Friday, February 16, 2007

Behavioral Process Interventions for Leadership Development

This post is a paper that I had written 3 years ago in a book on leadership development , thought it might make interesting read for HR professionals


1. Introduction

The focus of this paper is leadership development through semi-structured interventions referred to as Behavioral Process Interventions (BPI’s) . This paper explores the orientation of leaders and their teams under different scenarios and suggests interventions. This paper does not attempt to define leadership or leadership competencies; it is restricted to the author’s view of critical leadership challenges that he has observed across multiple industries. This is an attempt to distill the authors learning’s and experiences to form a framework of developmental processes for leaders. Implicit in this paper is an assumption that leadership development efforts across industries need a stronger focus on behavioral interventions than cognitive learning.

Behavioral Process Interventions have been used for personal learning and growth for quite sometime now. These could range from completely unstructured interventions where individuals give and receive feedback based on interactions/transactions in a facilitated setting, T-Groups (ex- Human Process Labs’ conducted by ISABS, NTL etc) or semi-structured interventions with groups of co-workers. In his professional experiences spanning more than a decade as a consultant in software services, business consulting and manufacturing industries, the author has made effective use unstructured to semi-structured methods to enable leaders and leadership teams to learn and grow.

Working as a Leadership Development professional and interacting with people in leadership roles, the author has made some hypothesis on which he has based his interventions. Paragraph 4 of this paper outlines these hypothesis/assumptions.

In his experience the author has dealt with leadership teams, which could be broadly classified into:

· Newly formed teams
· Functioning teams
· Cross functional teams

The author urges the reader to treat this as an application of some principles tailored to a context, which he feels, is beneficial to the learning and growth of people who hold leadership positions in Corporate India. This is a continuous learning process for the author himself and with more such experiences the assumptions are likely to be re-validated and refined over time.

2. Key definitions

2.1 Behavioral Process Interventions (BPI)

A BPI is a semi-structured learning event, which involves sharing of feedback, behavioral data, reflection and introspection.

It is not an unstructured sharing exercise which groups of people engage in periodic events organized by ISABS ( in India or NTL ( in the USA. While the physical settings of the event remain the same the critical differences being that data generated
outside the physical settings of event (i.e. the room where the intervention is held) are allowed to be used as valid data for discussion by the members (i.e.- data of the “then and there” are equally valid as the data generated in the room i.e. the data in the “here and now”). Another major aspect of this kind of intervention is what the author calls “Setting the Stage” process, which is preparing the leader for the change (paragraph 5.2 of this paper describes this in greater detail)

2.2 Teams

1.Newly formed teams- These teams come into existence after re-organizations or to give sharper focus to a product or service line. The members of these teams form the apex decision-making bodies of the Independent Business Units (IBU’s). The author classifies a leadership team as newly formed during the first six months of its existence

2.Functioning Teams – Leadership teams in existence for more than six months have been defined as functioning teams. The structure, reporting relationships, goals are clear to the members and individuals have a fair idea of each others strengths and weaknesses

3.Cross Functional Teams - These teams are created for a specific organizational purpose and are disbanded after the purpose is met. There is a designated leader in these teams, but members may not have a direct reporting relationship with the leader. Some cross-functional teams could be permanent in nature.

Ex-In the IT services industry there is a concept of a Development Center Management Team (a Development Center-DC is the physical entity where software development takes place). The objectives of this team are to manage the physical infrastructure, ensure employee communication, manage costs etc. This team is lead by a DC Manager and who is supported by other line and support managers. None of these members have a formal reporting relationship to the DC Manager, these individuals report to their functional bosses in the Corporate Headquarters

While working with these teams, sharp differences in orientation of individuals have been noticed. Fig 1 &2 below capture in a tabular form the dysfunctional orientations of leaders and members of these teams. The table has been constructed based on quotations made by members of these teams to the author either during the intervention or during diagnosis. Figures 1 and 2 have been entirely culled out of from the authors experience and therefore may not be viewed as universally true

Note - The tables could not be reproduced here , if you are interested to read the full paper , drop me a mail at and i will be happpy to ship it across to you

The following section describes the top three leadership imperatives in the Indian context. An understanding of these imperatives or challenges would enable the reader to discover what the author believes are the key levers for leadership development

3. Top 3 Leadership imperatives in the Indian context

·Developing Leaders-Creating the leadership gene pool in the organization

Leadership Development continues to be viewed as an HR/Training agenda. Wherever there have been attempts to involve the top management in the process of leadership development, the efforts have yielded sub-optimal results. The existing leaders in corporate India need to view leadership development as a strategic activity. This is a rather complicated and non-trivial process. The pre-requisites for success in this endeavor are as follows:

1.The ability of the leaders to receive feedback and reflect on their dysfunctions
2.Recruit and empower professionals who are better than them and allow divergence of views and approaches
3.Allow people to grow into their positions and roles. According to the author the greatest test of developing leaders is when a leader makes himself redundant to the organization
4.Remove the aura of invulnerability that many leaders seem to cultivate

·Promoting Individual and Group Creativity

This involves, enabling individuals and teams to think beyond the obvious, discovering new paradigms and processes to achieve customer centricity. A leader should be a facilitator of individual and group creativity and in doing so raise the hopes and aspirations of people who work for him. There has been multiple instances where so-called leaders have stifled creativity in the name of process adherence and standardization. While there is a need for processes and metrics, leaders often tends to forget that the processes should not impede creativity. Most leaders that the author has come across lack a deeper understanding of people and often end up in celebrating and rewarding mediocrity.

· Championing Organizational Agility

Organizational agility in this context has been defined as the process wherein decision cycles are reduced, risk taking behavior evangelized, organizations de-layered, individuals empowered and change processes evangelized. The need for organizational agility is critical across industries for the following reasons:

1.Customers demands better service/value for the $
2.Technology reduces the barriers of entry across multiple sectors which enable unknown entities to threaten the incumbent players
3.Products have been rapidly commoditized and the differentiation can happen only through superior customer service, better customer segmentation and supply chain efficiencies.

The following paragraph describes the central theme of this paper and the premise of designing the BPI’s.

4. Key levers of leadership development

The premise of the BPI’s that the author has designed for leaders and their teams have been consistently based on augmenting the basic skills which will enable a leader to meet the leadership challenges outlined in the previous paragraph (Paragraph 3). The author felt that if a leader were able to explore the issues (ones discussed in the subsequent paragraphs) with his team then it would be a concrete step in his development in the direction of being a developer of leaders, promoter of creativity and champion of organization agility (the top 3 leadership imperatives in the Indian context -refer paragraph 3 of this paper)

1. Reflection and Self Dialogue- We need to encourage leaders to reflect on their biases, accept multiple data points about their behavior, understand how they impact their teams and their organization, accept their dysfunctions and make commitments to change. Most leaders that the author has worked with accept the need to go through this process and some actually invest their time and energy into it, however there are only a handful who have followed through and taken this process to a level wherein they themselves and people who work for them see the benefits.

2. Conflict of Motives- It has observed that many leaders face a conflict between their “articulated” and “real” motives. Ex- The author had an experience of dealing with a leader who would profess that team and teams goals are more important than any individual, however this individual (the leader) would himself indulge in politics, favoritism and rewarding people who were aligned to his views. While the stated position of the leader was team and group goals, deep down he promoted a dysfunctional individual hero worship. The author had many discussions with the individual and mirrored many data points with the interpretations, but was not able to make the individual accept his dysfunctions at a motive level. Another example of this conflict was seen when a leader’s articulated position was to institutionalize best of breed people processes in his organization, but his real motive was winning external recognition (awards) for himself, he would consciously scuttle all attempts to make sure processes have the desired impact on the organization. This conflict has a negative impact on the credibility with his team. In many cases this conflict is not conscious (i.e. the leader is unaware that there is a conflict), the author in his interventions has attempted to create awareness and ownership of such conflicts.

3. Vulnerability – Many leaders have the need to project themselves as invulnerable. However, it is the author’s belief that manifestations of invulnerability, not sharing motives and inability to take feedback from people are symptoms of individuals and teams who are not qualified to be leaders or leadership teams. The work of the author makes him believe that the display of invulnerability by the leader ruptures trust and credibility

The interventions that have been suggested have reflection, acceptance of individual motives and vulnerability as the three major levers of leadership development. The design or approach of these interventions are rooted in the context of the leader and his environment but the end objective is to help the individual(s) gain insight on these three parameters mentioned above.

5. Intervention Stages

In the subsequent paragraphs the paper describes the intervention stages and design options available to an professional engaged in leadership development . The follow paragraphs attempt to provide “How” answers to many questions raised in Para 4 of this paper

5.1- Diagnosis

Most of the BPI engagements that the author has undertaken were situations when the leader of the group wanted to solve a problem. The leader almost invariably felt that he knew the “problem” and wanted a “quick-fix” solution for the same.

Example A- In one case the leader of a Cross Functional team felt that the Line and Staff function members did not get along so he wanted a team building where the expectation from the author was to run a team building workshop.

