How BI Norwegian Business School Teaches Leadership in Action – Remotely
About BI Norwegian Business School
BI Norwegian Business School is an independent, not-for-profit foundation and the main provider of research based knowledge on business and management disciplines in Norway.
It is the largest business school in Norway, and the second largest in Europe with close to 20,000 students.
BI Norwegian Business School prides itself in education focused on real business. BI Norwegian Business School’s relentless focus on keeping close bonds to the business world as well as investing heavily in research has set us apart as an educational institution for future leaders. They are among the 1% of business schools with a “Triple Crown” accreditation, with a well-recognized international degree.
The Leadership in Action Program at BI Norwegian Business School is an executive education program which gives participants an insight into modern management theories and the demands placed on leadership in future organizations, including responsible management and sustainability.
The program is both process- and knowledge-based, and specially developed for those working in parallel to studying. The program sees leadership as an opportunity to unleash potential in people through action and reflection. The program is an arena for dialogue, reflection, learning and action.
It is based on the participants’ own experiences, reality, challenges and questions, and “confronts” these with new forms of management, current theories, and methods for practical innovation and reflection.
Experiential Learning – 100% Online
“The Leadership in Action program has always had a focus on experiential learning, but the challenge this year was to bring it online,” said Anne Swanberg, Associate Professor and former Head of BI Learning Lab.
“We were looking for an online case-based group activity, which we found in Transform!”
Over three days in May, a diverse group of more than 50 participants came together to experience Transform!, facilitated by Christian Rangen, Enrico Maset, Hege Langaas and Ole Sverre Spigseth.
It kicked off with a two-hour introduction, then continued with three days of experiencing Transform! in the morning, before breaking out for debriefs and working with the faculty.
“The experience was great – hectic – lots of energy. It was demanding, engaging, and placed participants in a “mega vuca” situation”, added Anne.
“The most important factor was that we could offer the students a close-to-real-life activity and learning experience despite the Covid-19 situation. We are very happy we found Transform!”
A Versatile & Engaging Learning Solution
“The participants in this program were not your typical students – they came with a lot of experience and saw it as a supplement to their regular day jobs – to learn how to become better leaders,” said co-facilitator Hege Langaas.
There was a need to create a rich learning environment that could engage 50 participants at the same time while still providing structure for learning.
“With the possibility to run multiple parallel boards, Transform! can be embedded into larger programs. In this format of two boards and four co-facilitators, we were able to cover 50+ students and deliver top notch experiential learning,” revealed Enrico Maset, one of the co-facilitators.
The three-day setup helped structure the learning and content delivery; while the off-time provided the participants much-needed time to crystallize the new concepts they picked up.
“The versatility of the simulation that it can adapt to the group in question was evident in this case,” added Hege.
Excerpts from the
BI Leadership in Action Program
Pre-class teaching material shared in advance of the simulation module:
40-minute introduction video (above)
“Chris and Enrico did a great job. I had a lot of fun doing it. Transform! gives you the opportunity to hone your leadership and decision-making skills, while giving you a perspective of what could happen in the real world.”
Participant in the Leadership in Action Program at BI Norwegian Business School
Great Engagement in an Online Environment
Despite being facilitated completely online with more than 50 participants, the Transform! Simulation managed to engage and retain this engagement throughout all three days of the program.
“There was a lot of laughter and even though the participants weren’t prepared to work between the days, I could see them logging on to the board and working through the night and some even coming on early to work. There’s been a lot of activity and engagement,” observed Hege.
“Delivering Transform! over a three-day period helped to create a bond between the participants, the co-facilitators and the faculty. We went through a lot of emotions together in such a short time,” said Enrico.
Immersive Learning Experience
The Transform! Simulation was designed to give participants a real-world taster of what it is to be in the role of a leadership team working towards a company’s transformation. Every element of the simulation replicates what you will face in the real world, which makes for a practical immersive learning environment.
“The facilitators were all very professional and experienced and could share pieces of knowledge that was very relevant during the simulation. Everything went smoothly.” shared Anne.
In the debrief sessions, the participants shared how they enjoyed the group dynamics and tempo in the simulation, as well as the rich learning through experiencing.
“We were excited to find the Transform! Digital Simulation but was also a bit nervous on whether this would work with our group of students. Everything went well and the students were happy to have had this experience,” added Anne.
“I would absolutely recommend this program. It’s the most fun I’ve had all year
– it was intensive and I’ve learned so much.”
