Horizontal vs vertical development?

Article

Horizontal vs vertical development?

Article
Horizontal vs vertical development?

Companies train to develop their staff.  They want to produce more effective, better, employees; better for the company, better for the employees.  Company training aims at two types of development; horizontal development (the skills to do the job) and vertical development (how to function at increasing levels of authority).  Horizontal development is still most common, and will (and should) stay with us – you still need to be able to do what your job requires. However, the increasing need is to develop leaders faster, and develop leaders who can adapt to new and changing conditions.

Vertical development is how to function at different levels of authority.  Vertical development is a way of providing personal skills to cope with a rapidly changing environment. The basic vertical development process begins with challenging old assumptions and testing new assumptions.[1] According to a recent study of personnel development, “No leader needs convincing that improvement and change is at the top of the agenda.”[2]

Horizontal development has been compared to pouring water, new techniques, into the same old container. The container, your mind, fills up with new content, often quite helpful, but the container does not change. The container is really not able to change.  Horizontal development increases the size of your mental hard drive. Vertical development increases the speed and power of your processor. You are better to analyze and use the masses of information accumulating in your real hard drive. You are better able to cope with rapid and increasingly unpredictable change in the business environment.[3]

Good programs for developing flexible thinking seem to have in common looking at the past history and needs of individuals.  A major method of training leaders to properly adapt to change is to overcome personal obstacles to change. Experts at Harvard University have developed a management and leadership program called the “immunity to change process.”  It uses a mapping process to examine what a person thinks needs to be changed, and to look at why the changes have not occurred.  The process lets you carefully examine preconceptions, and how these preconceptions are keeping you from changing.

The process starts with finding areas you want to change.  Then you identify behavior that “backs up” the preconceptions.  For example, let’s assume you want to be able to get to the point more quickly when giving instructions. You recognize that you tend to give unnecessary, though often interesting, details. You also identify why you do this; you fear failing to give necessary details to subordinates,

What do you think will happen if the desired behavior change is made? You might fear that improper instructions will make them you look like a bad manager.

You then design experiments for the workplace where you can test the assumptions. The tests should start with situations that will not do harm if they don’t work. They must include actions contrary to what you would normally do, and relate to handling a situation relevant to the overall problem.  You must be able to state how the results will help test new ways of handing situations. If you can, find someone who can objectively observe and evaluate the experiment.

If everything works, you will learn that many desired yet feared changes are held back by false assumptions. Your resistance to specific changes decreases and the changes come more naturally.[4]

According to a summary of the system, “Many leadership programs operate on the assumption that if you show people how to lead, they can then do that.  However, the most difficult challenges people face in their work lives are often associated with the limitations of… [how they interpret facts and developments].”[5]

Identifying assumptions lets you question the assumptions, and to move on to a higher level of development. Some assumptions may prove to be accurate.  In this case, you can live with the validity of the assumption. A previous guess is “promoted” to a fact, and you deal with it as a fact.

Examining and testing assumptions works the other way around. Managers might assume they can do something, and find out they cannot. An action may not be in their skill set. The company environment may make the action unadvisable. Identifying false negative assumptions lets you see if they can be ignored.  Identifying false positive assumptions lets you find ways to work around them.

You might try a little practice to improve vertical management skills, focusing on entire situations as well as individual obstacles. Set up exercises to see how people react to different unexpected situations. Try a bad crisis, such as a major fire at a production plant. What do you do after the fire is put out and the plant cleaned-up? What do you say to employees, to the public, and to relevant levels of government?[6] Try a good crisis, such as the recent drop in oil prices. How will you use the additional savings from cheaper oil, and prepare for oil prices going back up?

The best way to summarize vertical training is that it helps develop the ability to think at a more advanced level; the ability to recognize and solve problems and confidence to accept not all problems will be solved successfully. Vertical training strengthens your ability to make the best use of the more common horizontal training.  Horizontal training helps you respond to what needs to be done today – important, but not sufficient. Vertical training does not so much help your leadership today, but seeks to enable you (and all staff members in this era of collective leadership) to adapt to what leadership will be like in the future.

[1] Nick Petrie, “Future Trends in Leadership Development,” Center for Leadership Development, White Paper, 2014,  p.14.

[2]Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, Immunity to Change,  Boston: Harvard Business Press, 2009, p. 1

[3] Petrie, p. 14.

[4] Kegan and Lahey, 31-60, 249, 250, 261.

[5] Petrie, p. 15

[6] Lucien Canton, “Exercise your crisis decision-making skills,” Canadian Manager, Winter 2015, 39:4, pp. 16-17, retrieved from <http://web.b.ebscohost.com.w.ezproxy.nypl.org/ehost/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=61dd625b-0cd3-46aa-b388-a5f2cedf2035%40sessionmgr198&vid=12&hid=118>.

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