Industry Insight: The Dollars and Sense Behind Self-Awareness


Human resources and training professionals are tasked with the noble role of spotting, nurturing and upskilling their organization’s talent. While the business value of the work is abundantly clear to this group, often these talented professionals spend a large portion of their time substantiating the value of L&D initiatives within their own organizations.

Getting an executive team to realize the interrelatedness between people development and the business’ bottom line is not easy. During budget reviews, development programs and the promise of “soft skills” may lose funding to functions that have a stronger perceived contribution to “hard results” and essential business operations.

Fortunately, research is increasingly supporting the clear connection between people development and business success. In 2013, Korn Ferry analysts David Zes and Dana Landis were able to confirm the “direct relationship between leader self-awareness and organizational financial performance” through an intensive multi-year study. By analyzing the stock performance of 486 companies in conjunction with administering 6,977 self-assessments to the professionals within those companies, the authors found that “public companies with a higher rate of return (ROR) also employ professionals who exhibit higher levels of self-awareness.”

Similarly, a study by Green Peak Partners and Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations examined leaders to identify predictors of executive success. The findings stated, “harsh, hard-driving, ‘results-at-all-costs’ executives actually diminish the bottom line, while self-aware leaders with strong interpersonal skills deliver better financial performance.”

Self-awareness revolves around our understanding of our personality traits, personal values, habits, emotions and the unique psychological preferences that drive our behavior. What selfawareness means for managers is that they can more quickly identify competency gaps in themselves and their teams, which, in turn, promotes the skill development initiatives required to fill those gaps.

Without this base level of self-knowledge and understanding, endeavoring upon any type of learning and development is an exercise in wasting time. Skill development and personal growth start with an honest examination between the current state of affairs and the desired future state. Just as you have to know the physical location of your starting point if you want to travel to an unknown destination, you have to know the figurative location of your starting skill set, too.

So how can we paint the picture for our executives of the essential nature of self-awareness?

Here’s what I recommend:

Show that people are your business’ most critical asset.

While executive leaders might look to new competitors or changes in the economy as their highest risk factors, actually it is individuals who lack self-awareness, especially those in leadership roles, who pose the real risk to organizational effectiveness. These people can be the bottleneck to inefficiency, and by ignoring or under prioritizing the need to improve this, executives could unknowingly be putting their business at increased risk.

Make self-knowledge the most important type of knowledge.

Today’s workforce is responsible for being knowledgeable in many differing areas. From their professional discipline to the industry they operate within and everything in between, we ask our people to know a lot about a lot. However, it is our people’s knowledge of themselves that truly has the power to multiply their own success and the success of their teams and organizations.

Connect personal breakthroughs to business breakthroughs.

If it is your workforce that unlocks your organization’s potential, your business should focus intently on unlocking its workforce’s potential. I firmly believe that when organizations show their dedication and commitment to creating a working environment that values the individual, they unlock their people’s brilliance and enable their business’ success.

As someone with the honor of holding dual roles as Chief Executive and Head of People of a global learning and development organization, I have the joy of facilitating personal and business breakthroughs for our employees and clients, alike. Ultimately, the personal journey to self-awareness is one of understanding yourself, others and how to adapt and connect to achieve your desired success, resulting in infinite possibilities for individual and organizational growth.

Named the 2016 EY Entrepreneur for the Year for Scotland, the 2016 Courier Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year and a 2016 Scottish Business Awards Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, CEO Andy Lothian has led a career dedicated to the connection between personal development and business development.

Andy founded Insights Learning and Development with his father, Andi Lothian, more than 20 years ago and has turned a two-man operation into a successful global development company. In his dual roles as Insights’ Chief Executive and Head of People (Human Resources and Talent Development function), Andy is passionately committed to enabling profound people development, whether for the organization’s clients or employees.