Participant in the Leadership in Action Program at BI Norwegian Business School
by Christian Rangen
Having taught the Leadership in Action Program for years I have always appreciated the experiential nature of the program. Designed for real leaders, to work on real leadership challenges, and having these brought to life through a wide collection of action-based learning methods; this has always been one of my favorite programs to teach at BI Norwegian Business School. It is a program truly designed with experiential learning in mind.
So, when Swanberg and Asting, both well-known faculty members at BI Norwegian Business School, reached out with the challenge, ‘how can we deliver this program’s final module in a digital format?’, we were quick to suggest Transform! as the best option.
Swanberg and Asting were focused on making this a good learning experience for the participants. That led us to develop customized pre-module material and share this in advance. Four weeks prior to the actual simulation session we hosted a two-hour introduction lecture. Here, we provided the 50+ students with the background, introduction to the tech platform and a short lecture on strategy and transformation.
Following that, the students got access to key teaching materials to prepare. We shot a 40. Minute pre-session video, wrote a 7-page case study on the mobility space (the industry we would be working with in the case study) and finally the student teams got access to a digital training board where they could practice their skills working on the digital simulation platform.
This pre-work and notably the digital training is key to a successful outcome.
Day 1 – Introduction
Day 1 is all about getting comfortable with the basics, stepping into the roles and aligning the team.
For BI Norwegian Business School’s setup, the roles were CEO, CFO, CSO (Chief Strategy Officer), IM (Innovation Manager) and IR (Investor Relations). For all teams, the alignment process on day 1 is key, as the team needs to grasp the external landscape, the pace of change around them, the company’s resources (cash, business models, innovation strategy) and decide on a strategic direction.
Equipped with the assigned company card (case company) and the Idea of the Firm Card, most teams are able to develop a strong alignment within the first hour. This then becomes the foundation as the simulation quickly progress into the intermediate stages. On day 1 teams are introduced to early concepts like the Transform Triangle, Cash Flow, Innovation Strategy, Weak Signals, Business Model Portfolio thinking across the Core, Growth and Explore Continuum and finally starting to realize that each team member may hold different information pieces needing to be put together. That is the first real aha-moment on any team.
Day 2 – Intermediate
Day 2 quickly escalates into intermediate level. Teams are starting to realize the need for a more aggressive strategic mindset; running your core business just won’t cut it. The best teams quickly dive into corporate finance, looking at the multiple options they can use to fund their transformation journey. In the simulation, we work with bank loans (against ten-year cash flow analysis), bond issues and special corporate finance solutions. As faculty, it is fantastic to see that most students, without any background in finance, quickly grasp how to connect strategy and finance on day 2.
Towards the end of the second day, competitive dynamics start emerging. By then, some teams have achieved break-out growth, growing their market capitalization well beyond 10BN, while others are still struggling with their lack of strategic direction. The best teams now start realizing that their competitive landscape may matter far more than they realized on day 1. Partnerships and strategic alliance start emerging.
At the end of day 2, teams receive the infamous activist letter. A & I Capital, a hedge fund, has quietly been acquiring a significant position in the company and is now putting pressure on management to accelerate the transformation. Each team is requested to come back on day 3 with an updated transformation roadmap covering the three areas of:
- Unlocking shareholder value
- Cracking the code on transformation
- Using strategic finance as a weapon
The best teams will receive a massive prize award for their performance.
This then becomes a major group work for the afternoon and evening of day 2, going into day 3.
As faculty, what never seize to amaze me, is how the students truly jump on this task. The activist letter is an advanced, complex exercise, to be solved in a short period of time. Yet, there is something about the competitive nature of the process that just triggers the students to outperform. Same here, for the BI Norwegian Business School class. We were truly, truly impressed with what came back on the morning of day 3.
Day 3 – advanced
The final day takes us deep into advanced level topics. Curriculum wise, we work at a Master-level, covering topics on strategy, strategic thinking, corporate finance, cash flow analysis, capital markets, innovation, growth and leadership. A personal favorite of mine, Barbarians at the gate, the 1989 book, is introduced. This gentle nudge the first conversation on M&A (mergers and acquisitions).
As the final day progress, teams start realizing they will not be able to win by organic growth alone. Once this key aha moment kicks in, it unleashes a massive wave of merger talks and consolidation. The best leadership teams start advanced negotiations, running financial scenarios on cash flows and market cap based on the possible merger scenarios. A few key options that may have been sitting on the table since day 1 come to life, allowing hostile take-overs to start taking place.
The strategic advisor cards teams selected on day 1 suddenly becomes critical, as teams may have to block take-over attempts and establish legal defenses to avoid being acquired. On day 3 the pace picks up exponentially and as a facilitator you are barely able to keep up with the many channels of communications happening both ‘in the room’ and also across various digital chat channels.
