Leadership Gaps: Where Companies Go Wrong

The workforce is changing and business needs are evolving quickly. The innovative companies of today – Facebook, Amazon, Uber, Apple, Google – tossed old business models aside and became trailblazers in a digital age that now requires agility, diversity, collaboration and a culture of risk.

“The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said while speaking to entrepreneurs at Y Combinator’s Startup School in Palo Alto, CA.

Leadership today is about taking risk – failing and succeeding because of it. But, it can’t be done without the right people in place to develop new business practices and become leaders of the next generation of workers. If leadership gaps are left unfilled, progress comes to a halt.

Unfortunately, findings suggest companies believe their workforce is ill-equipped to evolve and lead in the digital age.

“High-performing leaders today need different skills and expertise than in generations past, yet most organizations have not moved rapidly enough to develop digital leaders, promote young leaders, and build new leadership models,” noted authors of a 2017 article published by Deloitte.

Are Companies Investing in People?

Results are mixed.

63% of business leaders in multi-million and multi-billion dollar global organizations say technology will be the firm’s greatest source of competitive advantage, according to a 2016 global study by Korn Ferry, an international recruiting firm. Additionally, 67% say technology will create greater value in the future than people will.

“Facing uncertainty, they [leaders] are putting priority in their thinking, planning and execution on the tangible – what they can see, touch and measure, such as technology investments. Putting an exact value on people is much more difficult, even though people directly influence the value of technology, innovation and products,” Jean-Marc Laouchez, Global Managing Director, Solutions, Korn Ferry stated in a 2016 press release.

On the contrary, more than 80% of executives surveyed by Deloitte, in the fifth annual Global Human Capital Trends report, rated careers and learning as important or very important, just underneath building an organization of the future.

“This year, the issue of improving employee careers and transforming corporate learning emerged as the second most important trend in our survey, up from fifth last year,” authors noted in the report.

Many global companies are recognizing that. Well-known brands like Microsoft, General Electric, AT&T, Marriot and Coca-Cola are investing in corporate universities, high-potential development programs and training for front-line employees.

  • AT&T has invested $250 million in education and development programs with a focus on continuous career development for 140,000 employees, according to authors of the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report and survey. Programs include the launch of AT&T University, AT&T Connect to Success mentoring program and tuition reimbursement program.
  • Marriot International offers a 12-18 month hands-on and virtual training leadership development program. The Voyage Global Leadership Development Program is available globally for college graduates who want additional training in accounting, finance, human resources, event planning, sales and marketing, and more.

  • Coca-Cola offers thousands of courses to associates of all levels through Coca-Cola University. The university offers classroom learning, e-learning and field training that focus on leadership, marketing, human rights, ethics and compliance, finance, diversity and other competencies, according to the company website.

Learning opportunities such as these are vital to employee success, and therefore, the company’s success.

Disengaged Employees Lead to Turnover; Leadership Pipelines Suffer

While industry leaders are investing in their employees, not all companies offer training and development opportunities. Millennial employees don’t believe they’re receiving the help they need.

According to a 2016 global survey by Deloitte, 63% of millennials say their “leadership skills are not being fully developed.” Additionally, 70% of those likely to leave their job in the next two years were unhappy with “how their leadership skills are being developed.”

The lack of development may be connected to a lack of loyalty. The same study revealed two in three Millennials expect to leave their current employer by 2020.

Creating new learning and development programs is vital to retaining talent and building a leadership pipeline.

The new rules of employee development include implementing learning technology that creates “an always-on, collaborative, curated learning experience,” and offers “micro-learning, courses, classrooms, and groups,” in an environment where “employees decide what to learn based on their team’s needs and individual career goals,” as explained in the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report and survey.

Does Training & Development Work?

One industry report suggests it does.

In 2017, DDI World, a global human resources firm, released a report evaluating and analyzing a single leadership development program. The report aggregated 42 years of research from 156 organizations in 44 countries. Results showed an improvement in employee retention, employee engagement and positive leadership behaviors such as building trust, resolving conflict and coaching for success.

“Leadership development can make new leaders effective faster,” William C. Byaham, executive chairman of DDI, wrote in a 2017 article published by CLO Media.

“The research found that a good development program can elevate the capability of leaders who have been in their roles for just one to two years to a level comparable to leaders who have been in their roles 10 years or more,” Byaham noted.

Key report highlights include:

  • 82% of managers, peers, and direct reports cited an increase in positive leadership behaviors among leaders following completion of development courses.
  • 81% of employees with leaders who completed development courses reported increased engagement.
  • 85% of leaders rated themselves as effective after participating in development courses.
  • 82% of women reported an increase in their leadership confidence after participating in the development courses.

Other findings support these types of programs.

Organizations with highly rated development programs are nearly nine times more likely to have high quality leadership, and seven times more likely to have highly engaged leaders inclined to stay with the organization, according to a 2016 article published on LinkedIn Learning.

While leadership gaps can be attributed to a number of reasons, training and development, if implemented successfully, can contribute to filling holes within an organization’s leadership pipeline.

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