From the Editors

Ever Heard of an Exec Exchange?

CEOs could bring a new understanding to their work when they swap roles with trusted leaders in different industries.

There’s something to be gained from stepping into someone else’s shoes: insight, understanding, a different perspective, even some new tools to better navigate your own reality. This was the case for Travis York, the CEO for marketing agency GYK Antler, who was featured in a January 2017 Fast Company story.

To better understand his clients’ needs, York created an “exec exchange program” where he swapped jobs with an executive in another industry to learn how to better serve a respective company. However, after switching jobs with the CEO of an internet performance technology company, York discovered even greater lessons.

“I’m a creative-brained person, and they’re technologists,” he told Fast Company. “I ended up gaining a lot of insight about how to code, develop, and roll out products and services. It was fascinating, and I learned things I could apply at our agency, and Jeremy (Hitchcock, CEO of Dyn Inc.) learned that marketing is part art and part science.”

York has since swapped jobs with three other business leaders. He shared what has made this concept work:

This isn’t shadowing. York told Fast Company that he and the other CEO will swap a day that’s representative of their role, and follow along the other’s schedule.

“Typically, we try to schedule a few more broad tasks that help each of us get to know the organization,” York said.

There isn’t any hiring, firing or giving raises during the swap. Beyond actions like these, though, leaders encourage each other to do what they need to do, and use their best judgement and own expertise to make decisions.

Make sure the swap is with a trusted leader. There will likely be challenges throughout the day that aren’t so pretty. Therefore, leaders who decide to do a swap should make sure they trade roles with someone they trust. “Everything is fair game, and sometimes stuff that is thorny comes up,” York told Fast Company. “You have to trust the level of confidence and discretion. And you have to be willing to work together to solve or resolve issues.”

Host an end-of-the-day staff Q&A. During this time, companies meet with their own employees, and invite them to discuss the day. While this can turn into an intense engagement, York said the candid feedback provides a learning experience for everyone.

Touch base with the other executive. York told Fast Company that a few weeks later, he touches base with the executive he swapped places with. They have a one-on-one exchange where they speak candidly about what they observed during their experience, and from that point forward, have regular check-ins.

York said both he and the executives he has switched with have gained more than they imagined from the experiences. For York, that includes insight into merchandising, a broader understanding about team building, work ethic and discipline, as well as a greater awareness of arts and culture, which inspired him to make some additions to his own company’s learning and development efforts.

Bravetta Hassell is a Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below, or email editor@CLOmedia.com.

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