Companies are Turning to Experiential Leadership Programs as Digital Talent Fears Abound

GettyImages-537472294-compressorIf a spate of recent surveys are to believed, most CEOs fear their organizations aren’t well enough prepared to cope with digital disruption. And finding the right leadership talent is chief among their concerns.

More than 500 CEOs recently questioned by peer group the Conference Board nominated “finding next generation leaders” as their second-biggest fear behind a global recession, outranking dozens of other risks, including regulations, wage inflation and cybercrime.

It’s therefore not surprising that an increasing number of companies are considering so-called “experiential” programs, hoping that offering staff controlled doses of hands-on experience will help them manage the C-suite of the future.

The term refers to practical learning approaches, such as action training, on-the-job training, simulations and serious games, according to the Association for Talent Development, an education industry group. More specific examples include job rotation and shadowing programs, as well as virtual or live simulations.

The percentage of companies offering experiential programs for leaders jumped nearly 20 percentage points to 64% this year, up from 47% in 2015, according to the results of a survey of more than 10,000 global executives and human resources professionals by Deloitte.

“More than 500 CEOs nominated finding next generation leaders as their second-biggest fear behind a global recession.

Similar research conducted last year by the Association for Talent Development and the Institute for Corporate Productivity found that high-performing firms were about three times more likely to use experiential learning, for both frontline and executive-level leaders.

To be sure, such training methods have their limitations. Digital disruption is posing fresh challenges that many senior leaders and traditional mentors wouldn’t be familiar with. Indeed, the Deloitte survey found that just 5% of respondents felt they had strong digital leaders in place.

“There is still a crucial need for stronger and different types of leaders, particularly as today’s business world demands those who demonstrate more agile and digital capabilities,” the consultancy said.

As a potential solution, it suggests companies consider devising ways to identify digitally-talented employees, and then perhaps fast-track them into executive positions via intensive hands-on training.

A method employed by one global high-tech manufacturer involved developing a framework for leadership potential that outlined attributes most predictive of leadership success. The tool was rolled out worldwide to assess 100 middle managers and later applied at a company-wide level, placing everyone on a level playing field regardless of job function or region.

Apparently, applying the method helped the unnamed company uncover “hidden gems” in unexpected places. Indeed, 5% of the highest-potential leaders had previously been assessed as average performers, indicating either a poor role allocation or untapped potential.

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