Category Archives: leadership development

How Do You Help Executives Thrive?

As a good HR leader, you no doubt spend a lot of time creating opportunities for everyday employees to gain the skills and experience they need to continue their professional growth.

But what are you doing to help those at the highest levels reach their career goals?

The answer, according to many senior executives taking part in a recent Egon Zehnder survey, seems to be “not quite enough.”

As part of its Leadership Identity—What Makes You Thrive study, global executive search and talent advisory firm Egon Zehnder recently polled 1,275 senior execs from Asia, Australia, Europe, and North and South America.

When asked if they felt their organization helps them unlock their professional potential, 40 percent replied in the affirmative, while 31 percent said “no” and another 27 percent reported feeling neutral. In addition, 72 percent said they would welcome more help from their company to “pinpoint and pursue [their] personal motivations and goals.”

These figures “suggest that a great many executives see an opportunity for a closer alignment of their job and their essential identity and priorities,” according to an Egon Zehnder summary of the findings. “Some might even feel a clear disconnect.”

Egon Zehnder study authors Andrew Roscoe and Wolfhart Pentz also note observing what they call “an interesting paradox,” saying that few executives who feel that disconnect take steps to address the situation by working to articulate their personal goals in a way that aligns with company objectives or “by fully exploring the potential of their current role,” for example.

“Instead,” the summary adds, “they often feel that their only option is to search for an opportunity elsewhere.”

It doesn’t have to come to that, of course, and Roscoe and Pentz offer ways in which employers and executives can close this communication gap.

For instance, the authors urge executives to do their part by taking more ownership of their own growth and trajectory, and being more forthright in discussing their goals with the organization.

Executives could also stand to improve their awareness and understanding of their own personal priorities—and how they intersect with those of the company, say the authors.

Organizations, meanwhile, must find additional means of developing executives who decline traditional promotion tracks and establish metrics of success that look beyond the “traditional quantitative measures,” the authors note, adding that companies’ rationale behind proposed moves could be better communicated in some cases.

“Too often, professional development is a monologue given by the organization to the executive. It needs to evolve to a true dialogue,” says Roscoe, who leads Egon Zehnder’s executive assessment and development practice.

“But that isn’t only the responsibility of the organization. Executives need to take ownership of their own growth trajectory and be active partners in that dialogue, rather than assume the only options are ‘take it or leave it.’ ”

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Want Performers? Then Share Your Information

If you want your high-performing team members to really perform by participating in leadership decisions, then you’d better be giving 506554668 -- business meetingthem — or training your managers to give them — the information they need.

So says a recent study by researchers in China, published in the Academy of Management Journal.

According to that study’s report, “The Threshold Effect of Participative Leadership and the Role of Leader Information-Sharing,” released last year, there’s a certain performance threshold employees cross when bosses “openly share, discuss and communicate important information needed to make decisions and form judgments.”

Without the confidence that supervisors’ information-sharing fosters, the study suggests, employees may actually come to “hold a negative assessment of the leader’s participative action, interpreting it as a way to increase their workload and responsibilities with no reward.”

According to the authors, making such points is important because managers often assume “that a moderate degree of participative leadership may be enough to improve employees’ performance; this is a common phenomenon in organizations — participation is widely recognized [as valuable], but often done half-heartedly by managers.”

Earlier this week, I contacted Xu Huang, a researcher and professor at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University — and co-author of the study along with Catherine K. Lam of the City University of Hong Kong and Simon C.H. Chan of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University — asking for more specific takeaways for employers and HR, especially how leaders and managers can be trained to share, authentically instead of half-heartedly, more organizational information.

First off, he tells me, the differences between participative leadership and information-sharing are important to note. Based on years of research into these behaviors, he says, participative leaders encourage team members to express ideas and suggestions, they listen to those ideas and suggestions, they use those suggestions to make decisions affecting the entire organization, they give all group members a chance to voice opinions and they consider all team ideas even when they disagree with them.

On the other hand, he says, information-sharers “explain company decisions; company goals; how the team fits into the overall organization; the purposes of company policies, rules and expectations; and his or her decisions and actions.” This open sharing, he adds, doesn’t necessarily have to include sensitive information, just “organizational practices and decisions that may affect the employees and groups.”

There are ways HR professionals can train managers to show more openness and share company information without giving away the store, he says. Behavioral psychologists can even help with this. The problem is, not enough employers recognize this or do anything about it. More often than not, says Xu Huang:

“Managers show openness to different views and opinions from their subordinates, but fail to provide sufficient explanations for companies’ strategies, policies, rules and decisions that may affect employees. As such, employees may not feel that they’re being treated with full transparency and they see such leaders as less effective [and] may not be motivated to enhance their performance. Similarly, managers may offer a lot of information, yet fail to show openness.”

