Billions in training & talent management down the drain

05 November 2015 4 min. read

Talent management and leadership schemes, at the cost of tens of billions, are often failing to achieve their desired goal, a recent BCG survey highlights. Programmes often fail to take into consideration business objectives, are too fragmented and do not provide the practical framework for the requisite skills to become best-practice in the daily activity of leaders.

Investment in the development of talent toward leadership roles appears to be a key characteristic of the development of that talent. Companies have been investing heavily in leadership development programmes to make sure they have on-boarded the capacities they will need in the future. A recent survey from The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) questions however, whether these investments are generating the expected return.

According to the results of the survey answered by more than 4,000 senior business leaders, ‘managing talent’ and programmes designed to “improve leadership development” are a top priority for their companies. Yet, respondents also highlight that both these areas are the weakest within their company, thereby questioning the effectiveness of programmes that costs tens of billions per year.

BCG - Billions in talent management down drain

The problem, according to BCG, is that many of the programmes are “not geared to drive business results.” The trainings, according to Debbie Lovich, Leader of BCG’s Leadership and Talent Enablement Centre, are often disconnected from the objectives of the companies, thereby missing the mark. “Senior executives often think that they must focus on the business and delegate talent development - which they see as ‘training’ - to HR or someone else without continued involvement,” Lovich remarks. “With that approach, leadership development instantly becomes disconnected from the business priorities. The training that employees receive does not develop the skills that will enable them to have a meaningful impact on colleagues, customers, and business results.”

According to the consulting firm, one of the biggest issues is that workshops, seminars and events are often structured in a way that is like cramming for a test. As such, the hands on experience that builds capacities that go into developing and mastering a skill is not tested. The firm offers three main reasons that provide clues to why development and talent programmes fail to deliver their expected results:

1. “True capability is developed over time and regularly reinforced,” rather than being developed at one time workshops.
2. Many of the programmes offered develop only “broad, generic themes,” failing to develop specific skills. More target programmes that seek to enhance two or three areas of weakness may be better at creating well rounded leaders.
3. Training programmes are often seen as successful on the reports of attendee satisfaction. Measuring the success of programmes on the skill-base developed would provide insight into its effectiveness. 

Debbie lovich

“People don't develop skills from simply reading a book or going to a one-off workshop,” Lovich reflects. “They build skills by having to do something, failing, and trying again and again.” The best way to develop leadership, according to Lovich, is through daily in-the-field experience, where the skill is built up incrementally based on best-practice knowledge and re-enforcement from practicing skills provided as part of trainings. “A few simple things done consistently well across daily routines can drive cultural change,” she explains. “By teaching through practical daily routines and providing simple tools to practice and observe leadership at work, organisations can give their people a practical way to improve every day.”

Innovation drain?
Recently, another consultancy, PA Consulting Group, found that UK organisations are flushing some £64.7 billion down the drain as a result of ineffective innovation spend.