Every year in organizations globally there are billions of dollars spent on developing leaders.
But, for the most part they don’t seem to get the return on investment that’s intended? According to a recent McKinsey study:
WHY DO THEY FAIL?
1. NO LINK TO IMPACT A SPECIFIC BUSINESS GOAL
As with any other “people” related program, the only way to drive long term involvement is to connect it directly to business outcomes. Unfortunately, too often this link isn’t made explicitly. Therefore, the learning doesn’t help business leaders make decisions that affect issues that are important to business now. In addition, if there is no link to business outcomes then it is easy to eliminate during economic downturns because it’s a “nice to have” not a necessity.
SOLUTION – LINK IT TO ONE OR MORE BUSINESS GOALS
Actively connect leadership development to one or more business goals. Whether it is decreasing errors or increasing productivity, make a connection that is real, important and visible. That way it can be reported and measured. Of course measurement isn’t everything, but it can help to make improvements on the program over time.
2. NO CLEAR OBJECTIVE OR INTENDED OUTCOME
Far too often, there is no objective or measurable outcome related to leadership development programs. They are put in place because “they should be” or as a result of survey or a senior leadership mandate. Anecdotally, everyone knows that leadership development is important. Research done by Josh Bersin, the Blanchard Companies and many others have shown that leadership development can be a competitive advantage. But, without an outcome there is no guiding principle or direction for the development. Development for development’s sake is good, but not sustainable.
SOLUTION – PUT A STAKE IN THE GROUND FOR OUTCOMES
Although it’s not always true that only what’s measured matters, in this case it is important to have some outcomes that people can align on achieving. This will drive the type of learning that is chosen, the modality, etc. Without some agreed upon outcomes there will also be no way to measure if the program is successful, needs to be improved, etc.
3. NO ACCOUNTABILITY/CURRENT LEADERS ARE NOT EXHIBITING CHARACTERISTICS OR COMPETENCIES
Because there is often not a link between leadership development and business outcomes, leaders that don’t promote or exhibit the skills/competencies/tendencies taught are not held accountable. They are allowed to continue their bad behavior and be a walking reminder of the program’s lack of teeth. Those people will undermine the uptake of the principles taught in it.
SOLUTION – HOLD LEADERS ACCOUNTABLE OR BETTER YET REWARD THOSE THAT EXHIBIT THE BEHAVIORS YOU’RE LOOKING TO BE EXHIBITED!
Remember the saying “Shadow of a Leader”. It sounds easier than it is. If an organization wants to create a particular culture, then it has to enforce the mores and norms of it. That includes getting tough with bad leaders. Reward the behavior that you want emulated.
4. NO PRACTICAL APPLICATION
Many leadership development programs are based in delivering a series of courses and weaving in some role playing or case studies. The theory is delivered and then the implementation of that theory is left to the leadership development participants to put into practice. The problem is:
1. There is little time for leaders/managers to implement new ideas
2. There is no one that can help them implement them in the best way
3. There is no feedback loop for them regarding their new skills
SOLUTION – ALL LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS MUST MUST MUST HAVE MENTORING AND REAL LIFE APPLICATION INCLUDED IN THEM.
It’s likely that classroom learning will always have a place in leadership development. It is a good place to introduce new concepts and provides a safe place for experimentation. But for leadership development to really take hold, it has to enable people to put learning into action and feedback/coaching regularly on how they did regularly.
Without the practical implementation aspect of leadership development the learning never gets past “that’s a good theory” stage. Change in behavior or adoption of new behavior takes acting in a new way. Creating a section of the program dedicated to application is vital to deep, meaningful and lasting learning.
What do you think? What are examples of leadership development programs that have succeeded?
Anil Saxena is the President of Cube 2.14, an organizational development consulting firm that works with clients to increase both customer and employee engagement while decreasing turnover, improving customer retention, and increasing profitability within organizations.
Saxena is a certified High Impact coach and trainer and a Joint Application Design facilitator. He is also certified by both Rush Systems and IBM as a focus group facilitator. He is an inaugural member of Northwestern University’s Learning and Organizational Change program, and he earned his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from the Illinois Institute of Technology.