The trick is in combining the two, he says:

“Our key argument is that, if a manager wants his or her employees to perceive him or her as an effective leader, he or she must show a moderate-to-high level of participative leadership as well as a high level of information sharing. A low-to-moderate level of participative leadership behavior will give the impression that the participative leader is ‘half-hearted.’ Similarly, a high level of participative leadership yet low level of information sharing will [also] give the ‘half-heartedness’ impression.”

Probably a bit complex and maybe academically obscure, but worth thinking about if your goal is enhancing performance.

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Changing Culture, Improving Performance

New research from the Hay Group division of Korn Ferry describes culture as “the invisible glue that holds an organization together.”

HR leaders have been singing a similar tune for years, but the Los Angeles-based executive recruitment firm’s Real World Leadership study seems to suggest that the rest of the C-suite is joining the chorus.

In polling more than 7,500 executives representing organizations in 107 countries, the survey found that “driving culture change” ranks among the top three global leadership development priorities among respondents.

Culture “is no longer an afterthought when considering the business focus of an organization,” says Noah Rabinowitz, senior partner and global head of Hay Group’s leadership development practice, in a press release highlighting a few of the findings.

Culture, says Rabinowitz, “is the X-factor … and ultimately makes the difference between whether an organization is able to succeed in the market or not.”

The survey also “affirms the critical role that leaders play in steering culture,” according to Korn Ferry, with executives citing “communications” as the most widely used strategy to improve culture, as well as “leadership development” and “embedding culture change in management objectives.”

And why are executives focused on improving their organizations’ culture? Primarily to “improv[e] organizational alignment and collaboration,” followed by “improving organizational performance,” the poll finds.

That said, organizations that are able to align strategy and culture are “more often the exception than the rule,” according to Korn Ferry. The firm cites its own 2014 research that found 72 percent of more than 500 executives saying that culture is “extremely important” to organizational performance. Just 32 percent of those same respondents, however, said their culture aligns with their business strategy.

Culture doesn’t necessarily align with strategy, per se, but “with the identity of the firm in the minds of key customers,” says David Ulrich, the Rensis Likert professor of business at the University of Michigan and a partner at the RBL Group.

In turn, “the firm’s brand with customers becomes the culture identity among employees,” he says. “As such, culture is a major form of competitive advantage, beyond talent.”

To gain such an advantage, Rabinowitz suggests that more organizations make culture change a bigger part of their leadership programs and overall leadership agendas.

“Culture change occurs, ultimately, when a critical mass of individuals adopt new behaviors consistent with their organization’s strategic direction,” he says. “Leadership development can be the most effective tool to change behaviors. And when leaders change their behaviors, others do so, too.”

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Leadership Development Needs Sponsorship at Top

There has certainly been no dearth of studies and stories, both here at HRE and beyond, on the challenges and failings of leadership-82821233 -- business leaderdevelopment programs. Here, for instance, is our last look at this problem that Staff Writer Mark McGraw wrote about on Nov. 30.

In that piece, sources told McGraw a major stumbling block keeping most leadership-development initiatives from succeeding is the tendency for line leaders to hand the LD reins over to human resources without taking responsibility for the huge role they, themselves, play in steering those initiatives.

As Debbie Lovich, head of the Boston Consulting Group’s  Leadership and Talent Enablement Center in Boston, says in that story:

“As soon as [those reins are handed over, talent issues are] disconnected from the business. You see it happen when line leaders are developing plans for their businesses, and ownership for anything to do with talent goes to HR. … [T]he best-in-class companies don’t just throw it over the fence to HR.”

Now, the latest global study on this issue by Los Angeles-based Korn Ferry suggests the inherent problems with leadership development have less to do with who’s taking responsibility and more to do with who’s sponsoring the effort.

The study, Real World Leadership, which polled more than 7,500 executives from 107 countries, found a “lack of executive sponsorship” to be the chief barrier. Survey respondents not only indicated there was a general lack of active sponsorship, buy-in and support from the top, but they expressed disappointment in the programs altogether, with 55 percent of respondents ranking their return on such efforts as only “fair” to “very poor.”

“Executives have identified the crux of the problem,” says Noah Rabinowitz, a Korn Ferry senior partner and global head of leadership development. “The next step is to identify practical steps to create a solution.

“Given the central role leadership plays in the success of any organization,” he adds, “the view of leadership development has to shift from a ‘nice-to-have’ to a ‘must-have’ business process, as integral as the supply chain, marketing or IT.”

Dési Kimmins, Korn Ferry’s principal consultant, had some very specific and practical advice for HR leaders seeking executive buy-in for leadership development:

“The first step … is to start with strategic business needs. Executives must examine what challenges the organization currently faces, where the business is going and the leadership profile that will help the company get where it needs to go. This process starts with the C-suite, and must sustain that level of endorsement and sponsorship to be successful. The most senior leaders need to engage in the development strategy and insist the impact is regularly measured and reported.

“People assume that development happens naturally, but that’s not necessarily the case. A CEO, for example, not only has to run a business but also [has to] deal with a large number of external stakeholders, such as shareholders, the board of directors, business partners and even the media …  . That’s why stepping into the CEO role is sometimes described as a career change, not just another step on the career ladder. Development and feedback even at this level are essential when so much is at stake.”