A thorough and unbiased diagnosis is an important step even when the problem is articulated by the client (in this case leader of the team). The articulated pain point is often referred to as the “presented problem”, which needs to be understood in depth by the consultant in order to design his intervention.

A two level diagnostic process is recommended in most cases

1. Questionnaire (Ex- standard questionnaire designed by Edgar Schein refer Annexure-1, this can be modified to the context )
2. Face to face interviews with all the concerned members

After going through the two levels of diagnoisis of the situation in the problem mentioned in Example A, the author concluded that the fundamental issues were a combination of the following:

· The environment was one where back channel politics and personality attacks thrive
· Team members
· ignore controversial topics that are critical to team success
· Collective failure to tap into all the opinions and perspectives available in the team
· Hesitate to offer help outside their responsibility
· Hesitate to ask for help or provide constructive feedback

· Conceal weaknesses and mistakes from others

· Dissipation of
· energy in posturing and interpersonal risk management
· Jump to conclusions about the intentions and aptitudes of others

The diagnosis often reveals multiple dimensions of the “presented problem” but may still be inadequate data to define what the solution could be. As a consultant to such teams HR/OD professionals will have to live with this ambiguity.

However it is extremely critical to prepare the leader for change by replaying the data that has been generated through the diagnosis process. The level of acceptance and ownership of data varies, but there are only a very few instances where there has been complete rejection of the data. The subsequent paragraph defines how the consultant prepares the leader for the intervention

5.2- “Setting the Stage” –Preparing the leader of change

This is a critical part of the intervention cycle wherein the consultant prepares the leader, for reflection and change. This happens immediately after the diagnosis and is done on a one to one discussion with the leader of the group. The objective of this discussion is to use the data generated in the diagnosis phase to help the leader introspect on the processes mentioned in paragraph of this paper. It is extremely critical to mirror the data gathered from the diagnosis in an objective manner and give individual feedback to the leader from what has been gathered from the interview.

It is an extremely delicate and complicated process and what has helped the author in ensuring that these discussions meet their stated goals are as follows:

· Sensitivity to the leaders context and role
· Understanding of the business context and the constraints that the environments puts on the leader
· Being objective and not seen or perceived to champion the cause of any party
· Making sure that data and assumptions are clearly delineated

This is the Phase -A of “Setting the Stage” process. The objective of this stage is to make the leader aware of the situation and also dispel the myth that the problem that he simplistically defined (presented problem), may actually not be the problem, which is what we have seen in Example A

Phase-B of the “Setting the Stage” process is to start the reflection and self-dialogue within the leader. The author has tried to encourage the leader in multiple ways to explore the data and offered multiple possibilities in these discussions. A lot of data that is generated in the process of diagnosis has a bearing on the leadership style. In this process it is important to encourage the leader to explore the data from his own perspective and discover how his orientation impact the team and vice versa.

5.3- Designing the stages of the interventions with the leader

It is best to design such interventions in consultation with the leader and in doing so it empowers the leader in making choices about what he would ideally like to achieve in this situation. There have been instances where the leader has been unwilling to make the emotional investment in the process, this is not a unique situation and the advice to fellow professionals would be to disengage in those situations.

While designing the interventions it is important encouraged the leader to lead the sessions by offering to take the interpersonal risk first.

The following design constructs have been used with the different kinds of teams:

Newly Formed Teams

Approach 1

Experiences Exercise -The leader starts with sharing his experiences in life, with instances where he has been most engaged and instances where he has felt low and disengaged. The leader also shares things that he values most and his biases. One must design a template to help the leader reflect and structure his thoughts; this template should force the leader to think on the following lines:

· Instances where the leader has not given somebody a benefit of doubt before arriving to a negative conclusion -Judgmental
· Instances where he has not been able to offer apologies when he knew he was wrong
- Ego
· Instances where he has managed his behavior for effect-posturing

The impact of this exercise with guided facilitation helps in the following manner:

· Establishes the fact that the leader is to not be afraid of losing ‘face’ in front of the team, so that others can take the same risk.
· Create an environment that does not punish vulnerability

Approach 2

Appreciative Inquiry Exercise-The objective of this exercise is to force people to look at the positive aspects of each other’s personality. Each member narrates a story where he has felt most engaged while working for the organization, the story has to be narrated in great detail and based on the story role of the participant in the story the other members are asked to give appreciative/positive feedback on the individual Annexure 2 of this article includes a sample of the appreciative feedback exercise of a newly formed team. The names of the team members have been removed to maintain confidentiality. The objective of this exercise is to get started in the right frame of mind for the intervention and for subsequently working in teams

Subsequent Stages after the first exercise

The subsequent stages of the intervention flow as follows:

· Use data generated from the previous exercises to create a map of synergies amongst individuals
· Allow sharing of personal values and beliefs
· Encourage discussions on what makes successful leadership teams –This can be facilitated by asking the following questions
o What makes leadership teams fail?
o Where do you think that you will be dysfunctional as a team?

