5 Foundations for Impactful Leadership Development

Organizations whose leaders take responsibility for driving engagement and a culture of diversity and inclusion, and operate from a single, well-defined leadership model are significantly more likely to have leadership development programs that deliver business impact, according to Brandon Hall Group’s latest Leadership Development Study.

The ultimate goal of leadership development is to shape and change leaders’ behaviors to allow an organization to grow and prosper while better serving customers and stakeholders. By that standard, two-thirds of organizations are failing, according to Brandon Hall Group’s latest Leadership Development Study.

When asked whether they could prove their leadership programs significantly impact their ability to meet business objectives, 66 percent of responding organizations said, “No.” The reasons varied; the one most often cited is the inability to use data and analytics to demonstrate the impact.

Considered collectively, these factors portray a systemic failure around developing leaders. 

Organizations aren’t targeting enough leaders; their learning objectives aren’t linked to business objectives; there’s no consensus on leadership competencies; and they can’t measure the results, so they don’t have the data and analytics to prove that anything they are doing is making any difference.

This systemic failure is ongoing, with organizations pouring more time and money into leadership development each year with little or nothing to show for it. Meanwhile, organizations are operating in a five-generation workforce in which leadership has never been more important or more complex. Technological change is everywhere and gaining speed. By some estimates, close to half of the jobs now done by humans could be automated as early as 2030. In the years ahead, we will see workforce upheaval that will require sophisticated leaders with the ability to adapt to continuous change and help an increasingly diverse workforce cope, learn new skills, and—hopefully—prevail and prosper. The stakes are high.

Lack of Alignment

If organizations can’t find ways to build leadership programs that deliver business impact, many will simply fail. While organizations most often attribute lack of resources (staff, time, budget) for their leadership development struggles, we believe the underlying driver of the dysfunction is a factor cited by 41 percent of organizations: lack of alignment between the Learning and Development/Human Resources function and business leaders.

The question is: What must organizations do to create and sustain a system to develop leaders that is capable of navigating the challenges in a way that will positively impact the business, its customers, and its stakeholders?

Based on our research and experience in working with Fortune 500 companies, Brandon Hall Group believes organizations must have a single leadership vision aligned with their business objectives and culture. That vision must extend throughout the entire organization so leaders are all developed using the same model. In addition, organizations must remove as much subjectivity from leader identification and development as possible. For example, leverage data and next-generation assessments to help identify high potentials and determine suitable roles, career paths, and individual development priorities.

Building a Foundation

To that end, we recommend five strategies to build a foundation for leadership development that can make a business difference. How these strategies are leveraged often depends on an organization’s industry, business health, culture, employer brand, and other factors, which we will address in future reports.

The five foundational steps are:

1. Top decision-makers must define leadership values in alignment with business goals

2. Develop an organization-wide leadership model for how leaders think and act

3. Evangelize and train on leadership behaviors at all levels of the organization

4. Give leaders time and resources to practice new leadership behaviors

5. Invest in succession planning that rewards mastery of the leadership behaviors

Here is a checklist for a high-quality approach to succession planning:

  • Set goals for internal promotion for key leader roles throughout the enterprise. (One barometer is filling at least half of critical roles at all levels from within.)
  • Identify critical talent segments and key job roles at all levels.
  • Implement a succession process consistently through all levels of the organization, not just at senior and mid-levels. 
  • Be transparent about communicating criteria for being in the succession pool and who’s in and out.
  • Ensure candidates understand that inclusion in the succession pool is not a privilege—it’s continuously earned.      
  • Ensure your succession pool represents the composition of your workforce and customers.
  • Develop development and mobility plans for each succession candidate.
  • Maintain a robust, active talent review process in which succession candidates’ performance and future potential are updated on a regular basis (at least twice a year).
  • Evaluate succession candidates beyond job performance to include 360° assessments and assessments of behaviors and potential.
  • Actively support successful candidates as they assume new roles, whether they are lateral or promotions.

Organizations whose leaders take responsibility for driving engagement and a culture of diversity and inclusion, and operate from a single, well-defined leadership model are significantly more likely to have leadership development programs that deliver business impact. Here’s a link to a free download of the KnowledgeGraphic, Six Benefits of Progressive Leadership Development.

Claude Werder is the vice president of Research Operations and principal HCM analyst at Brandon Hall GroupThe firm’s vision is to inspire a better workplace experience, and its mission is to empower excellence in organizations around the world through its research and tools. Brandon Hall Group has five human capital management (HCM) practices and produces the Brandon Hall Group HCM Excellence Awards and Excellence in Technology Awards; Women In Leadership Summit 2019: May 1-2, 2019; and the annual HCM Excellence Conference, in West Palm Beach, FL, February 4-6, 2020.


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