Saturday, August 2, 2008

"Experiential" courses for execs

This BusinessWeek article made me laugh. Companies are sending their execs on junkets to exotic places for leadership training. It's a stroke of genius by some innovative travel agents who have repackaged their expensive tours as "executive development." The travel business in the US is hurting due to the falling economy and rising fuel costs. Big companies have deep pockets and spare no expense in developing their top level managers even if, as the article points out, these "courses" have "dubious educational value." The travel agents are really onto something.

I've decided to jump on this executive development bandwagon and put together my own "experiential learning" course for executives. The difference between my own course and these others is that I think mine would deliver real value. Here's the outline of my course.

  • The exec gets a assignment to write a research paper on a subject he/she is expected to know something about. The first draft submitted is returned with numerous requests for clarifications and a terse note in email from the leader of the exercise who is role playing as the exec's supervisor, "You can do better than this," with no actionable suggestions for improvement.
  • The exec presents his report in a meeting with other "execs," really actors role playing various roles in an organization.
  • The meeting attendees check email and voice mail during the presentation, have side bar conversations with each other on topics unrelated to the meeting, and act generally as if they'd rather be somewhere else. Two attendees at opposite ends of the table text message each other, make eye contact, and giggle after each exchange.
  • The questions during Q&A are unrelated to the content of the presentation. The presenter is frequently interrupted when trying to respond. At the end of the meeting the presenter is thanked for his time and ignored as he shuts down his laptop and gathers his things.
  • The exec receives email from his "supervisor" stating that someone in the audience had some questions about the presentation and that he, the supervisor, answered the questions as best he could. The supervisor doesn't remember what the questions were.

At the end of this grueling exercise the exec learns that this is a not uncommon experience for analysts when presenting to middle managers in many large organizations, perhaps even in his or her own. If a company is trying encourage innovative solutions from everyone in the organization, you can see that this sort of misbehavior doesn't contribute to that goal.

So, if anyone is looking for some experiential sensitivity training for their execs or other managers, drop me a line. I'll do the first class for free. It would be fun.

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