Sunday, December 28, 2008

Companies Miss the Mark on Leadership Development

Organizations' perceptions of and confidence in their leaders are at a 10-year low, according to the 2008-09 "Global Leadership Forecast," a study conducted by Development Dimensions International.

"The fact that satisfaction with leadership is declining says that organizations are not keeping up with the demand," said Ann Howard, chief scientist at DDI. "Part of that might be because leadership is hard, things are changing and it's hard to keep up, but our research said that's probably a minor part of the problem.

"Howard said organizations can do a lot better in employees' confidence in leadership, but it requires effort. There are several major issues. First, many organizations have a leadership development program, but that programming may not offer the right kinds of learning opportunities.

"When we asked leaders what are the most effective ways that you learn and enhance your skills, they pointed to on-the-job types of experiences, and organizations just aren't as forthcoming with that kind of thing: special projects either inside or outside your job, or moving to a different position specifically to enhance your skills," Howard explained.

"For multinational leaders, that's often an international assignment. Organizations will do online programs that teach you about various skills of leadership, they have a lot of workshops, coaching and so on, but that is really just an introduction to the subject.

"Real leadership development likely has to take place, at least in some form, in the actual workplace. Further, the greater the number of methods organizations use to develop leaders, the more effective their development will be. Howard said it's often not a matter of switching from one type of learning to another. It's about including those on-the-job elements to make the development real and offer leaders opportunities to practice their new skills.

Another issue impeding leaders' development is a lack of follow-up after a development program. Howard said the program in question might be a good one, but its potential impact is wasted if learning stops when leaders get back to the workplace and there is no real-time application or feedback.

"Senior management isn't held accountable in a great number of cases, and [development] may not be aligned with other systems in the organization," Howard said. "If you want a leader to be innovative; then you have to reward innovation. It needs to be in your performance management system, for example. Those kinds of things aren't done. Very often a leader will come back from a development experience, and the manager doesn't have the skills to reinforce that.

"But Howard said one of the biggest holes the DDI survey revealed was a lack of measurement."There's not very much monitoring of what's going on or calling on the carpet because this or that didn't get done," she said. "HR can put together a very nice development program, but it dies in the workplace if it doesn't get consistently reinforced. For example, 44 percent of leaders said they don't have an individual development plan.

"The companies that do have plans in place often lack specific objectives, undermining their usefulness, Howard said. Also, succession management often isn't systematic, and companies "don't identify high potentials early. They don't have programs to develop them, and they're not filling up a pipeline of qualified leaders."

"There's a lot of difficult challenges as you work your way up the leadership ladder. We asked leaders, for example, how difficult was it to make a transition from first-level to mid-level or from mid-level to a higher-level position, and it's very difficult. The higher you get the more difficult it is, and yet a lot of organizations don't have any program to help people through those transition periods.

"One group of leaders that is particularly neglected is those in multinational assignments, the survey revealed. These leaders might be expats going to work in another country, but also could include leaders advancing up the career ladder who supervise and coordinate global work efforts.

Howard said even if a leader will not live and work abroad, he or she still needs to understand different cultures and how people operate in those environments.

"You're dealing with ambiguous environments. It's more complex, and you may have to adapt your behavior if it's not acceptable somewhere else. These are tough jobs; yet, when we asked leaders who had those kinds of jobs what they thought of their preparation, over 60 percent said it was fair or poor. That's really bad.

"As the world gets smaller and more and more companies work internationally, this is becoming a bigger and bigger need, but organizations don't seem to be taking it seriously enough."

Ref: Kellye Whitney

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