Let’s Stop Leadership Development Dysfunction

By Claude Werder, Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

 The goal of leadership development is shaping and changing leaders’ behaviors to empower organizations to grow and prosper while better serving customers and stakeholders. By that standard, two-thirds of organizations are failing, according to Brandon Hall Group’s latest Leadership Development Study, due for release later this month.

When asked whether they could prove that leadership programs significantly impact their ability to meet business objectives, 66% of responding organizations said “no.” Reasons varied; the one most- cited was the inability to use data and analytics to demonstrate their impact (72% of respondents). Others include:

  • “Our leadership program only impacts a fraction of our leaders.”
  • “There is no consensus on leadership competencies that could be directly tied to business objectives.”
  • “We don’t have the consensus, internal experience or resources to build a leadership program that can impact the business.”

Considered collectively, these factors reveal the systemic failure of leadership development. It’s ongoing, with organizations pouring more time and money into developing leaders each year with little or nothing to show for it.

Meanwhile, organizations are operating with a five-generation workforce and leadership has never been more important, nor more complex. Technological change is everywhere — and rapidly accelerating. By some estimates, nearly half of the jobs now done by humans could be automated as early as 2030. In the years ahead, we will see workforce upheaval requiring savvy and sophisticated leaders with the ability to adapt to continuous change and help an increasingly diverse workforce cope, learn new skills and – hopefully – prevail and prosper. High stakes!

While organizations most often blame lack of resources (staff, time, budget, technology) for their LD struggles, Brandon Hall Group believes the underlying driver of the dysfunction is a factor cited by 41% of organizations: lack of alignment between the LD/HR function and business leaders.

If everyone were on the same page and executive leadership trusted HR to build effective leaders, would executive support, money, time and technology be lacking? Businesses invest in what they believe will yield results. Leadership development has a poor track record: two of every five organizations don’t believe their leaders can successfully manage business goals over the next 12-18 months, let alone the next several years.

The question is: What must organizations do to create and sustain a system to develop leaders who are capable of navigating the challenges that lie ahead in a way that will positively impact the business, its customers and stakeholders?

Brandon Hall Group, based on our research and experience in working with Fortune 500 companies, believes that organizations must have a single leadership vision that is aligned with their business objectives and culture. That vision should include foundational skills related to emotional intelligence and extend throughout the entire organization so that all leaders are developed using the same model. In addition, organizations must remove as much subjectivity from leader identification and development as possible. For example, leverage data and next-gen assessments to help identify high-potentials, determine suitable roles and career paths, and individual development priorities.

To that end, we developed five foundations for building a leadership-development program that will make a difference. How these foundations are established depends on an organization’s industry, business health, culture, employer brand and other factors, which we will address in our research reports.

Want to learn more or share what your organization is doing about leadership development? Contact me here.

Our survey research is ongoing; if you want to participate, click here.

We are also conducting the 2019 Women in Leadership survey research. We want to hear from both men and women about how they view targeted development efforts for women leaders. You can take the survey here.

Claude Werder is Brandon Hall Group’s Vice President and Principal HCM Analyst. He focuses on Leadership Development and Talent Management. Brandon Hall Group is a leading research and analyst firm with Practices in Learning & Development, Talent Management, Leadership Development, Talent Acquisition and Workforce Management/Core HR.

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