What ingredients do you rely on to make a successful leadership development program? The first and most important item that comes to mind for me is a clear purpose. Specifically, what behaviors do I expect to see more or less of from the leaders who attend the program? With these clear objectives as my base, I proceed to combine proven content that provides practical yet meaningful insights (directly aligned to the behaviors) with a talented facilitator who can guide learners through the content in clear and inspiring way. And then I put all the ingredients (behavior objectives, learners, content, and facilitator) in a classroom (not an oven!) designed for learning.
Or should I?
In today’s hybrid workplace, is the most optimal place for leadership development a physical classroom with its four walls, round tables with chairs, and a projector? Or have learners and learning evolved so that a different kind of “container” works better?
Over the last 18 months, the virtual classroom has become as familiar as our virtual offices and conference rooms. However, I’ve been wondering if this transition was simply a stopgap measure reluctantly used until we can get back to what we know about developing leaders—in-person interactions—or if something more permanent has shifted in our world of learning.
The pandemic pushed me and the Dion Leadership team to challenge our thinking on the most effective container for leadership development.
First by necessity, then by choice, we have been conducting a series of management, director-level, and high-potential leadership development programs using a 100% virtual classroom format. And we have learned a lot.
Let me explain that when I say virtual classroom, I do not mean just taking classroom-designed training content and delivering it over Zoom or Teams. That, I’m pretty sure, would be destined to fail before the facilitator clicked off their mute button. When we migrated to virtual learning, we built a Dion Leadership Learning Platform which provides 20–30 minutes of pre-work delivered on an engaging platform. Done asynchronously prior to a live session to kick off a core model or prompt self-reflection time, the live virtual group session is then spent in application exercises, small-group breakouts, and other dialog-based exercises to reinforce and apply the models delivered on the e-learning platform. We offer the same models and content, just repackaged for staged and virtual facilitation.
In 2020 and 2021 we designed and conducted programs where the only variables that changed were the delivery mode (virtual vs in-person) and the learners from the same company. Provided with this test-kitchen opportunity, we set out to measure the impact of the learning experience when the same content is delivered virtually versus in-person.
To be honest, we were skeptics. Several of us had spent decades flying around the world to deliver in-person workshops. At some level, I think we wanted to believe that our road warrior years were worth it. We were highly invested in the belief that in-person learning is superior. On the other hand, we were acutely aware that our post-COVID world is forever changed. Suddenly, we were faced with the change management challenge that is part of our courses: embrace the uncharted, even if it is scary and doesn’t fit with our reality.
Beyond just an “is it better or not,” we wanted to see specifically if all areas of interpersonal skill training and development could migrate to the virtual classroom. Would we find limitations with some content that just doesn’t work in a virtual environment? Our team was not sure what we would find.
We think the findings are interesting and hope you do too. We have analyzed the data and shared it in three different ways. This blog packages all three together and invites you, if this interests you too, to explore further.
As always, I appreciate hearing your ideas, insights, and comments. If you fancy yourself a chef in the leadership development kitchen, I’d love to receive your recipe.