CASE STUDY: TAKING LEADERS TO THE NEXT LEVEL
One of America’s largest private financial services firms hired Hailey Group to add facilitative leadership skills to their senior leadership development program. The program nominates 40 VPs and SVPs who execute beautifully—the rising stars of the firm—and challenges them to operate at a higher level. They need to shift from excelling on the dance floor of execution to also being in the balcony above, surveying, responding to, stewarding, and supporting the dance as a whole.
Hailey Group designed experiential workshops to advance the program’s overarching goals for these executives, as follows:
- To learn to lead by cultivating others;
- To shift from execution to thinking—to observe and track the bigger, shifting picture;
- To offer an innovative solution to a business problem.
Participants were divided into five groups of eight, each of which developed and presented on a business challenge outside their areas of expertise set up by the CEO.
Hailey Group designed two experiential workshops within the program, one on the launch day, the second a month later, when participants are in the midst of seeking insights on their business challenges.
The first workshop introduced the principles and techniques of facilitative leadership by immersing participants in the Visual Thinking Strategies (VTS) methodology. Executives both participated in and practiced leading discussions about works of art art by applying the following techniques:
- Asking open-ended and evidence-seeking questions
- Maintaining neutrality and extending inquiry
- Listening through effective paraphrasing
- Eliciting multiple perspectives and increasing bias awareness
- Linking and framing ideas throughout a process
- Employing silence and reflection/appreciation while refraining from judgment
All of these skills and techniques required participants to step outside their comfort zones as leaders. They experienced and reflected upon the impact of stewarding rather than directing a team, of allowing discussion to stay alive instead of concluding, and of operating at a very high level as facilitators. Through peer-group feedback, they gained self-awareness by learning how others experience them as leaders, and by extension, how those they lead experience themselves.
Four weeks later, the executives applied these techniques directly to elements of their business challenge (i.e., user feedback, web sites, data, their own notes, research materials, and more) with expert coaching from Hailey Group. The process elicited richer discussion, greater participation, increased comfort with ambiguity, and more meaningful solutions to personnel and business challenges.
In both workshops, participants regularly reflected on the integration of what they learned in their day-to-day work as well as the program projects.
The Vice President of Talent Development overseeing the program writes, “The Visual Thinking Strategies approach has changed the culture of leadership at the firm in that our leaders have become much more facilitative leaders vs. jumping in and solving issues. This has created more involvement and engagement with associates at all levels. Of all the tools we introduce in the intensive 9-week experience, Hailey Group’s are the most applied tool back on the job.”
Upon completion of the program, participants were asked to evaluate their experience quantitatively and qualitatively. An impressive 96% of the respondents rated the Hailey Group workshops as valuable or very valuable.
After Hailey Group’s methodology was integrated into this program, it won HR.com’s prestigious 2016 award for #1 Experienced/Senior Leader Program.
“I really can see how these tools will help get my team to better understandings of our work. There are often times that I make assumptions about what the data is telling us – data is really just a picture trying to tell a story. While it is hard not to share my own opinions, the story becomes much richer if I hold back and just facilitate.”
Participants’ feedback also states that VTS “…really helped to show the value of just observing, thinking, listening to understand others’ perspectives…” and “…to think about a different, but very effective, approach to gaining team involvement and looking at issues in multiple ways.”
For those executives who actually facilitated a VTS discussion, the results were even more eye-opening. While “difficult at first” and “more challenging than it looked” it became clear that VTS is a “very powerful tool…with amazing relevance to our work.” Equally important, participants learned the value of ambiguity in a discussion—“It was freeing to shut off the ‘you must have the right answer’ valve and focus on listening.”
- Because this firm owns a world-class contemporary art collection, Hailey Group leveraged this incredible resource by working with curators to use original works of art from the collection during the first workshop.
- Hailey Group worked in concert with the program as whole, tying elements of facilitative leadership and inquiry-based discussion to the program’s other content, from a methodology for strategic thinking to 1:1 executive coaching.