How can you extend the return on your current and future development investments and get the results the organization requires from leaders? Start by gathering knowledge on leadership gaps that will better inform training and development decisions.
How many leaders in your organization are content with their leadership development? Three-quarters? Two-thirds? It’s got to be the majority of them, right?
Research from the “Global Leadership Forecast 2008/2009,” conducted by Development Dimensions International, found that just 41 percent of worldwide leaders are content with their development, a 12 percent decline from the previous year. Companies invest thousands of dollars annually in training; yet, the value of leadership development is falling short.
This research also shows that more than half of leaders do not find their training relevant or effective. This perception is common among leaders whose organizations spend money on one-size-fits-all development activities that are commonly uninspiring and inappropriate for the participants.
Dawn Aziz, from the Workforce Development Institute at Macomb Community College, said that when this type of generalized classroom experience is used, it simply creates “a nice warm glow for leaders during the training, but that light dims as soon as they leave the classroom.”
Here are some initial suggestions to keep the light that is ignited during training burning bright back on the job:
• Tailor content to create specific examples that are relevant to the audience.
• Cover topics that can be practiced and used beyond the classroom, and support leaders in doing so.
• Work with individual leaders to choose development activities that meet their specific needs.
• Understand the needs of the organization and leaders’ business units and choose development that supports these business drivers. Leadership development decisions, whether individual, group or organizational, should not be made blindly. Gather information on leaders’ behavior gaps and organization needs.
Organizations That Get It Right
Kristin Nelson, manager of learning and organizational development at East Jordan Iron Works, explained the development aspirations the company had for a group of eight leaders.
“The challenge from the beginning was to determine the needs of the individuals,” Nelson said. Knowing a cookie-cutter approach would not be effective, Nelson focused on individuals’ areas of growth while augmenting East Jordan Iron Works’ pipeline.
Nelson needed to explore how East Jordan’s mission, vision and values would cascade into the development plans of their leaders. She gathered information from senior management meetings. With an understanding of her organization’s business goals, Nelson isolated eight to 10 competencies critical to leadership success. Then she measured leaders against these competencies to determine gaps. Feedback from people who interact with the employees and 360-degree surveys uncovered the development needs at an individual level.
In addition, data from all the assessed leaders provided a larger perspective of the group’s growth and strength areas. This group data is useful when making development decisions at various levels of the pipeline.
Aziz used a similar approach when developing leaders for the U.S. Army Tank-automotive and Armaments Command (TACOM) organization.
“The 360-degree survey approach helped us define the success of the individuals in their current role, as well as help[ed] us understand the requirements and capabilities for their future leadership roles,” Aziz said.
Using the competency profiles that outline what success looks like at the participant’s leadership level, each subject was invited to complete a self-
assessment and given the ownership to invite respondents to give feedback.
The assessment system these organizations used was different from the traditional approach of rating every competency and key action. Most significantly, this unique process takes the numbers out of 360-degree assessments. Instead, the subjects and respondents were asked to review the list of the entire competency profile and pick three competencies that are strengths and three that are growth areas.
Having established these six competencies, the subject and respondents then rate the specific key actions associated with each behavior to explain exactly why it is a growth area or strength for the individual leader. This assessment process prevents leaders from receiving middle-of-the-road reports on a dozen or more competencies. They don’t have to search through the numerical data to uncover development themes. As the subjects and raters are forced to select three growth and three strength areas, the results provide the leader with feedback messages that are targeted at the exact areas that need attention.
“The subject’s strengths and growth areas were clearly indicated in their feedback reports, which lent directly to their individual development planning,” Nelson said.
For leaders at East Jordan Iron Works, the benefits of using this approach were threefold:
1. Most subjects had never completed a 360-degree survey before, so they wanted a system that was easy to use. Because they did not have to rate every item, the process was not time-consuming for subjects or respondents.
2. Without all the numbers and figures, the clear strengths and growth areas that were reported directly met their objective of bringing the development areas to the forefront. Participants had a clear foundation from which to work and critical information about themselves to focus their development.
3. The use of the tool gathered buy-in from the participants, as the data was specific and accurate, but gathered in a nonthreatening way. Feedback from the participants’ evaluations of the 360-degree process indicated it was easy to use and reinforced the subjects’ trust that the data collected was being used for development and not discipline.
