The challenges of scaling

By William Seidman Teaching 6 to 20 people is pretty straightforward: Present the knowledge, then follow up with each student to make sure everyone is applying it. But this approach doesn’t work with thousands of people who are all over the world. Not surprisingly, developing great leadership programs for large numbers of geographically dispersed people is a significant challenge for most organizations. It requires a sophisticated, but still cost-effective, scaling infrastructure that takes cultural differences into account. The goal of scaling is to create an environment in which thousands of people anywhere in the world feel that they have personally invented the program and, over time, completely internalize it. A great scaling initiative is centrally driven, but perceived as a personalized, grassroots learning experience. Scaling has two elements: • easy, inexpensive delivery to large numbers of people • significant impact Traditional methods all have problems with one or the other. Mentoring can be very effective, particularly in adjusting to local conditions, but it is labor intensive, inconsistent in quality, and doesn’t work when the numbers get large. Instructor-led training can handle more people, but it too is labor intensive, can be difficult to adapt and has only marginal long-term impact. E-learning can be scaled to thousands, but is ill-suited to leadership development. Gamified e-learning is being promoted as a solution. Advocates contend that gamified e-learning, particularly when it is structured as a group game and is supported by social learning forums, acts as an excellent, low-cost, per-person simulation teaching strong leadership skills. However, the evidence suggests that people learn to play the game, not become great leaders. This meets the criteria for cost, but not the criteria for effectiveness. Most organizations are so intimidated by the costs of large-scale programs that they focus attention primarily on the cost aspects of a program and less on achieving the desired impact. Of course, they want both, but that balance is rarely evident in discussions of scaling. We like to reframe the discussion by focusing on effectiveness first, then asking: “How can you do it for large numbers?” This changes the way an organization can approach the scaling problem.]]>

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