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Ixia Builds Cross-Functional Leadership Pipeline

Ixia was in a rapid growth-by-acquisition mode. The deeply technical company needed to cultivate a stronger leadership bench from cross-functional roles. Chris Williams, senior vice president, human resources, spearheaded the creation of Ixia’s Next Generation Leadership program (NGL) to help future leaders develop business acumen and other skills to complement their technical expertise. The program would be conducted in three modules over a year.

Williams’ team selected TRI
® to create and facilitate a business simulation as NGL’s first leg. The three-day module was based on TRI’s Leading the Business (LTB) simulation, with vignettes tailored to the tech industry. An immersive experiential exercise, LTB tasks participants with managing an enterprise while making critical business decisions to create shareholder value. To drive long-term learning, the program intersperses simulations with lectures, peer and trainer feedback, and debriefs. Using three-dimensional simulation experiences—traditional economic modeling, inbox/outbox leadership challenges, and one-on-one live role play—teams work to overcome obstacles and achieve intended goals. They emerge with the tools they need to lead in their real-world Ixia roles.

Ixia’s inaugural simulation in 2012 brought together 30 participants from around the world, ranging from directors through senior directors and representing functions from technical, functional and engineering to sales and human resources. The program has been repeated every year since. “The core simulation has stayed consistent because it’s just really well done,” said Williams. “What we learned from the first year was that participants were in over their heads, so in the second year we added webinars on financial acumen basics for participants to complete before they come to class.”

Also ahead of time, each participant selects an individual project to start in residence and continue for three months upon returning to their offices.

Participants group into cross-functional teams of five players each. After an introduction that lays out the simulation ground rules and introduces the economic model, teams progress through six simulation rounds, each representing a fiscal quarter, with challenges and opportunities introduced along the way. The simulation provides real-business scenarios in which participants experience the basic elements of a competitive strategy, putting into play Porter’s Five Forces: supplier power, buyer power, competitive rivalry, threat of substitution, and threat of new entry. It also encapsulates the 4 Ps of Marketing: production, price, promotion, and place.

Participants select a simulation role outside their current expertise and coach teammates in their own proficiencies. Operating outside of their comfort zone, they must rely on creativity, ingenuity and collective knowledge. Teams have a limited number of calls to any character in the simulation case—customers, suppliers, quality team leaders, etc. These roles are played by TRI facilitators. The calls enable them to practice negotiation and influence skills they’ll need for other NGL program modules.

After two rounds, a panel of Ixia senior leaders meets privately with each team to discuss performance and reinforce the importance of aligning decisions with strategy. A second business review at the simulation’s end brings all teams together with a senior executive panel. Both sessions provide opportunities for Ixia leaders to see key talent in action.

A debrief follows, with the full group discussing each team’s performance. Participants compare leadership approaches and how they impact the competitive landscape and business outcomes. The top-performing teams are then announced. Participants discuss their plans to apply simulation learning to their real-world roles and agree to create an ongoing support network to check on each other’s progress.

Over the next three months, participants cement their simulation learning as they continue the real-world individual projects they launched at the program’s start. They are encouraged to reach out to TRI faculty for coaching, and report to the senior leadership team at their projects’ conclusion.

Alumni have a deeper grasp of all the aspects that go into running a business. The relationships they build with cross-functional peers are lasting. “Sales directors will tell me they were able to close deals because they reached out to other participants for help,” Williams said.

Alumni report many key learnings: how to work outside of their comfort zone; the implications and importance of different functions; the impact of neglecting aspects of the business; how to evaluate and make tough decisions quickly; how to strategize and work as a team within a short time frame to achieve the best outcomes; and the importance of critical conversations and feedback for a strong performing team. A full 95% say the program has influenced how they lead.

Ixia Taps TRI Business Simulation to Build Cross-Functional Leadership Pipeline

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