have no one else.’ Sound familiar?

As might be expected, such leaders did the minimal: they showed up for the quarterly committee meetings, but the likelihood they had completed their actions from the last meeting was small. It wasn’t that they were poor leaders; they just didn’t have the aspiration – or often the time – to take on a leadership role. The situation with those who had stepped up willingly wasn’t usually any better; time management skills and follow-through were typically poor, and they knew very little about how to lead and motivate volunteers. It was not uncommon for leaders to moan about how their committee members never got anything done, but they didn’t seem to know how to turn it around. Their task was made all the more dif cult because most volunteers had something else that took priority, usually a job or studies, but also family commitments.
Overall, this was not an optimal situation for developing and progressing a profession, which was a core goal of the division.

Future State:

The leaders of this division wanted a leadership developmental programme (LDP) that would prepare its leaders for their immediate roles as committee heads, but also hopefully entice them
to eventually step-up to more senior leadership roles, including Chair. Thus, the programme would create a leadership pipeline, aiding future succession planning. To start it off, a leadership competency framework was developed. Next, the LDP was designed based upon the framework. It was envisioned as a year-long experience, attended by selected members who would go through it together as a cadre. Components included three residential sessions, regular teleconferences (‘e-networking’), group and individual projects, action learning sets, developmental logs, and mentoring. These elements were chosen so that delegates could obtain basic information about leading in a volunteer context, apply it to real projects (assigned and ones from their own committees), share amongst and learn from each other, get advice from an experienced mentor, and re ect on their own success or failure.


The LDP has gone through five iterations. Although it did not run entirely smoothly the first year, its delegates all saw it as a positive experience and appreciated being part of a special cadre seen as future leaders. Most importantly in the early stages, it attracted great interest from other members, and in its second year over three times as many applicants vied for only eight slots.

Several lessons were learned from year one:

Delegate selection: Delegates were nominated by major committee heads, so didn’t voluntarily apply. While all wanted to be on the programme, there was a sense at times that their priorities lay elsewhere. As a result, in year two, an application process was opened to all members, and all dates and requirements were pre-announced. At each stage of the selection process, the requirements were repeated, to ensure commitment to the programme was strong.

Residential session content & format: Our residential sessions were lively, but it became evident early on that the most powerful learning was in our master classes (where senior volunteer leaders gave their unique perspectives on what it takes to lead) and in group discussions. So, in year two we cut back on information to be discussed in the session, and instead assigned it as pre-reading, to be referred to as needed in the session. However, we also discovered something we didn’t know: delegates hadn’t a clue about how the parent organisation or their own division was structured or worked (indeed, they were ‘only’ committee volunteers), so this was useful knowledge we did cover in session.

Group projects: These are the vehicles by which most work gets done in the organisation, albeit perhaps by small groups of the most dedicated members. We wanted delegates to model best practice, such as setting group objectives, assigning clear roles, working to plans, having regular meetings, etc. However, our delegates suffered from the very illnesses we were trying to cure: poor time management, vague direction, and lack of follow-through. An additional problem was that the one group project all had been assigned to was perceived
to be inessential and not supported by their Executive. So, in year two, we formed smaller groups assigned to projects coming directly from the Executive; we also ensured that the groups planned objectives, major steps, assigned roles, and deadlines while they were physically together at the rst session.

From a practical stance, this volunteer organisation now has an obvious leadership pipeline for future years, as well as an enthusiastic group of members who view themselves as future leaders and are more consciously learning how to lead in a volunteer context. From that perspective, the programme is a clear success.

Case Study 3: Approaching Diversity Management as a Change Initiative

A major automobile manufacturer had experienced a number of high-pro le race discrimination cases, resulting in a government directive that they implement a number of actions to address both discrimination and diversity. These included expanding the range of universities they recruited graduates from, training their managers and HR staff in assessment and interviewing practices, and providing management and staff with diversity awareness training. The latter activity was immensely controversial, especially with the assembly operator population, who perceived the training as a ‘tick- box’ exercise and an attempt to sti e what they mostly saw as friendly banter amongst workmates. As part of the annual employee survey, an evaluation was conducted of the effectiveness of the training; employees who had attended the training were signi cantly more likely to believe that the rm was dealing effectively with diversity than those who had not yet attended.
Although the success of the training was acknowledged by management, the diversity director asked, ‘why aren’t we doing better?’ This prompted a review of the training (and other activities) from a change management perspective, which the rm had not previously done. The review looked for evidence of planned roles, communication, and learning and rewards pertinent to the training.
Managers and staff attending the training, who were expected to alter their banter and other actions around diversity, were most de nitely targets. But where were the champions? It was quite rare to see senior managers attend the course, and anecdotes about senior managers’ diversity behaviour were often repeated in class.
Whether staff knew the entire background to the discrimination cases is debatable ( rms tend not to want to promulgate such stories amongst the workforce), but not being fully open about the current state – why the training is essential – only added to the ‘tick-box’ perception and detracted from the future state utopian image of everyone getting along. Other than messaging on the requirement to intend – usually received second-hand from one’s boss – ‘I’ve been told I have to come’ – there was almost no other communication about the what and why.
Training is obviously learning, but two dif culties emerged from the content. First was the dichotomy between legal requirements around equal opportunity and discrimination and diversity awareness. While the legal content was essential (emphasising the severity of the current state), it often dominated the more enlightened diversity content. In sum, the contrast between ‘thous shalt not’ and ‘it’s your choice about how you behave’ could often send an unclear message. Second was the speci city of ‘the how.’ That is, staff went through a half-day course and managers a full-day, not leaving much time to get beyond basic awareness to more speci c ways of respectfully behaving with diverse others.
Without champions, the possibility of reward systems built to support diversity was remote. One potential solution is to introduce a diversity management element into each manager’s appraisal.
‘Why aren’t we doing better?’ Because training (learning) is only one element of a change initiative. Expecting to alter interpersonal behaviour and banter around diversity is most de nitely worthy of a dedicated change effort. Without the other essential elements such as de ned roles, appropriate communication, and supporting reward systems, the question should probably have been, ‘How have we done so well?’

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