Strategy Execution Programme:
“Creating a sustainable circle of trust”
Christopher Stillings is VP Global Head of Color & Design Engineering Plastics at Covestro, a leading manufacturer and supplier of plastic or polymer-based products and solutions for various industries. He completed the Strategy Execution Programme at INSEAD in 2018.
”Based on my earlier experiences in strategy development, I was looking to develop my skillset in this area to the next level. As part of my development plan I intended to really get to grips with strategy as a holistic process – to understand especially the dynamics of implementation thoroughly. INSEAD as a school and this unique learning experience convinced me to commit to the programme.”
Going into the programme, Christopher Stillings already had fairly extensive experience of strategy but he wanted to fine tune certain capabilities; among these, the skills and tools to stress test strategic plans, and then to track and evaluate the success of implementation. But his expectations were not met, he laughs, and this was a good thing: a “very good thing.”
“I really expected the programme to deliver concrete things – KPIs and frameworks that would form part of an action-based toolkit. While I did take away tangible frameworks, I got much, much more from the experience than just this.”
The Strategy Execution Programme gave him unexpected insight into the more emotional dynamics undergirding change leadership – and how to use emotional levers to be more inclusive as a leader.
“The programme really brought the human dimension of strategy implementation into focus and challenged us to see the emotional dynamics at play not as a threat, but as something to be utilised and leveraged to ensure success. For me, this represented a huge step forward in personal development, right at a moment in my life when I was looking to move up in terms of my own leadership.”
The Strategy Execution Programme gives participants “the full package” in leadership development, says Christopher. INSEAD faculty, coaches and his fellow participants were able to create a “circle of trust” inside what was a very intense learning environment, and this is something that he had never experienced before.
“When you look back at the programme, you realise just how smartly and how very expertly it empowers you to be open and to be authentic which is a great atmosphere for learning. My peers too provided so much in terms of sharing their different perspectives and experience which really builds trust and confidence as you learn together.”
Christopher’s cohort was “very well put together” in terms of diversity, he says. And for him, this diversity was a crucial part of the learning, as it eliminated any kind of competitive dynamic that can lead to people holding back. The richness of this collective learning, and the interchange of perspective, is something that he believes has only “added” to his understanding of leadership.
“You look at ideas, at topics, at your own strategy plan through very, very different lenses, which just broadens your understanding exponentially. And the connections we built during the programme have endured long after the experience. We’ve had chances to reconnect, both at a personal level but also to exchange ideas in this safe space – this circle of trust. It’s been a sustainable circle of trust, which is just great and something that we are committed to continuing.”
The Strategy Execution Programme is a very seamless and expertly delivered course, says Christopher, as each module integrates formal teaching, coaching, group and plenary sessions across the whole of the learning and development journey. Reflection time was also prioritised so that participants had time and space to “connect the dots.”
“You have the opportunity to bring the learning back into the workplace as you learn, so that you can observe situations that we’ve covered in the programme and experiment with new approaches and ideas in situ and in real-time.”
As a result, Christopher Stillings has not only been able to apply his learning, but he has received positive responses from his teams and colleagues around his own leadership – qualitative feedback that speaks to enhanced feelings of autonomy and alignment among employees, which are so critical to the successful execution of a new strategy, he says.
“Coming out of the programme, I feel that I’ve had a transformational experience as a person and as a leader. It gave me so much adjacent understanding of things that I wasn’t so clear about – implicit and unconscious things – before joining INSEAD. You become so much more purposeful about your awareness of so many things, particularly of people and emotions, including yourself and your own. You come away thinking: yes, something has really changed here.”