Shifting Perspective: Helping Executives to Help Themselves

Drilling into the Details

Drilling into the Details

I’ve just read a PhD thesis in which the author argued that executive development provides organisations with a source of competitive advantage, a vehicle for strategic change and a method to enhance the careers of leaders. Nothing particularly earth-shattering in any of those arguments. But, here’s the kicker. The genius is in the details i.e. some organisations manage to translate this into real outcomes. They monetise this.

Best Method: So, what’s the best ‘method’ to train executives? Historically, we think about Executive Development as a formal, planned process in which executives attend a facility and are filled up with the latest thinking (on strategy, brand building, emotional intelligence, social media etc.). Yet, Hernez-Broom and Hughes argue: “Classroom training should not be the only part of a leadership development initiative and may be the least critical…development experiences are likely to have the greatest impact when they can be linked to or embedded in a person’s ongoing work.” In the US, this on-the-job learning idea is captured in the phrase: ‘You go to college to get your MBA. Then you go to work to learn the rest of the alphabet’. So, how can you help executives maximise developmental experiences in the workplace? While it’s a broad topic, one particularly useful technique is the Personal Case approach – which can be incorporated into formal programmes.

Personal Case: The central idea is to facilitate a developmental discussion based on a person’s current work experience. Each participant writes up a ‘case’, which can be solved by the application of course materials. It also provides other participants an opportunity to consider the case and to apply course materials, giving the ‘case writer’ a colleagues’ perspective. The core intent is not really to solve the case, but to explore the options that might open up by looking at this from a new/different angle. Theories and models reviewed in the formal programme are lenses which provide different perspectives. In short, it’s an application idea, allowing participants to test new approaches on existing problems in the relative safety of a developmental programme.

Homework Completed: Prior to attending the Workshop each executive develops a case. During the workshop, small groups of participants get to work on these. In all instances cases are deemed confidential. Only enough copies are made for the group and all copies are collected at the end of the discussion. After individual reading and consideration, approximately one and a half hours is allocated for group consideration of each case. The time is divided as follows:

  • Group briefing: Here, the group may ask the ‘author’ for clarification on any point in the case write-up and s/he may add additional information which they were perhaps hesitant to put in writing.
  • Group clarification: Clarification questions by consultants i.e. sub-group members.
  • Group discussion: The author leaves the group. The remaining people discuss the case and reach a preliminary consensus on what should be done and how to carry it out. This will facilitate their discussing the ‘author’s’ role in this. 
  • Group discussion and ‘case’ writer’s response: A spokesperson will present the group’s initial observations.
  • Action Planning: Following these discussions the case writer prepares an Action-Listing (i.e. what now needs to be done as a result of their own/the groups input).

Just Experiment: Having worked this case method several times, I’m always surprised about how much participants enjoy this and how it reinforces the learning. The good news is that it’s very simple to construct. The great news is that it works. Why not try it for size in your next development program?


PS: Lighter Note: The Executive Balloon Flight

A man in a hot air balloon sees a guy on the ground. 
”Hello down there. Can you tell me where I am?” 
”Yes, you’re 54 feet above the ground.”

The man in the balloon replies: “You must be an engineer.” 
”Why yes I am, how did you know?” 
 “You just gave me completely accurate information that is totally useless.”

The man on the ground says: “You must be an Executive.” 
”Why yes I am, how did you know?” 
”You don’t know where you are. You don’t know where you’re going. And now you’re blaming me.”

From Joe Bell (best hairdresser in Clontarf – or so he claims!): Guy introduces himself as follows: “I come from a family of failed magicians. I have two half-sisters”. 

Everyone A Winner: Guy on a hospital trolley, waiting to be wheeled into the operating theatre.

Patient: “Help me out here Doc. I’ve very nervous. Is this gall bladder removal essential?”

Doctor: “Absolutely. I have 3 daughters in Mount Anville.”  (private, fee-paying school in Dublin).

Voted Joke of the Edinburgh Festival: Guy says: “My dad urged me to get a donor card. Now, there’s a man after my own heart!”

Check our website or call 087 2439019 for an informal discussion about executive or organization development.



About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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