As L&D leaders, we face the challenge of balancing innovation with practicality when designing our leadership development programs while also ensuring they are engaging and impactful.
You’ll be relieved to know that some of us are getting this balance right and doing so in business landscapes that are constantly shifting and changing.
In this episode of The Learning and Development Podcast, I speak again with Kenny Temowo, Leadership Culture and Talent Innovation Lead, UK at Netflix; this time on what leadership development looks like at a global organization that stays true to its startup nature.
Read on to hear about the leadership expectations and values at Netflix, how Kenny and the team deploy immersive learning experiences in their leadership development experiences, and leveraging in-depth discovery to ensure your training has the desired impact.
Kenny explains that the leadership expectations at Netflix start with the same global expectations within many organizations.
“You're expected to hire, build, and retain great team members in an inclusive way,” he says, “and to give feedback, show you care, help problem solve, see different perspectives, and cascade context from the business.”
However, Kenny adds that if you look at Netflix’s culture, they talk a lot about courage, judgment, and selflessness, and they commit to those values within the company’s context, which is that Netflix has retained its startup energy.
“What comes with that startup energy is the need for leaders to make high-stakes judgment calls, and that takes courage,” he says. “Quick case in point: if you're a content leader, then you're trying to pick a show that you think will land for your audience.”
“You may have to push back and make a judgment call about whether we take that out of development or whether we continue with it and how you give feedback to our partners and some of our writers and directors,” says Kenny.
The Netflix team developed a leadership program inspired by the Aspen Institute’s Great Books program to equip leaders with the knowledge of significant books.
“Peter Reiling, our VP of leadership programs, developed a program for CEOs and business leaders to really deepen their knowledge in this space, “ Kenny explains. “It’s a text-based Socratic dialogue of questions based on reading stories written by journalists or ex-journalists in the business.”
“And because Netflix is about stories, we use these stories or cases as a way of exemplifying key issues in the business,” he says. “There isn’t a single slide, which makes my day. The stories are powerful, and people get immersed in these stories and challenging conversations with each other.”
To ensure they are designing leadership training to solve real problems within the company, Kenny and the team carry out a great deal of discovery work.
“That includes semi-structured interviews, listening stations for our sentiment survey, and our CHRO will often do a number of tours,” Kenny explains. “Historically, we haven’t always had a large L&D organization or a talent management function. So, HRBPs (HR Business Partners) have played a big role in coaching our leaders, so they have a lot of context that we seek.”
“The first thing to do is that discovery work,” he says. “It’s really important for the people listening that if you want to change something, you have to do that deep discovery work to understand the problem space and design around that problem.”
In the UK, Kenny and the team partnered with the theatre agency Punchdrunk, which produces epic storytelling experiences where audiences roam theatrical worlds.
When Kenny joined Netflix he carried out discovery work on the amount of change the company’s teams go through. “What came to the surface was that navigating change was frequent. Whether you call it issues around psychological safety, sense of belonging, or just its impact in execution,” he says.
Partnering with Punchdrunk, they held the experience at the agency’s ‘Burnt City’ set in London–a built version of the city of Troy with lights and smoke haze. “We wanted to take leaders and immerse them in an unfamiliar, uncomfortable experience to simulate the idea of their new team members going through a similar change when they joined Netflix.”
“We had some blindfolded exercises,” Kenny explains, “and we were connecting them to the idea of how you would take your team on a journey when you don’t know where you are going and don’t have all the context.”
Kenny and the team received positive feedback following the leadership training. They are now looking at how to scale and package the experience so they can deploy the assets easily elsewhere.
“So, I'd be looking at the quick wins, understanding what the challenges are that people have on the ground, and start simple and build from there. Use your leaders as your key allies and build with them because so much of the impact happens through the leader and their teams.”
When thinking about designing a leadership development program, Kenny advises that your first question should be whether you need one in the first place.
“We call this first principles thinking,” he explains. “It's this idea that if you had a blank canvas, would you do what others have done or what might you do as a starting point? So, you start with the ‘Why?’ as the first piece.”
From there, Kenny says you should look for the quick wins. These can be experiences that already exist in the business where you can create cross-pollination in another part of the company.
“So, I'd be looking at the quick wins, understanding what the challenges are that people have on the ground, and start simple and build from there,” he says. “Use your leaders as your key allies and build with them because so much of the impact happens through the leader and their teams.”
“What I wouldn't do is start with off-the-shelf content and just think about programs,” Kenny explains. “I wouldn't be looking at having a solution looking for a problem; I'd look to understand the problem.”
Thanks to Kenny for sharing his insights with us! Check out our first episode with Kenny about talent development at Netflix or with Danny Seals on his book ‘The Insightful Innovator’ and leveling up your employee experience using design thinking.
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