Identifying leadership within the workplace is a challenge in today’s business environment, but according to a recent surveyfrom Saba and Harris Poll, 68 percent of employees consider themselves leaders within their companies, and they’re ready to be selected for the roles you’re struggling to fill. Should companies invest in these employees’ beliefs?
I interviewed Sue Anguiano, vice president of human resources at Saba, on her company’s recent survey results and what kind of leadership development tools learning leaders must have ready as the time for transitioning Gen Y into higher leadership roles nears. Below are edited excerpts from our interview.
Let’s talk about the idea of so many employees seeing themselves as leaders. I’m sure it’s not cut and dry, but is this a good or bad thing?
Anguiano: It is a tremendous opportunity for helping to develop and engage leaders at all levels, and it shows that not enough companies are leveraging this.
When so many employees are interested in being leaders, massive internal opportunities can open up. A healthy collaborative spirit can do wonders for the culture of a business, while motivating staff to go the extra mile for both clients and co-workers. It can be a dream to have an entire team where every member is passionate and dedicated enough to lead — on their own terms.
As you mentioned, according to a recent Saba survey, 68 percent of all full-time and part-time workers consider themselves leaders within their company — regardless of their titles — by virtue of their contributions to the business.
To me, that number flags a huge untapped opportunity for businesses to radically rethink how they define and embrace leadership. It is not about vying for the corner office anymore. It is less about stepping on hands and heads on the climb up a corporate ladder and more about connecting and listening to ideas and inputs collectively. I’m a firm believer that anyone can do anything with the proper training. The trick is this: How can companies plan ahead to figure out how to personalize development opportunities and help embrace this new look at leadership? Even more, how can they do this without the outdated confines of slotting people into roles within the corporate hierarchy?
The time for change is now. Boomers are now reaching ages 70 and above, and many are looking into retirement within the next few years. According to survey data from Gallup, only 16 percent of boomers aged 68 and up are still in the workforce — meanwhile thousands are reaching that age every day, and about 4 million are retiring every year. From a business perspective, it could absolutely cripple some organizations that lean too much on their current leaders. Companies will eventually run into a pretty serious issue if they don’t invest time in mentorships and training to fill in that gap with an engaged organization ready to move it forward.
There is additional leadership data in a more recent Saba survey, which states that only 39 percent of organizations offer succession-planning programs, which is not enough to keep up with the vacancies. To make matters even more concerning, the same data revealed that only 15 percent of employees find these programs useful. Moving forward this will become a bigger problem for many organizations of all sizes: If they let aren’t better prepared to reimagine and reengage their leaders.
How does this affect leadership development? Do you have to provide it earlier on?
Anguiano: This is actually becoming a sticking point in certain companies. I know it’s a cliché, but when people say “When you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” it really is true. Some places aren’t focusing on it at all — let alone earlier or later.
It’s perplexing to me how so few organizations realize that succession planning is an absolute necessity to operations. In Saba’s leadership survey, it was revealed that 59 percent of the polled organizations see succession planning as the most difficult challenge to overcome in the current economy. Meanwhile, like I said before, so few organizations are digging into growth programs. If you can even believe it, 58 percent of companies are still using spreadsheets to track and plan employee performance. So what’s happening now is that organizations may think, on paper, that they’re providing these options, but without any trackable data or predictive programs, there’s really no way to encourage it.
Setting up some sort of barebones structure for growth and mentoring from day one is imperative for the future growth of individual employees, and vicariously the company as a whole. Think of it this way: You’re not going to send a child to school and be OK with a teacher saying, “We’ll work on math later when we get closer to the test.” It’s the same concept: Giving someone tools early on is important to provide insight as to how much time and energy this team member is willing to put into their future. But part of that is the component of keeping track of everything. More organizations need to embrace learning management systems and internal big data and analytics to better serve the staff. That way, all employees will be in a best possible position to serve the company when it needs them most. By planning these things early, a business can more easily wade through the proverbial talent ocean to find the employees who are best suited to lead in the future.
We’ve heard before that younger staff believe they deserve leadership roles. Will providing them leadership development boost their egos more?
Anguiano: Ben Casnocha, the co-author of The New York Times best-seller, “The Alliance,” just keynoted at Saba’s customer conference. And he shared great perspective on this point. He said: “Millennials aren’t entitled, they just got bad career advice.”
I agree. If we are guiding new entrants to the 2015 workplace as we guided their parents and grandparents, HR is doing our organizations a disservice.
The trick is to leverage the passion and the network that comes to your organization with younger hires. There is so much more value that we are just beginning to realize in each person’s network and the context that comes from it. In fact, today’s leaders are those that best connect and share their knowledge versus those in the past that hoarded their insights as some misguided approach to job security.
I know this works because at Saba, we use our own products to connect our distributed, global staff (five generations worth) with an online community. And I really mean a community — where they not only share ideas, but readily (and publicly) thank each other and provide badges and impressions on the value of that shared content. This creates not only great informal learning every day, [but] it also helps create and foster powerful mentoring opportunities that cross demographic boundaries in both directions.
For millennials, this is especially important. Saba’s survey data has shown that 38 percent of Gen Y seeks positions that first and foremost provide “meaning.” This is obviously subjective depending upon who it is, but it’s the organization that can move the goal posts here to give that sense of importance no matter what the position is.
If training and development is done properly, the leaders will naturally float to the top without inflating their egos in the process. Their co-workers will respect them inherently due to the nature of their work, and they’ll be ready for a more traditional development process without even realizing it.