Urgency builds for better leadership development

Urgency builds for better leadership development

Lack of accountability, weak succession plans among key barriers: study.


By Claudine Kapel – hrreporter.com

An aging workforce and warnings of an imminent exodus of retiring baby boomers are making leadership development a high priority for many organizations.

Most organizations understand what needs to be done – at least in principle. They recognize they need to identify and develop their next generation of leaders and facilitate the transfer of institutional knowledge before key talent retires.

But implementing such strategies is easier said than done. A new study by the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) finds while organizations have a sense of urgency around accelerating leadership development to address evolving talent needs, many are grappling with barriers to implementation.

“The sense of urgency is compounded in organizations that are expecting large proportions of their workforces to reach retirement age within a few years,” notes i4cp. “This effectively reduces the number of senior leaders to mentor replacements as well as the population of managers, directors and other executives who might otherwise have risen to take their places.”

The i4cp study identified three major types of barriers inhibiting leadership development efforts. These include:

A lack of accountability among leaders for developing their direct reports,
Weak succession plans, and
Rigid functional or business silos.
Responses from 337 participants were analyzed as part of the study. The data reported reflects responses from organizations with 1,000 or more employees.

The study found “leaders aren’t being adequately held accountable for developing their direct reports, a factor with a high negative correlation to market performance,” notes i4cp. Just over half (51 per cent) of the high-performing organizations in the sample, as well as 61 per cent of the low performers, flagged this as a significant issue.

“It’s clearly not enough to send individuals off to attend leadership development programs and consider one’s job done,” says i4cp. Accountability, it adds, “can only come by stating specific expectations up-front and comparing results to expectations, granting rewards and meting out consequences as appropriate.”

While 73 per cent of respondents said succession planning was important, only 25 per cent indicated they were effective at it. The study found such plans “just didn’t reach down far enough into the organization” and that leaders weren’t being held accountable for adhering to those succession plans.

“Driving succession plans down further into the organization supports the position that critical roles exist throughout the firm, not just at the executive level,” says i4cp. “What’s more, it identifies the candidates whose development needs to be accelerated, the key competencies that need to be strengthened and a timetable for producing ready-to-serve succession candidates.”

Finally, the study found organizations were not leveraging job rotations as a means of providing rising executives “with knowledge and experience they would not be able to acquire in their own little corner of their corporate world.” One-third of the organizations in the study’s high-performing sample report functional or business silos were getting in the way of leadership development.

“One culprit is an ownership mentality about talent,” says i4cp. “Managers with exceptional employees want to keep them, not send them away to learn more or to get snatched up for a promotional opportunity.”

As the study highlights, effective leadership development is a multi-faceted undertaking that requires both well-considered strategies and well-orchestrated delivery. To that end, it requires time, effort, resources – and the leadership commitment needed to facilitate both the planning and execution of development initiatives.

It’s easy enough for leaders to just focus on their own needs or the needs of their units. That’s why an essential step in addressing leadership development is to get leaders themselves to understand their roles in the process and how their actions can shape or undermine the future health of the enterprise.

Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.

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