My favorite article in the June 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review was the one by Marcus Buckingham, author of the best-selling book “Now, discover your strengths”, who wrote on “Leadership Development in the Age of the Algorithm.”
He makes the point that, although by now “personalized content [is] routinely served up by online retailers and news services on the basis of insights they’ve accumulated about you”, such customization is absent from most leadership development programs. Instead, such programs are usually based on a formulaic, one-size-fits-all approach, which “tries to collect all the various approaches to leadership, shaves off the weird outliers and packages the rest into a formula.”
Buckingham advocates for a change and describes his experience on a project he ran for Hilton Hotels, based on the insights that “if you’re a leader, authenticity is your most precious commodity, and you’ll lose it if you attempt techniques that don’t fit your strengths” and “you’ll learn best from leaders whose strengths match yours.”
Buckingham’s customized model has five steps.
- Choose an algorithmic assessment to evaluate respondents. For instance, his “analysis showed that the range of behaviors seen across those thousands of people could be divided into nine categories, which we call strength roles.”
- Give the assessment to the company’s best leaders. Here, Buckingham “discovered a broad distribution across all nine roles.” He then “identified a number of exceptional leaders in each category and set out to learn what fueled their success.”
- Interview a cross section of leaders to discover their techniques.
- Use the algorithm to target techniques to the right people. “Companies should… feed each [developing leader] practices derived from excellent leaders who have the same top two strength roles.”
- Make the system dynamically intelligent. “Intrinsic to the notion of a personalization algorithm is that it must get to know you better over time… becomes smarter about which techniques to feed you.”
This model has the potential to “accommodat[e] the uniqueness of each leader’s techniques” while “permit[ting] the training of hundreds of leaders at once but dynamic enough to incorporate and distribute new practices and other innovations in real time.”