The skills and capabilities required of corporate leaders today continue to evolve in an increasingly demanding environment. To be effective in supporting leaders to meet these demands organizations need to adopt innovative solutions in leadership development. Increasingly, global corporations are looking to immersive experiences as a way to enable leaders to test and develop abilities in a safe but challenging environment.
Cargill is one such global organisation. They have developed ‘Leading Across Boundaries’ (LAB) an immersive experience in which senior leaders from one area of the Cargill business are partnered with another area of the business in a different geography. Individuals identified through Cargill’s talent management process, those showing the most potential to lead Cargill in the future, are offered the opportunity to participate. During the immersive experience participants work for 4-6 weeks with their host Cargill team and external stakeholders, using their professional skillsets to move an externally focused business project forward. The multifaceted approach allows LAB participants to make a big impact for both the host business and local communities, delivering not only leadership development opportunities, but also meet Cargill’s business needs and corporate responsibility goals.
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James Eckfeldt from Cargill’s business in Peru was identified by his manager as a candidate for LAB. As a LAB participant, James spent five weeks in Nicaragua working with the Cargill Nicaraguan team on the Impulsor project. Implemented in collaboration with TechnoServe, a nonprofit enterprise that employs business solutions to fight poverty, the project seeks to improve the productivity and profitability of local farmers by supporting access to formal markets, improving product quality and boosting profits.
James’ role was to review the progress of the project and meet with stakeholders to understand their needs and create a plan for the next stage. This involved exploring areas such as managing key stakeholders’ expectations, anticipating challenges to enable future success and identifying additional business opportunities. It was designed to be an intensely challenging project, which required James to synthesize new and complex information to complete the review in a short time frame whilst demonstrating an understanding and ability to lead in a different culture and manage potentially conflicting expectations of both internal and external stakeholders.
This challenge is what the Cargill LAB Team, Sivaram Jambunathan and Tim Dahl felt was important to enable LAB participants to develop understanding and leadership abilities that transcend boundaries (geographical, organizational, industry, community). “The goal was to support the development of leaders who understand themselves and their own view of the world, value difference and recognize the importance of working across boundaries to provide innovative solutions that are multi-disciplinary, multi-agency, multi-stakeholder and multi-sector.” Sivaram explains.
Whilst participants are taken outside their comfort zone, they feel prepared and supported to take the leap. Structured participant support is provided before, during and after the experience, with a personalized development review, individual coaching, group training, plus dedicated experience management and impact assessment support provided by Emerging World, a specialist international leadership development consultancy. “Ultimately this is about helping our people be the leaders we need for the future of this organization and so we want see their new leadership skills in action when they return to their day jobs.” Sivaram explains. Emerging World’s impact framework helps them to achieve this by helping ensure participant learning is embedded in work practice on return.
The impact on the participant’s team does not stop there. Whilst the LAB participant is completing the experience, their home team members have an ‘on the job’ experience, leading in their absence. This additional development opportunity allows employees to explore next career steps. “The LAB approach supports our succession planning, with team members gaining broader experience and responsibility, allowing them to explore where their future may lie”, says Tim.
James has seen significant changes since completing the LAB program. “LAB had a profound effect on me and on my career. As an individual I have gained great confidence in what I was able to achieve for Cargill in a challenging and unfamiliar environment. Within my role I recognize that focusing more on relationship development and gaining buy in is essential, I gained a huge amount of experience and knowledge in this area. Being immersed in the local business gave me the opportunity to be in the shoes of our customers and see things differently, gaining insights about what they value and how to manage these relationships. I will be forever grateful for the opportunities and learning LAB provided.”
Contact Emerging World to learn more about how immersive experiences can drive your leadership development.