As a wave of industry consolidation takes place, leadership egos are bruised, teams get a boost and the ruthlessness of the marketplace plays out, three things happen:
- The best teams come together and just work insanely well together. Even in the digital format, we can really identify the high-performing teams in action.
- The disciplines of strategy, innovation and finance really start blending. Teams realize you can’t ‘do strategy’ without having the financial resources for it. This insight triggers some impressive financial constructs, allowing the best teams to fund large-scale acquisition plays or fund their entire innovation portfolio for outsized financial returns.
- For the majority of participants, on day 3, it just ‘clicks’. Having now spent several days, deeply immersed into the simulation, on the third day, all the pieces just come together and they ‘get it’. Once this happens across a full team, we, as faculty, just realize that the students are having a learning experience that just would not be possible in a traditional lecture-based classroom environment.
The final hour of day 3 is usually spent in a merger frenzy with negotiations frequently breaking down over egos, positions and who should take on the CEO role (sounds familiar?). For BI’s program, we were delighted to see a couple of young, female CEOs really become the driving leadership force, navigating the complexities of team dynamics, company strategies, merged balance sheets and finally hitting the target of a 50BN market cap in order to win the simulation.
Closing out day 3 is like winding down after a full marathon. Exhausted, tired and smiling from ear to ear.
Debrief and reflection
The final piece, and always a critical piece, is the shared debrief and reflection piece. For BI Norwegian Business School, that happened daily, lasting between one to two hours. Across various executive education programs we have seen this debrief and reflection session range from 30. Minutes to multiple days.
For the Leadership in Action Program, the debrief session naturally centered on leadership, team dynamics, the importance of communication and collaboration (something not all teams did equally well), the speed of decision making and personal reflection on learning in action.
One student offered the feedback “you’re not going to be happy unless you’re going Mach 2 with your hair on fire,” quoting Tom Cruise as Maverick in Top Gun. While another offered ””love how everyone has been engaging into this and into learning”.
These two comments, speed and engagement, really summarize some of the key points from running the Transform! simulation at BI Norwegian Business School.
Seeing the Future of Executive Education
Looking back, I am delighted to say we were able to recreate both the spirit of the program and the high-pace, high-energy format of in-classroom experiential learning methods. As both faculty and a developer of new adult learning methods, I am personally excited to continue to push the boundaries and help rethink how we can shift our learning models from ‘in classroom’ to ‘available anywhere’.
Working with BI Norwegian Business School for this Leadership in Action Program has really proven how we can create complex learning methods in the digital space. Post-COVID, Executive Education will have to rethink their delivery models and blended learning will become the new standard. BI Norwegian Business School is showcasing here one great way of what the future of executive teaching and learning could look like.
About the Faculty & Facilitators
Anne Swanberg is the Associate Professor in the Department of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at BI Norwegian Business School. She is also the Associate Dean for Short Learning Modules within the Executive Portfolio, and was the former Head of BI LearningLab.
Cecilie Asting is an experienced lecturer in the leadership discipline at the Department of Leadership and Organizational Behavior at BI Norwegian Business School.
Christian Rangen is a strategy & transformation advisor to companies, innovation clusters, and governments around the world. His clients span oil & gas, energy, technology, aviation, mobility, finance, consulting, and national governments. He is faculty/visiting faculty at multiple business schools in Europe. He has taught more than 20 different programs, including a wide range of Executive Education Programs, Executive Short Programs and Custom Designed Corporate Learning Programs in strategy, innovation, entrepreneurship, change and transformation.
Hege Langaas has over 20 years of experience in business development activities, innovation and change. She has extensive experience from leading roles in corporations within change intensive industries like media, telecommunications and finance. Her special area of interest is tailoring development processes to the need of the client.
Enrico Maset has a 10+ years experience on Performance, Efficiency and Transformation; he worked in Italy, Ireland and Belgium for multiple industries: Manufacturing, Banking & Insurance, Gaming, Energy and Telecommunication.
He recently moved from Internal to Consultancy where he is helping CSOs develop flows of sustainable growth.
He does that with a mix of foresight, strategy and innovation at SteepConsult, part of the Positive Thinking Company.
Ole Sverre Spigseth
Ole Sverre Spigseth has more than 20 years experience as CEO and consultant, changing, transforming, developing and scaling up small and medium sized companies in Scandinavia. He is recognized for conducting successful business turnarounds, improving efficiency and ascertaining companies’ competitive market position. His experience is from several industry sectors, mainly within B2B organizations.