Substantive change vs. getting just a little better

changeWe’ve been working with two companies: One is a leading high-tech company and the other is a leading healthcare company. Both were faced with a similar decision, but each chose to go in a very different direction. Both are known for being innovative and committed to developing their people. Both are in highly competitive, changing markets. And both were faced with a choice: Either complete a two-and-a-half day “sales leadership summit” (most of which was PowerPoint presentations, but also a few exercises), or do a sales leadership development program that required six days of learning exercises and social learning spread out over five months. The out-of-pocket cost for travel and facilitators for the five-month program was about 60 percent less than the sales leadership summit, because most of it was delivered onsite or remotely. Both organizations knew that the documented retention rates of content for each program were quite different: About 15 percent typically retained learning in the summit, and about 90 percent retained learning in the five-month program. In the end, one company chose the summit, and one chose the five-month program. Each company’s choice provides insight into leadership, innovation, and commitment to their people. The one that decided on the two-and-a-half day workshop chose it because it was less demanding of the organization—it was just two and a half days of sitting in a classroom, and nothing more. The traditional format meant that the time and effort required was clearly understood and limited. When management made the choice, they were being explicit that their expectations for attitude and behavioral changes were minimal. They decided to spend more and accept less impact because to do more would require them to work harder than they felt was needed; getting just a little better was sufficient for their needs. The other organization selected the longer, more demanding program. Why? Because they were convinced that their markets were going to change so drastically that they either needed to change, or their survival would be threatened. Their driving force was the concern for substantive impact (and the lower cost was attractive, too). Making sure that their participants really thought and acted differently after completing the program was critical for them. Most organizations speak about the need for significant transformation, but most opt for “getting just a little better” rather than the substantive change. Most choose the workshops over the more in-depth program. If an organization operates in stable markets and is very successful, perhaps being conservative is a good approach. But if the organization is faced with turbulent markets and lots of change, it’s better to invest in a genuinely transformational program. It’s hard work, but it’s more likely to help the organization thrive.]]>

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