Leadership Development: Moving from Priority to Action

A 2005 survey conducted by Bersin & Associates found organizations spend as much as 30 percent of their corporate training dollars on leadership development. This is no surprise. Around the […]

A 2005 survey conducted by Bersin & Associates found organizations spend as much as 30 percent of their corporate training dollars on leadership development. This is no surprise. Around the globe, virtually all market sectors predict shortages of qualified leaders. It is also well-known that leadership skills drive results: High-quality leaders attract high-quality performers, which, in turn, build and grow the organization.

Despite the large investment in leadership programs and initiatives, research shows many companies still struggle to create and implement effective leadership development programs. In fact, corporatewide leadership development is one of the most challenging initiatives a learning organization will ever tackle.

When conducting in-depth, qualitative interviews with 20 companies, Bersin & Associates analysts found organizations shared several common challenges related to the implementation of effective leadership development programs. These include:

  • Lack of definition.
  • Little executive support or sponsorship.
  • Confusion.
  • Complexity.

    So, how does an organization overcome these and other challenges and move from making leadership development a priority to implementing an effective, successful program? The first step is to understand what leadership development actually is. Many organizations confuse leadership development with management training. Management training is operationally focused and should provide supervisors and managers with the skills required for managing people, projects and budgets. Leadership development cultivates current and emerging leaders and is tightly integrated with business strategy, succession planning and other talent management processes. Understanding and articulating the differences between these two types of programs will help you go beyond management training to true leadership development.

    As with any major planning effort, it’s important to know where you are now and where you’re going. Understanding where your organization fits on the leadership development maturity model is important for two reasons. First, by knowing the types of activities and program characteristics at each maturity level, you can plan for future investments and program expansion. Second, the model provides a useful communication tool when discussing program evolution with senior executives.

    The following are several characteristics of high-impact leadership development initiatives and examples of companies that have put them into practice:

  • Define leadership competencies. Competencies are the foundation for talent management. Defined leadership competencies form the basis for leadership development efforts and activities. For instance, SaskTel, a full-service communications company in Saskatchewan, Canada, has identified five key leadership characteristics. In a one-day program for all managers, SaskTel introduces these characteristics and helps each participant create a personalized development plan.
  • Apply blended learning. A blended learning approach gives potential leaders a variety of different learning experiences and makes most efficient use of their time. Exult, a provider of outsourced business services with a global workforce, uses a completely virtual approach to provide leadership training to its 120 middle managers.
  • Tailor leadership development to all levels. Most organizations do not acknowledge that different levels of leadership require different curricula. People need help in transitioning from the skills and values appropriate at one level to those needed at the next. Telecommunications giant Alcatel has a program that cultivates leadership at multiple levels: those potentially capable of taking senior-level positions within the next five years, those who could be capable of corporate leadership within the next decade and high-potential junior employees.

    Leadership development is one of the most important areas in enterprise learning today. Companies must take a hard look at what they are doing today to develop the leaders of tomorrow.

    Josh Bersin is the principal and founder of Bersin & Associates, and he has more than 25 years of experience in corporate solutions, training and e-learning. He can be reached at jbersin@clomedia.com.