Intensive growth for leaders and promising enterprises

31 Dec 2019

Leadership Vanguard programme director James Beresford looks forward to accelerating impact in 2020

It’s been quite a year for the Leadership Vanguard, Xynteo’s year-long leadership experience. Throughout 2019, the programme has challenged 37 leaders from eight global companies to collaboratively accelerate six chosen impact enterprises working on solutions to solve some of the world’s most complex challenges.

We spoke to Programme Director James Beresford about the successes and learnings from 2019, and what 2020 holds for the Leadership Vanguard.

Which outcomes from the Leadership Vanguard 2019 are you most proud of?

I’m proud that we’ve enabled personal growth for 50 people this year: 37 participants (“Catalysts”) from our eight partners, six impact entrepreneurs and of course our own team.

We brought together an exceptional group of Catalysts – executives selected from our partners: ICRC, Unilever, EDP, Mastercard, Shell, HSBC, Baker Hughes and BASF. We helped them to assess their skills for navigating the complex systems within which their organisations are nested and identified their individual growth edges. Deliberate, focussed and reflective learning at our growth edges can accelerate development significantly.

I’m proud that the experience we created in 2019, including the skills, tools and relationships that we introduced, has resulted in personal growth for a group of leaders who we believe will be role models and catalysts for new ways of doing business within their organisations.

I’m also proud that we’ve improved the growth prospects for six very impactful enterprises tackling three wicked problems and illuminating a better way of doing business:

By bringing together the leadership talents and capabilities of our eight partners with a shortlist of enterprises, we aimed to accelerate impact through business models that address these systemic problems while generating revenue. I’m thrilled that we succeeded in materially improving their pathways to growth and mission-success.

We succeeded in unlocking almost €500,000 of grant funding for our impact enterprises, with the promise of ongoing support from the innovative Transform initiative (formed by the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and Unilever). Our partnerships also succeeded in implementing interventions to remove significant barriers to scale:

  • providing free testing facilities to demonstrate product efficacy,
  • knowledge transfer and product roadmap development,
  • HSE improvements to enable large company procurement,
  • reducing the costs of customer acquisition through partnerships,
  • building demand through direct procurement, and
  • sending a powerful price signal down the supply chain through a procurement commitment and a small price premium.

What changes were implemented to the Leadership Vanguard this year?

In 2019 we made two important step-changes in the programme. Firstly, we attempted to measure the skills required to navigate decision-making in complex systems. Partnering with Lectica, we adapted the Lectical Decision Making Assessment (LDMA) into a pre- and post-programme diagnostic for each of our Catalysts. We combined this personalised approach with the practice of virtuous cycles of learning to encourage learning optimally, in the moment.

Working with a diverse group of fellow Catalysts from very different industries to address a wicked problem created a rich learning experience. Practicing facilitative leadership within complex systems, outside the power structures of your organisation, requires a deeply collaborative approach – one which can also be powerful in catalysing organisational change.

The second step-change we made was to shift decisively from incubating new concepts to accelerating existing enterprises. The first time Catalyst teams met was ‘in the field’, where they interviewed impact entrepreneurs tackling the wicked problem they had chosen, and sought the perspectives of the stakeholders, including their customers and beneficiaries.

Travelling to immerse ourselves in the problem helped us to remain human-centred, feeling the problem for ourselves and actively listening to the experiences of those affected. Bringing impact entrepreneurs into close collaboration with the Catalyst teams added significantly to the learning opportunities within teams – as we dived straight into a new stakeholder ecosystem and built an understanding of a very different context.

Working in diverse teams immersed in a new stakeholder ecosystem created multiple opportunities for Catalysts to practice new skills. For example, understanding how other stakeholders frame and therefore approach the same problem differently, seeking perspectives instead of assuming you understand them, and building a decision-making process that invites others to participate fully and co-own the outcomes.

Working closely with inspiring impact entrepreneurs also allowed us to directly experience doing well by doing good, in an immediate and rewarding way. Many Catalysts reflected on how helpful these relationships were in making their organisation’s missions tangible. Finally, experiencing truly purposeful partnerships – as opposed to transactional – was a powerful reminder that many of us are a long way from working in true partnerships. I’m delighted that many of our Catalysts remain involved in the impact enterprises they partnered with, as mentors or advisory board members.

What does 2020 hold for the Leadership Vanguard?

We are looking forward to welcoming our sixth cohort of Leadership Vanguard participants, including new partners like DB Schenker and Verizon. We’re also delighted to be working with the Toilet Board Coalition to advance their mission to bring sanitation to the two billion people who currently live without. The Leadership Vanguard can play a catalytic role in ensuring that sanitation shifts from being perceived solely as an expensive multi-billion dollar development problem and is instead seen as a circular waste-to-value system embedded in the operations and value chains of large businesses.

Watch this space for more news about the Leadership Vanguard in 2020!