Why leadership development programs fail

"Matrix Monday"

There were some useful points in a recent McKinsey article “Why leadership-development programs fail”.

It identified some interesting figures on the importance – and failures – of leadership development:

  • Almost two-thirds of the respondents identified leadership development as their number-one concern;
  • Only seven (7) percent of senior managers polled by a UK business school think that their companies develop global leaders effectively;
  • 30 percent of US companies admit that they have failed to exploit their international business opportunities fully because they lack enough leaders with the right capabilities.

There were also some findings on leadership development that very closely match our own experience:[quote align=”right”]One European retail bank focused on the ability to persuade and motivate peers without the formal authority and improved productivity by 15 percent[/quote]

  • Development should focus on the specific context the business is facing and avoid huge lists of competences, behaviours and values – instead they should focus on two or three critical competences that will make a real difference to company performance. One European retail bank focused on the ability to persuade and motivate peers without the formal authority and improved productivity by 15 percent.
  • Tie leadership development to real on-the-job projects that have a business impact and improve learning. That way, retention is increased by a factor of five, and the business gets immediate benefits. In our own business we are increasingly focusing on campaigns to drive specific changes, rather than just giving people concepts and skills. There is no doubt that there are more “bangs for the buck” for the users in this approach. Rather than invent spurious projects for development reasons, look for opportunities in vital business projects to build in some specific development.
  • Make sure you are addressing the root causes, not just the symptoms. This means changing underlying mind-sets  – which can cause resistance. Changing thoughts, feelings, assumptions, and beliefs is a precondition of behavioral change. This is very much our approach in our book “Making the Matrix Work” which focuses on building the matrix mindset and the accompanying skill set.

In business we measure anything that is really important. If we treat development differently we are signaling that it is not as important. Track and measure the impact, and this will also enable leadership development professionals to build better business cases. In our own case. return on investment (ROI) in our training is much higher than in many other business projects such as manufacturing investments or marketing. Unfortunately, because organizations rarely collect good evidence of this, it can be hard to compete for resources against supposedly more tangible investments.

In summary, some good advice for those of us planning development activities at this time of year!

So what should I do next?

Source: “Why leadership-development programs fail: Sidestepping four common mistakes can help companies develop stronger and more capable leaders, save time and money, and boost morale.” by Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane. McKinsey Quarterly, January 2014.

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