Leadership development fails to drive firm performance

15 January 2016 Consultancy.uk

Organisations are investing heavily in leadership development, yet 55% say that they are not satisfied with the current leadership programmes. While most businesses have a leadership development strategy, recent analysis by Mercer finds that that strategy is often not connected with the ‘on the ground’-leadership type required by the organisation. In addition, companies often invest in less effective methods for developing leaders, and many lack measures to track the effectiveness of their programmes.

Leadership has become a central issue for businesses faced with the challenges of today’s rapidly changing business environment. Leaders are expected to deliver results against a backdrop of uncertainty, providing the vision and practical resolve for a business to grow, innovate, and respond to globalisation. However, while businesses require such leaders, recent research from BCG highlights that many leadership development programmes fail to deliver results.

Challenging leadership


To find out what is going wrong, Mercer recently, for its ‘Connecting Leadership to Value’ report, surveyed 215 leadership development professionals from across Europe, as well as findings from 10 interviews with individuals in key talent development roles at leading companies in the UK and Europe

Of respondents, 55% say that they are not satisfied with the current leadership programmes operating within their respective businesses. Given that approximately $14 billion is invested in such programmes in the US alone, getting value for money remains a priority. To find out why leadership programmes are getting a bad reputation, the consultancy considers four key aspects of such programmes: the why, what, so what and how.

Leadership challenges

The why and what
According to the research, there is a disconnect between the why and the what of leadership development. Most organisations (62%) have a leadership strategy in place, which is generally focused on articulating leadership capabilities (71%), the process for succession (63%), and the criteria and process for identifying future leaders (62%). However, only 27% have a good understanding of what makes a good leader within their particular organisation – and thereby what strategic priorities for training are required to create such leaders.

According to Stuart Turnbull, Partner at Mercer, it is “difficult for companies to connect the business imperatives for leadership development, what good leadership looks like, how development should occur and, finally how to measure it all.” He goes on to say that: “Whilst organisations recognise that current methods are not effective, we see these tactics repeated because they are familiar, because they may play to a leader’s desires, because they may be more visible or because they are the simplest to roll-out.”

Effective vs. implemented

Effective leadership strategies
A further issue faced by organisations is that there is a disconnect between how they approach training their staff for leadership and what makes for recognised effective measures. The most effective measures are generally agreed to be challenging assignments, overseas assignments, and rotational experiences. These measures are used by 65%, 40% and 36% of companies respectively. The least effective tools – face-to-face and online learning – are used by 63% and 41% respectively.

One of the key reasons for the poor choice of leadership training is that 59% of current leaders are not being held accountable for leadership training, thereby reducing incentives to get it right. Another issue is that organisations tend to seek external coaching (71%), rather than build an internal coaching capability (41%) – because of the potentially erroneous view that external coaching is more effective. In addition, many organisations follow the 70:20:10 model, with 70% of learning occurring on the job, 20% through others, and 10% through formal programmes. Getting the 70% right should therefore be a priority in achieving strong leadership outcomes.

“We understand the pressures pushing HR departments down this route, but the world is volatile and development needs to move away from these methods which mainly focus on leadership behaviour to focus more broadly on the impact that leaders deliver,” comments Turnbull. “Leadership development needs to integrate with real-world experience helping leaders anticipate and navigate the myriad of problems that they have to address. It’s time to reconnect the chain. The starting point for reconnecting leadership to value added will be unique to every organisation, depending on where the chain is broken.”

Leadership testing

Measuring outcomes
The final issue considered by the report is a lack of measurement for the return on investment (ROI) of leadership training initiatives. The results show that 81% of organisations have no way to gauge whether their programme generates results. Given the huge sums of money involved, this could be problematic for organisations.

According to Mercer the problem stems from completing evaluation retrospectively, rather than designing metrics and measures up front. One possible solution is to create a range of analytics inspired measurements that track the success of leadership programmes through a variety of business results. According to the report, “Embedding metrics and measurement throughout the lifecycle, from setting leadership priorities to developing leaders, will facilitate an up-to-date view of leadership contribution, greater executive buy-in, and the continuous improvement of leadership development itself.”



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019 Consultancy.uk

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.