· Group Norms- Allow the teams to devise a group norms along multiple dimensions

o Confronting peers when an individual sees divergence from expected group behaviour
o Not being judgemental
o Will question decisions made by others but will not question motives

While these processes are happening within the teams the consultant must be engaged with the leader, observing him, sharing and mirroring data etc. Experience shows that if the processes /steps are followed in spirit then rich data is generated after each session. It is extremely critical to have extensive debriefing sessions with the leader after each day of the intervention and document the key findings on the 3 dimensions mentioned in paragraph 4 above.

Functioning and Cross Functional Teams

There is an approach variance when one deals with teams in existence for sometime. There are biases about individuals and perceptions already built in, in this context it is felt that starting with an experiences exercise or an appreciative enquiry session will be viewed with cynicism and defensiveness. Three design options are available in this case but the author encourages the use of approach 3

Approach 1-Problem Solving and Action Planning

Focus on Group Problem solving processes, which would mean a second level diagnosis of the “real issues” and the root causes of the same. The entire intervention is designed as a problem solving exercise with action items, review milestones etc

Approach 2 –Visioning

Create a vision of the Team and use the data collected to do a reality check (or AS-IS check) on the health of the team and then create an alignment process between the AS-IS and TO-BE

Approach 3- Exploration of Self and Team

This approach would include a realization of self and the impact of each individual’s behavior on the other members and then aggregate these behaviors into a process, which would be impact of interpersonal relationships in the context of the team. Explore emotions and then do a robust visioning process and Group Norm process to integrate the team

The bias towards approach 3 is based on the following premises

In approach 1 there is an element of defensiveness on the part of the individuals and their lack of ownership of the problem, the resolution therefore becomes a mechanical activity wherein milestones are seldom met. The leader does not get enough time to reflect and is pushed to achieve results which further fragment the team

Visioning without the breaking the artificial harmony which exists in many teams creates a low accountability in implementing the vision and becomes an artificial exercise

Critical Success Factors for Approach –3

The critical success factor for approach 3 is the interpersonal feedback sharing process. The risks in this kind of exercise are as follows:

1. In cases where interpersonal relations have degenerated to a great extent people who want to give the feedback find it difficult to engage
2. Individual could be going through the “motions” without adding value to the process
3. Individual getting candid feedback (negative) maybe able to rationalize and move on
4. Some individuals maybe fence sitters (wait and watch) which would discourage others to open up and take interpersonal risks

The consultant should prepare the leader with these issues before the start of the exercise and this process is facilitated by the leader himself, he takes the lead in taking the interpersonal risks and enables his team to do the same. For the leader to be confident to facilitate this session the consultant has to spend a considerable time in the “Setting the Stage” (Paragraph 5.2) process

Group Confrontation

The consultant should have the ability and willingness to be able to confront the group and the individuals based on the data generated during the diagnosis and also during the intervention. The author believes in direct confrontation of the group and dysfunctional behaviours of individuals enables them to generate insights about themselves

on page
6. Lessons Learnt

In this section key learning’s have been listed, the author feels that these need to be taken into account by anybody who chooses to undertake a BPI engagement as a consultant

· Every leader, team or context is unique, this paper merely talks about generic intervention strategies, it is not a formula that can be used universally. HR/OD professionals need to build superior diagnosis abilities which will help them go deeper and deeper to the current reality of the leader and teams

· Ability to distinguish between facts and assumptions. This is easier said than done, and continues to be a key challenge that the author has faced. The consultant needs to continuously question himself on whether he is getting judgmental, making the wrong assumptions, and designing interventions based on what he can deliver and not what is most suitable for the client

· BPI is not the only solution for issues faced by leaders and their teams, before recommending this approach, the consultant must have the intellectual integrity to make sure that this is the best approach for helping the leader in his current context

· There is no substitute to diagnosis. While this is an important step in the intervention strategy one must also remember that the diagnosis should not become a data collection and confirmation exercise for the hypothesis and assumptions already made by the leader or the consultant

1 comment:

~Nayan~ said...

too long :D
and bit difficult for me to absorb