By understanding the needs of the individuals, as well as the organization, East Jordan Iron Works felt sufficiently well-informed to make development decisions. With information gained from measurement, leadership and talent teams were able to tailor development efforts on three levels: individual, group and organizational.
In the Global Leadership Forecast, 56 percent of leaders indicated that they and their managers had not agreed on a formal written plan for their development. This is a common flaw in the development process, hindering not only individuals’ leadership capabilities but also organizations’ ability to create stable pipelines.
The individuals being evaluated should have a dedicated feedback session to explore their reports, followed by development discussions with managers. Aziz practiced this when working with potential first-line leaders at TACOM.
“The subject was able to walk away from the feedback discussion with their instructor with a concrete picture of what they do well and where they might want to focus on development,” she said.
TACOM participants used their reports to proactively build their individual development plans based on the complete 360-degree data, not just the perspectives of leaders and managers. The leaders used their draft plans as discussion catalysts with their managers to establish specific actions to help them grow and strengthen the respective competencies.
By establishing competencies that were aligned with the organization’s vision, values and business goals, the agreed-upon actions supported organizational goals. Aligning competencies with business needs ensures development opportunities will satisfy the needs of an individual, his or her group and the organization.
As previously discussed, the participation of many leaders in training sessions ends when they leave the classroom, as the content is irrelevant to them. There can be a huge benefit from generating a collective 360-degree report that covers the leadership demographic in question. It allows leaders to see what trends exist and to use those to design a specific and relevant program. This approach was helpful for Nelson, who used the group-level data to determine which competencies to focus on during the classroom time.
Taking the top two development areas, a two-day session was tailored around the coaching and development of employees and listening and communication competencies. Openly sharing the group data with participants at the start of the training demonstrated why the individuals were there and the relevancy of the content to building leadership capability across East Jordan Iron Works’ departments. This sharing enabled the company to meet its objective of satisfying both individual and business-unit needs.
With feedback from a subset of their leaders, organizations can uncover high-level trends to build their broader training agendas. In the case of TACOM’s leaders, Aziz showed the stakeholders that innovation was a clear development area.
Having uncovered this competency gap, the organization’s development team questioned the systems and process available to help leaders become successful innovators. Uncovering pitfalls enables an organization to provide relevant opportunities or training to leaders and simultaneously reinforce and stabilize its pipeline.
Should the needs analysis and development design end there? The Global Leadership Forecast indicates that organizations with development programs considered very high quality were 10 times more likely to measure the results of their leadership development initiatives than those rated low or very low quality.
Evidence indicates that measurement drives accountability and even drives organizational strategy. Both Aziz and Nelson measured their development initiatives using a follow-up 360-degree survey for the individuals 12-18 months after initial review. They also gathered qualitative feedback from the leaders, verbally or in written evaluation forms, to see what activities were successful and which could be improved further.
These comments, along with the assessment results, helped them with future leadership development design. In addition, by monitoring the success of the development initiatives, Aziz and Nelson are able to communicate the value of the investment to the organization stakeholders.
Making Development Decisions
Here are five essential tips to remember when making development decisions:
1. Explore the development needs for the target group. “Don’t assume that you know what people need. Take the steps to determine their actual needs, which will allow you to shorten the leadership learning curve,” Nelson said.
2. Clearly position the 360-degree needs analysis for development only. Encourage subjects and respondents to be open and honest for the benefit of the individual, his or her group and the organization.
3. Encourage development conversations between leaders and their managers. Don’t let your people fall into the 56 percent bracket of leaders without formal written development plans. Using their 360-degree reports, encourage leaders to draft their ideas on possible development opportunities and then have a designated conversation with their managers to confirm actions that will address their strength and growth areas.
4. Tailor your training. Whether designing new programs or tweaking existing ones, ensure the objectives meet the needs uncovered from the group’s development analysis, such as 360-degree data.
5. Remember where you’ve come from. Measure the success of leadership development offerings and improve upon these with each new implementation or leadership initiative launch.
It’s important to have all the right information before making decisions about leadership development. Needs analysis is an easy step to miss, but it is vital to behavior change and return on investment. Don’t settle with the 41 percent figure of leaders who are content with their development. Find the gaps and then build development to fill them — for the long-term growth of leaders, business units and the organization’s pipeline.Filed under: Leadership Development, Measurement