Creating a Roadmap for Future Leaders
GE offers leadership training to its high-potential team members—and helps them retain what they learn.
Not all employees are destined to be managers. Not all managers are destined to be executives. Read any report on workforce trends in the past couple of years and the disappointing yet accurate statistic reflecting the exodus of talented employees who departed for “greener pastures” at other organizations because their leadership was not equipped to lead them is staggering. Yet, organizations who understand the inherent benefits of proactively identifying and engaging high potential leadership talent early and often are able to retain top talent, engage and inspire others, and sustain relevance for generations. However, this exercise demands a tremendous amount of resources from the company, the employee, their managers and supporting stakeholders. A leading factor of why leadership programs often fail is the intensity in retention and learning curve required of adult learning engagement. Because of this, innovative companies have to approach these programs with a different level of refinement. Practiced experiential learning can be remarkably helpful — more so than cost-prohibitive in-person lectures, seminars and demonstrations.
GE, a titan and innovator in many regards, needed a way to better leverage the learning they imparted to their middle manager appointees within their Accelerated Leadership Program (XLP). Designed to build GE’s next group of global senior professional and executive leaders who can continue to carve out new paths for GE, the XLP program is essential for the development of core leadership and functional capabilities. XLP graduates are known to be results-driven, committed, self-aware, connected, and exude inspiration to those around them. Along with the support of internal change leaders, relevant tools, and supporting processes, Amy Speranza, Global Learning Leader for GE’s Career Accelerator Programs found it necessary to introduce sustainable capabilities for XLP that would further permeate throughout the broader organization. Speranza looked for a solution that would:
* Reinforce skills and retention of information by scaling social learning.
* Facilitate feedback to drive capability mastery.
* Increase confidence of XLP participants through contextual, timely feedback.
* Drive impactful behavior change as participants graduated to higher levels of engagement
A recent study regarding information retention found that in a period of three months there was a significant variance in how people retained information — simply based on how they consumed the details. For example, after an oral presentation, people retained only 10 percent of the small, simple chunks of information they had been taught; 32 percent of the information was retained when the teaching method used was visual; and 65 percent when people actually learned the same information by doing what they were learning about. This lends to the case that learning is much more effective when the learner is practicing what they are learning.
GE’s XLP not only provides valuable insight into the investment that the organization places on its high potential employees but it can also be seen as an inspiration for other potential, upcoming hidden leaders. Programs like the XLP not only provide an opportunity for the organization to “harvest” the best talent of the organization. Once that talent has been uncovered, leaders like Amy Speranza, Global Learning Leader for GE’s Career Accelerator Programs, want to ensure that the infrastructure, content, curriculum, resources and guidance is sustainable. GE’s XLP was meticulously designed to include individual development plans to target breakthrough learning experiences by challenging stretch, high-profile assignments with ongoing coaching, mentoring, and networking.
The two to four-year program currently spans nine functions across businesses and regions and includes anywhere from 250-400 participants. Although external experts may help support XLP from time to time, internal stakeholders help to accelerate the growth of the participants’ leadership roles by broadening their capacity, competency, leadership skill set, and domain skills. However, as XLP gained momentum and acceptance, as with any program of its magnitude, Speranza and other cohorts found that the associated costs, particularly the expense of flying all participants in for the XLP kick-off seminar, were quickly becoming a roadblock for long-term adoption and expansion. Furthermore, as a global leader, Speranza found that the wealth, depth, and wide-ranging set of information provided to participants during their initial on-site seminars were rarely as well retained as she would have hoped. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated circumstance applicable to GE. It’s a commonplace quandary felt by many organizations. Speranza and her team knew she had to solve this while the XLP was in its infancy.
The XLP focuses on many aspects of training the mid-career leadership talent, including:
- Global Leadership designed to develop a strong team, ability to lead change and communicate effectively, while thinking and planning strategically
- Business Acumen focusing on making sound financial decisions, understanding GE’s portfolio while understanding the nuances in anticipating and managing risks
- Commercial Excellence through market knowledge, understanding customers, forming outcome solutions and upskilling on negotiating skills
- Digital Innovation which includes supporting the digital thread, embracing technologies, leveraging data antics to help think systematically
- Operations competencies by utilizing Lean, Six Sigma, Fastworks, optimizing total lifecycle fulfillent in managing projects
“XLP has the ability and appetite to try new things because they are usually first in learning or trying new ideas and concepts in the company — due to the nature of their engagement. Once it’s been tried and tested in XLP, it’s usually broadly accepted through the rest of the organization. Plus, they are a willing audience so it makes it easier to try new ideas and approaches with that group. When Practice was introduced to the group, it was much easier to help them understand the varying range of benefits we would immediately receive,” said Speranza about how Practice was initially introduced to XLP.
Although some participants apply to the XLP, for the most part XLP participants are nominated. Not all participants run the course of the four-year program as it is designed to expose participants to all functional areas. The first year lays the foundation, followed by the second year building on individual capability gaps. Following an executive review, some participants graduate from the program. Those who continue are provided with more of an immersive leadership experience with multiple core competencies. “Years 3 and 4 look very different than the first couple of years, regardless of where the participants are in their journey, Practice plays an integral part. It’s so easy to use. The simplicity of it. Anyone can use it and there is rarely a complication to it that there is with other tools. We were using another solution prior to Practice and I was up half the night fielding support and technical calls trying to get it work. But with Practice, people knew what they had to do, they did it and we got what we needed,” Speranza said of the streamlined processes of deploying and receiving feedback and assessments from cohorts.
How GE Measures Success
Retention and reinforcement of key concepts - Spending budget for any organization is a monumental feat: it’s hard-earned revenue. Given today’s fluctuating economy, being economical with every cent is crucial, even for organizations like GE, especially when it comes to investing in a company’s greatest resource: its employees. “We had our XLP participants come all the way to Atlanta. We were creating all this content and pushing it out to them. And it was a struggle to keep the momentum, the follow-up energy, to keep the learning going once they went back home. We were spending millions of dollars of these courses, flying people in, engaging in these amazing sessions and yet we were losing all this learning. Practice is used as a support vehicle to support our virtual seminars. Cross functional teams see the benefit and they are leveraging the Practice in creative ways, which speaks to the flexibility of the platform.”
Fluid, continuous learning - “An important aspect about XLP is the coaching that participants have access to throughout the organization. They are coached at the executive level, and for each assignment and project they are given access to leaders they wouldn’t normally have had access to otherwise. For example, one of the exercises we run through Practice is an elevator pitch where the scenario is being stuck in an elevator with the GE CEO for two minutes and you have to explain what your role is on XLP and how you add value to the company. Then the facilitators provide feedback. This is an opportunity to practice and receive feedback from other executives,” said Speranza about the added benefit of receiving contextual related to performance.
Motivated learning - Practice has empowered Speranza and her team to further leverage the solution in other channels. “Due to the intricacies and nature of our business, because we are so expansive and massive, there are so many ways to leverage Practice. Plus the Practice team has been so easy to work with, so accommodating and helpful. Coming back to us immediately with answers, the level of responsiveness, overall engagement, positive outlook, creative problem solving, engaging us in the client advisory board, inviting us to present at the user conference — it’s very much a partnership. Regarding the solution itself, Practice is not trying to be all things to all people. It’s very simple, straightforward. It’s an offering that executed extremely well,” said Speranza about working with the Practice team and the overall benefit of the solution.