According to “Real World Leadership,” a Korn Ferry global survey on leadership development published this month, organizations understand it’s a whole new world where slow growth and disruptive change are the norm.
However, the survey of more than 7,500 responses from 107 countries, also revealed that organizations struggle to understand how they can use leadership development to effectively operate in this forever changed environment.
Survey respondents ranked “accelerating the pace of innovation” as one of their most pressing business priorities, roughly on par with more traditional priorities around “improving profitability” and “increasing organic market share.” And, in line with their desire to accelerate innovation, the survey respondents ranked “developing leaders to drive strategic change” as their most important leadership development priority.
But while organizations clearly understand that developing leaders to drive strategy and change is vital to their growth and prosperity, they lack confidence in their current leadership and in their leadership development programs. Simply put, they know they are not where they need to be in terms of talent and leadership bench-strength.
Only 17 percent of survey respondents said they are confident their organizations have the right leadership in place to deliver on their strategic priorities. In addition, executives say if they could completely start over with leadership development at their organization, they’d only keep about half of their current approach.
Clearly, change is needed. Following are tangible tips to create leadership programs that will have a positive affect on people and on the bottom line.
Link business and people strategies: While many organizations understand that leadership development should support the business strategy, they often fail to link program content to the strategy in a clear, actionable way. For example, a company’s strategy might be to grow through acquisitions. As a result, there is a pressing need for leaders who can evaluate potential acquisition candidates, negotiate an asset purchase and deal with complex issues involved in assimilating a new company into their corporate structure. If this is the strategy, leadership development programs should develop these skill sets, among many others. Organizations that fuse their leadership development program with their business strategy are in much better position to generate leaders who meet the organization’s need and can hit the ground running as they advance on the leadership ladder.
Create engagement across the organization: One of the troubling findings from the survey is that about 50 percent of leaders below senior level are not perceived as being actively involved in driving strategic change in their organizations. In many cases, C-suite leaders formulate strategy, but do not effectively communicate the strategy through the organization. The net result is an evaporation of vision and strategy as it filters deeper into the organization. Creating broad-based engagement in driving strategy is fundamentally a matter of changing an organization’s culture. All levels of leadership need to buy into the strategic direction, and they should be empowered to develop, contribute and succeed within the context of the new strategy. In addition, senior leaders need to live and breathe strategic change, and serve as role models for more junior leaders. Relevant leadership development can enable these kinds of outcomes.
Make leadership development relevant: Leadership development should not live in a vacuum; it needs to be directly connected to real business challenges, opportunities, projects and perspectives. There is tremendous value in embedding leadership development programs within organizations, bringing people together to work on the same issues, and centering programs on what the organization is attempting to accomplish. At the same time, leadership development should be looked upon as a journey, not a series of one-time events. For each individual leader, there should be a continuous stream of touch points, large and small, and a blend of things such as workshops, coaching, assessments, peer groups, action learning and technology-enabled learning simulations.
Encourage purpose and mission: Individuals are far more motivated and energized when they are connected to a higher purpose and feel they are providing a service to society, their customers and their community. Leadership development should focus on the whole person and help individuals uncover their motivational drivers. This can be achieved by linking service-based activity to the leadership development strategy, allowing leaders to deploy their skills in service of something greater than themselves.
In short, there is no quick fix. Organizations facing a shortfall in leaders to drive and execute strategic change can start by making leadership development a central part of their culture and then fusing leadership development with organizational purpose and business strategy.
Noah Rabinowitz is senior partner and global lead for leadership development, and Pushp Deep Gupta is a senior partner at Korn Ferry. To comment, email editor@CLOmedia.com.