Thursday, 15 December 2016

The Value of Iteration

The last few weeks have been very interesting. I am busy working with a client on the development of a significant leadership programme to launch next year.  Based on an initial conversation with the head of the organisation about some interesting work I have been doing elsewhere, we agreed that I should speak with senior people in the organisation, as well as the managers of potential participants, and some of the potential participants themselves.

The fundamental model includes a large element of participant involvement in the design: ie on day 1 of the programme (which is modular over several months) they say what they would most value working on during subsequent days.

However, in order to invite people to the programme and give them some information to help them decide whether it is for them, and also to give some shape to the day 1 co-design exercise, it is necessary to have a high-level outline and structure; and some ideas of the types of content they can choose between. A completely blank sheet of paper would not be helpful (at least, in this particular organisational culture - I can imagine trying that elsewhere!)

So I started by asking a number of senior people for their ideas, and based on a structure which one of them proposed, and others endorsed, I then had focus groups with potential participants, and their managers. These radically re-designed the draft programme in a number of significant ways; and to their credit the senior managers are accepting that even though there were benefits of the original proposed programme which are now being lost (but other benefits, of higher perceived value to the participants, are being gained). In fact the final revision is closer to the model I have used elsewhere than our first draft here…

And of course if we are to launch next spring, which is the ambition, we really need to get invitations out before Christmas, so that people can plan their diaries accordingly. So we are having to get final agreement in something of a rush, and, for reasons of geography, mainly by remote communications.

But I think we are almost there. And although it has felt a somewhat messy process, and almost as though we were going in circles at times, I am convinced it was worth it.

In the first place, it is essential to ensure the relevance of the programme to the participants as well as to the organisation. Likewise, it is important that the relevance is recognised: involving people in the process gives them more of a stake in the outcome. That is equally true of the line managers, who will be encouraging people to make time for the programme.  But also, we are learning a lot about the organisation by the mere fact of doing this: the different ways in which people in different roles conceive of the issues is itself very useful information. Further, there is something about getting the conversation - and the thinking - going about leadership before we even start that programme that may well prove helpful.

But I have to admit to a certain relief that we are nearly at the end of (the first part of) the seemingly endless iteration...

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