Pro Bono Experiences Catalyze Vertical Talent Development
Heat forms, forges, and strengthens that which it does not burn—it’s the ultimate metaphor for an effective form of leadership development. Similarly, manufactured heat experiences that draw employees out of their comfort zone can increase their ability to absorb information, react quickly and decisively, and thrive in increasingly complex global environments.
Manufactured heat experiences that draw employees out of their comfort zone can increase their ability to absorb information, react quickly and decisively, and thrive in increasingly complex global environments.
The laws of thermodynamics are certainly not lost on 3M, the Fortune 500 multinational with a long-standing reputation as a company committed to improving every life through innovation and science. It even applies science-backed approaches to its leadership development with a program that emphasizes the vertical development of executives. This methodology was developed by the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), which has been ranked by the Financial Times as the top global provider of executive education. According to CCL, ‘horizontal development’ relates to the acquisition of skills, competencies, and knowledge, while vertical development seeks to transform a person’s worldview for greater empathy and adaptability in three phases: heat experiences, colliding perspectives, and elevated sense making.
Through 3M’s pinnacle leadership development program, Catalyst, participants undergo a yearlong, externally focused development journey where they gain exposure to perspectives outside the company. Catalyst invites senior managers to step away from their immediate responsibilities for a 10-day immersion in a community-based project designed to provide a series of ‘heat experiences,’ putting their leadership abilities to the test in conditions outside their comfort zone, as pro bono consultants.
Also known as Global Pro Bono consulting, the assignment calls on corporate employees to use their expertise and professional skills to strengthen mission-driven organizations which are foreign—in every sense of the word—and an example of the type of challenge which drives vertical development. It’s a crash course in adaptation to a rapidly changing environment through the application of hard skills and soft skills in new contexts. Since the program launched in 2014, more than 70 percent of participants report new capability in effective communication and innovative problem solving. Of 26 companies surveyed in PYXERA Global’s 8th Global Pro Bono State of the Practice report, leadership development is among the top reasons companies invest in Global Pro Bono.
It’s a crash course in adaptation to a rapidly changing environment through the application of hard skills and soft skills in new contexts.
The Heat Experience. The heat experience relates to the challenge of operating in an unfamiliar environment, serving on a pro bono consulting team of fellow 3Mers from around the world and across the company, working in issue areas in which the participants may have little to no experience. Participants work in host organizations focused on issues such as waste management in India, air quality in China, and refugee integration in Costa Rica, which requires them to develop a quick and thorough understanding of their local client’s context and challenges. Immersed in the culture, participants learn first-hand to listen—and hear—the key stakeholders such as the host client’s board of directors, local government officials, and direct beneficiaries. These encounters result in proposed solutions that often contrast with preconceived notions of how to drive change.
Colliding Perspectives. Collaboration on a team comprised of different worldviews, opinions, backgrounds, and training naturally exposes participants to radically different perspectives, which often ‘collide’ in this accelerated development methodology. The approach intentionally disrupts participants’ habitual way of thinking, engendering curiosity, clarity, compassion, choice, and courage among the participating leaders. Eighty percent of Global Pro Bono participants report improved collaboration and cultural agility, as well as a new appreciation for systems thinking.
Elevated Sense Making. To make the most of the immersive 10-day experience, 3M also deploys on-site coaches to promote elevated ‘sense making,’ not only enabling the participants to be effective on the ground, but also processing the experience for long-term learning. Coaching guides leaders to view a situation more fully, leading to the acceptance that there are often multiple paths to a problem’s resolution.
3M Catalyst is one example of cutting-edge leadership programs from diverse global companies such as SAP, GSK, and Johnson & Johnson, which push leaders out of their comfort zone and into the ‘heat’ zone—shaking loose preconceived notions and awakening skills to lead in complex environments. Participants return to their companies with a deeper sense of purpose, empathy, and agility and with a renewed capacity to collaborate, innovate, and lead strategically. At the same time, they leave their host organizations with new capabilities—a combination of requested deliverables and strategic recommendations. Both participants and hosts use the experience to move to their ‘next level,’ a crucible experience that is a win-win for all.