There are many organizations that provide or buy leadership development interventions as customized activities or off-the-shelf packages.
Is either of these better than the other?
In my view, customized leadership development interventions provide solutions based on research, understanding and specific application that off-the-shelf packages can never do.
Why do companies still design or buy off-the-shelf leadership development programs that have the same content regardless of the recipient group? Efficiency, consistent experience and speed, are three of the reasons. It could also be argued that cost is another factor – i.e. it’s cheaper to take something off-the-shelf than to conduct a customizing exercise. Despite my stated preference above, I do believe that there is a place for off-the-shelf content. This would primarily be in the areas of information dissemination, skill building and exposure to principles or new ideas.
Companies that provide off-the-shelf leadership development interventions often deliver training courses that are generic and provide learners with an element of change and challenge. In my experience this is often short-lived and impactful over the short-term. To really impact leadership behavior and performance in order to make a significant difference, it is a whole different ball game.
Leadership development is about challenging paradigms, provoking experiences, deepening awareness, practicing application and disturbing comfort zones – not primarily about learning content. There is a place for this, but not so much in the core discipline of developing leaders.
Why do I say this? Because when the rubber hits the road, it’s the way leaders behave and adapt that makes an impact, not the way they recall models or principles learned in the classroom.
So what benefits does a customized approach provide? Because surely it’s more expensive and time consuming? Well some of the benefits are about understanding, contextualizing, application, and tailoring. As far as time is concerned, customized leadership development interventions need not take significantly longer to design and implement. Why? Well a lot depends on the organization of individual involved – someone who can quickly assimilate culture, business challenges, leadership dynamics and learning needs, can design a custom program relatively quickly. One that closely aligns to where the organization and target leadership population are, and one that builds development experiences that have a higher likelihood of making a difference than just delivering generic content. Regarding cost, it is more an argument of value. A bit like buying a cheap car – great for a season, but lacking reliability over time and depreciating in value quickly. Designing customized interventions is far more likely to tackle the underlying challenges and build a legacy of excellence.
So my pragmatic position on ‘buy or build’ is do both. They can complement each other well – just be careful when and where you choose them.