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GE encourages the continuous evolution of leadership development

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This guest post is by Janice Semper, General Electric’s manager of executive development.

A lot can change during the lifetime of an organization. One hundred thirty years ago, there were less than 300,000 telephones across the U.S. Thirteen years ago, only 3% of the world’s population was on the Internet. Today, more than 30% of people are online (80% in the U.S.), and technology has become an integral and foundational part of our leadership development efforts.

As our company, like many others, has faced changes in technology, communications, the economy and our global reach, we’ve remained committed to continuously evolving leadership development. While challenging, it has rewarded our business in unique ways.

How should leaders respond to a world that is more diverse, interconnected, technologically advanced and complex? As manager of executive development at GE, I help answer that question every day.

Just like any other company, GE has faced some of the world’s toughest challenges as we’ve moved into the 21st century. We have embraced these challenges by reigniting our employees’ leadership journey and reinforcing the tool kit our leaders use to adapt and lead in 2011 and beyond.

We see the development of our leaders as a business imperative, and we aren’t afraid to change our approach to stay ahead of the curve. In fact, we set out to do this more than two years ago, anticipating that significant changes were going to continue to envelope business globally.

In the spring of 2009, we set out to contemporize our five “Growth Values” that define our culture of leadership and guide the actions of every employee — inclusiveness, imagination and courage, expertise, external focus and clear thinker. We came out of the 2008 financial crisis, and our company faced one of the toughest quarters in recent history in Q2 2009. We want to make sure our guiding principles — our Growth Values — reflect the lessons we have learned and can stand up in new world in which we are operating. Through a collaborative process that has brought together internal leaders and outside experts, we’re launching the new Growth Values to guide GE into the next phase of leadership.

Similarly, we’ve redesigned our leadership training curriculum to support our contemporized view of leadership. We are reimagining Crotonville, GE’s learning center, to update the content we teach, the technology we use, the overall experience we deliver and the physical environment. From utilizing tele-presence, which brings global leaders into our classrooms, to our virtual collaboration room, to focusing on team-based learning, and specializing the coursework based on our diverse leaders (40% or 50% are non-U.S. participants from multiple businesses and industries, across multiple functions), our updates to Crotonville stand to bear our company theme — “Imagination at Work” — better than ever.

GE, like all global companies, is continually challenged to make leadership development dynamic for the challenges of today’s business environment, while holding onto our company’s heritage and best practices. As your workforce and business challenges change, your leadership development tools must change with it. There is no such thing as a 130-year-old business plan. We’re continuing to see growth in our leaders, as they continue to face new challenges and take advantage of our leadership development efforts to guide the way. At GE, we invent things that make the world better and reinvent ourselves to make a company that works better.