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Client Story

Financial Services Organization Develops Senior Leaders

See how one financial services organization got greater insight into rising senior leaders so they could make more informed promotions and role changes.

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The Need

Accelerate development for those transitioning to key strategic senior leadership positions.

The Solution

Strategic Leadership Experience® (SLE), an immersive development program to prepare senior leaders.

The Result

Greater insight into rising senior leaders and more informed promotions and role changes.

Creating a Culture Change

A leading provider of financial services to credit unions had seen its marketplace transform through consolidation and other industry trends, creating more competition.

Because its marketplace is changing, the organization knew its leaders must change, too. “To stay competitive, we need leaders who can constantly improve our products and services to credit unions and their members. At the same time, we need to be looking for market opportunities,” says the organization’s vice president of organization capability. “We need to be a company that has a bias for action, is nimble and not bureaucratic, is efficient and effective, and readily shares resources and knowledge across organizational silos. We need to have leaders who can drive these necessary market and cultural changes.”

To accomplish these goals and change the organization’s culture, the executive team decided to embark on one of its first leadership development initiatives in several years. Since the most pressing need was at the top, they focused on developing their leadership talent. The development initiative included four elements: 

  1. Creating internal networks and fostering connections among participants. 
  2. Focusing on leadership skills independent of the credit union industry. 
  3. Targeting leaders who were current high performers or new leaders the senior executive team wanted to get to know better. 
  4. Incorporating multi-level assessment and development planning processes.

The organization found a partner in DDI, who provided its Strategic Leadership Experience® (SLE). The experience set the foundation for the development and feedback components of the leadership development initiative. The SLE program is an intensive business simulation that orients participants to the demands of senior leadership, while providing insight into their personal leadership strengths and development needs. Participants come away with a better understanding of what strategic leadership roles are like, and how they measure up to the demands. The program also provides a safe and cost-effective way to give leaders experience on a broader, strategic leadership stage.

“There were a number of things that DDI brought to the table,” says the vice president. “SLE is a robust simulation with enough data to be challenging, but not overwhelming. There’s a high level of interaction among the teams, and the time constraints draw people out of their behavioral comfort zones, which gives us ample opportunity for observation. Additionally, DDI’s facilitators learned our business challenges and worked with us to structure the simulation within our broader leadership program.” 

A Robust, Challenging Simulation

For its first program, the company identified 23 leaders to participate in SLE. During this realistic business leadership simulation, participants work in cross-functional teams to guide a fictional company through three tumultuous years. The leadership simulation demands that participants make tough strategic decisions on a variety of issues that will have a direct impact on several aspects of the business. At the end of each day, participants see the ramifications of their decisions on a balanced scorecard that shows both business and cultural outcomes. This focus on building an awareness of the broad business impact of every strategic decision is a primary benefit of SLE. 

To gain this awareness, participants are immersed in nine strategic leadership roles. Senior leaders assume these roles to tackle different leadership challenges. The roles are Navigator, Strategist, Entrepreneur, Mobilizer, Talent Advocate, Captivator, Global Thinker, Change Driver, and Enterprise Guardian. 

Participants also gain insight into “executive derailers”—personal characteristics, behaviors and attitudes that can make a strategic leader fail, even if he or she is effective in the roles.

These derailers, identified through research by DDI and a number of other organizations, include negative behaviors such as arrogance, lack of self-awareness on how actions impact others, and self-promotion. 

Participants utilize self-inventories, a journal, and other self-insight tools to gauge how they measure up to this simulation’s various challenges and roles. They also receive peer feedback on their performance from other team members. 

Building a Pipeline of Leadership Talent

In addition to the standard experience, the company expanded the four-day-long simulation to five and a half days. The extra time allowed their senior executives and participants more time to interact, and provided more opportunity for participants to master newly learned concepts and gain valuable feedback on their performance.

The company’s executives were actively involved in the design of the program, and on hand to welcome participants at the beginning of the program. The company’s CEO and other senior leaders stayed involved during the week of training, and had a unique opportunity to observe the next generation of their organization’s leadership in action. Participants also got a chance to meet and network with the executives, who candidly shared their leadership experiences during activities throughout the week. 

The organization also provided participants with respected company leaders who acted as coaches and provided immediate feedback to participants as they tackled the issues presented during SLE. Coaches had access to assessment information collected before the session, and ensured that participants were addressing identified development areas throughout the week.

When SLE concluded, participants were required to make a presentation connecting the strategic leadership skills they learned to address the company’s real business challenges. Coaches helped participants hone their presentations, and senior company executives returned on the last day to assess the presentations. This approach reinforced the learning with practical application, and it enabled participants to significantly improve their presentation and analytical skills. It also gave senior executives the opportunity to listen to the ideas of these leaders, challenge them on their analysis and recommendations, and provide another input to building the pipeline of leadership talent.

The Experience Makes a Difference

By using SLE, the organization and its leaders realized multiple benefits, including:

  • The organization provided a meaningful, efficient development opportunity to emerging strategic leaders.
  • Leaders benefited from a highly engaging, immersive learning experience that gave them a realistic preview of the responsibilities and challenges that accompany.
  • SLE provided opportunities for leaders to understand executive derailers, get a sense for their own strengths and development needs, and build stronger working relationships with other leaders.

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