Building Leadership Development Programs


Organizations have to deal with a difficult cocktail. Most parts of the world have an ageing population. That dampens demand across categories. That forces the firm to find new markets beyond the shores and embrace globalization. While business opportunities often lie in emerging markets, the employability levels in these markets is low. Besides corporations are increasingly facing opposition from politicians and locals. In an uncertain labor market, employees want to stay employable.

“In the coming years, businesses will face a greying workforce, the high expectations of Generation Y, globalisation’s unique demands on leadership, and growing employability gaps in emerging markets. Corporate universities are emerging as a powerful vehicle to surmount these challenges”. – BCG

That explains the growing number of corporate universities across the world. BCG estimates more than 4,000 companies with formal corporate universities across the world.

Myth: Leadership development needs big bucks

Leadership Development has always been looked at as an investment-intensive program that only the established multinationals can afford. The most famous example of a corporate university is GE’s Crotonville. Jack Welch turned it into the nerve center of the corporation using it as much as a way to grow the leadership bench and also make the culture seep into the larger organization. Why has no other corporate university built the reputation of Crotonville?

What makes Crotonville tick?

Zero Budget Leadership DevelopmentNigel talks of ten insights that explain why Crotonville works. The CEO completely owns Crotonville. Jack Welch taught there several times a week. Jeff Immelt continues the tradition. That encourages the Senior Vice Presidents to go spend a week at Crotonville as “executive in residence”. Leadership Development is looked at as a way to make the business strategy work. Leaders are held accountable for developing leaders just as stringently as delivering profits and growth.

The former Chief Learning Officer (CLO) of BBC, Nigel Paine’s new book explores what it means to choose a high-investment option like GE did. What makes Crotonville relevant even today? If a company wants to invest in leadership development is it necessary for them to invest millions of dollars and build a clone of Crotonville? Absolutely not, says Nigel. Building Leadership Development Programs explores the range of options from “zero-cost to high-investment programs that work”.

Nigel writes about the changing context of leadership and hence the importance of investing in developing leaders. He should know. He built one of the most successful learning and development operations in the corporate world when he was the CLO for BBC. As part of the advisory board of the CLO doctoral program at University of Pennsylvania, he continues to have the advantage of having a ringside view of what works and what does not.

BP to Google and beyond

The book talks of leadership programs of various organizations and various approaches. From BP to Google and many others, you can take your pick. Choose what could work in your culture and budget. Every chapter has an example from a different company and their marquee program has been presented complete with the theoretical framework underlying the design. The chapter ends with a few pointers that deconstruct what made the approach effective.

What if you work in an organization that believes that spending money on office parties offers better returns than investing in leadership development. Then this book is just what you need. There are plenty of approaches that are outlined which need zero investment. The CEO of a company in Brazil used to send out a question to the entire organization. Employees across the business units would send in their responses. On Friday, the CEO would send out his response to the same question. Through this simple approach, the leader was able to build a culture that celebrates curiosity.

What makes this book useful is the range of companies and approaches that are deconstructed for you to choose from. What comes through clearly is that it is not the budget that ensures development. It is the willingness of the C-Suite to shape the agenda actively and participate in creating the context. This then is a book for the C-Suite as well as the learning professionals. If you are a curious learner, you will love the many possibilities that are available to you that you can try on your own with just a handful of curious colleagues.

I found the book invaluable. Absolutely recommend that you get a copy.


First published by People Matters 

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