Leadership development professionals are wrestling with big questions about program timing.
With the pivot to virtual sessions, a world of possible options for the sequence and timing of learning activities exists. From self-paced learning to Zoom-session overload, companies are exploring how best to support leaders with critical skills during this challenging time.
Virtual leadership sessions can come in many flavors: from a set of synchronous group activities compressed into a single morning or day to an extended timeframe of sessions every other day or once a week or once a month. The labels of compressed and extended are only indicators of the ends of a spectrum. Once you decouple individual activities (reading, watching videos, journaling) from the group activities (engaging with an executive), the possibilities are infinite.
At Insight Experience, we have seen clients all over the map in the last four months: a client who has gone from a four-day, in-person session to a 12-hour experience over three days (compressed); a client who has gone from a four-day, in-person program to an experience delivered in one- to two-hour chunks over 20 weeks (extended); a client who has asked us to make all content presentations individual, asynchronous activities and made the interactive portion of the class less than a day (really compressed).
The jury is out about which works best. What we are learning is that a range of options can work if the design is matched to the participant need.
So, how do you decide? Here are the six questions we’re asking clients to ask themselves:
1) Do your program objectives have a timeframe?If the learning objective is to support a change in corporate priorities or direction, a more compressed format may be preferred. An immersive format allows for more emotional buy-in, more reprogramming, and more commitment. The energy of the people around you—even on a Zoom screen—helps start participants on a new path. This type of bootcamp atmosphere may require additional periodic learning to support it, but the extended format doesn't usually create the excitement necessary to make a sharp shift.
2) Are you introducing skills that would benefit from between-session application?Skills that could be deepened with rapid cycles of application and reflection could be strong candidates for an extended learning experience with specific exercises to complete between sessions. More strategic concepts may not be immediately applicable and may be more appropriate to present in a compressed time horizon so that participants will be prepared to apply when the need arises.
3) Do you want to generate deep connections across your group or offer a wide net of potential organizational contacts?Deep connections require the opportunity for shared experiences. If you want to mix participants and enable them to work together on activities in a meaningful way, the better suited a program might be to an extended format. If the intention is to introduce a broad group and let them define the next steps, a compressed experience would be sufficient.
4) How many new or complex ideas are you planning to cover?If you are delivering one to two major concepts, then a participant can digest the information in a compressed timeframe. Multiple complex topics are more similar to a collegiate course and may be better suited for an extended learning experience with specific modules.
5) How would an extended experience fit into your business cycle?If your business has a distinct monthly or quarterly cadence, be aware of good and bad times to ask participants to attend a learning session. Extended programs run the risk of overlapping critical business deliverables. This is a more complex calendaring challenge than when L&D programs were a three-day, concentrated workshop.
6) Do your participants have relatively consistent schedules?Consistent schedules enable extended learning. Participants can book every Tuesday morning for a month. Inconsistent schedules make a concentrated learning experience easier to schedule and attend.
Your answers to some of these questions may be contradictory, so there will always be judgment involved when you consider your design. These questions will focus your design discussion and thinking.
No matter what approach you select, the offering needs to engage and hold your leaders’ interest. As business simulation providers, we are delighted to see the power that a shared experience like a simulation can have in the virtual environment to engage learners and sustain connection of ideas and relationships over even a multimonth design. The more extended a program you design, the more connectivity you need to create.
We believe the L&D pivot to virtual is here to stay. Let’s deepen our understanding of what works and what helps leaders grow in this challenging time when, now more than ever, organizations need effective leadership talent.