Even more specifically, the report lists tips for increasing the effectiveness of leadership development and creating a robust and sustainable leadership pipeline:

  • Embed leadership development in the culture and strategy, ensuring it is consistently sponsored by top executives.

  • Embrace the idea that leadership development is a continuous process and not just made up of one-time classes or one-off events.

  • Make leadership development more relevant and engaging by focusing programs on the organization’s current strategies and business issues.

  • Roll out relevant and appropriate development for all levels in the organization, including senior-most executives and the C-suite.

  • Don’t cut back on investing in leadership development when times get tough. That is the time to double down on efforts.

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Are Managers Cutting It As Coaches?

In late June of this year, I was dispatched to General Electric’s famed Crotonville campus in Ossining, N.Y., to attend Aon Hewitt’s Top Companies For Leaders Think Tank.

My main objective there was to meet one-on-one with representatives from some of the 25 companies that were on hand to be recognized as one of Aon Hewitt’s “Top Companies for Leaders.”

(Click here to find out who these organizations are, and how they landed on the most recent list, the first iteration of which appeared in 2001).

In these conversations, I was struck by how often HR executives returned to the idea of helping managers adopt a “coaching mind-set” as a key component of their companies’ leadership development strategies.

I was so struck, in fact, that I wound up writing a 2,300-or-so-word feature story on this topic for our September print issue, in which “Top Companies for Leaders” such as Procter & Gamble and Singtel Communications discussed how they’ve made it a priority to impart coaching skills to supervisors as part of their managerial training.

Some new data, however, suggests that most organizations haven’t warmed to the concept of making coaches out of managers in the way that “Top Companies” have.

In a survey of 117 vice presidents of talent management, vice presidents and directors of HR, directors of personnel and CHROs, talent-management software provider SilkRoad found 45 percent of these respondents saying their managers lack the skills to coach and develop employees.

Maybe finding out that nearly half of managers are coming up short in terms of coaching and fostering the professional growth of their people isn’t that shocking.

Heck, a 2015 Right Management poll found 68 percent of 616 North American workers saying their managers weren’t actively engaged in the career development of their employees.

Bruce Tulgan, founder of New Haven, Conn.-based management training and consulting company Rainmaker Thinking Inc., certainly isn’t surprised by such statistics.

I had a few conversations with Tulgan in the course of writing the aforementioned HRE feature. Not all of his thoughts found their way into print at the time, of course. But he had plenty to say on the subject, and his take in September seems just as relevant to this HRE Daily installment.

He described Right Management’s findings, for instance, as “very much in alignment” with what he and Rainmaker have uncovered in 20-plus years of research based on interviews with more than 200,000 managers.

In studying “undermanagement” and its root causes, he says, Rainmaker has frequently found that many managers and leaders don’t spend enough time interacting with their reports, spelling out their expectations and coaching employees on their career development.

“Managers, of course, are under pressure to have regular conversations with their teams about the actual work,” he says. “But providing this sort of career guidance is also part of the manager’s job.”

For their part, HR leaders can help managers set the parameters for these career-development chats, says Tulgan.

“For example, how often should [managers] be meeting with their people? How long should those conversations be, what should they be talking about and what are managers doing to prepare for those conversations? And what are they asking direct reports to do to prepare for those conversations?”

As is ultimately the case with the employees they’re charged with nurturing, he says, “you can’t hold managers accountable if you don’t tell them exactly what’s expected of them.”

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Adjusting as Gen Y Takes Charge

Just last week, I finished writing a feature focusing on what a handful of 2015’s “Most Admired for HR” organizations are doing to prime today’s young employees for tomorrow’s leadership roles.

(By the way, this piece is slated to run in the upcoming December edition of HRE, and, naturally, I think you should check it and the rest of the issue out.)

In “Millennials Take Up the Mantle,” HR leaders from companies such as Wells Fargo and Comcast Corp. share some of the programs and initiatives they’ve put in place to groom employees of the millennial generation—a cohort that most projections say will make up roughly 75 percent of the workforce by the year 2025—for the leadership and management positions they’ll soon take over in large numbers.

Many millennials—generally defined as those born between the early 1980s and early 2000s—are already transitioning into leadership roles, of course. Some new data, however, suggests they aren’t the only ones who could use some help adjusting to Gen Y being in charge.

A recent study conducted by Future Workplace and Beyond surveyed 5,771 employees of all ages. Overall, 83 percent of respondents said that millennials are currently managing Gen X and baby boomer employees at their organizations. Among Gen X and boomer respondents, however, 45 percent said they feel that millennials’ lack of managerial experience could have a negative impact on a company’s culture.

And, while 44 percent of millennial respondents regard themselves as being the most capable generation to lead in the workplace, just 14 percent of participants overall agree that Gen Y workers are the best for the job.

It shouldn’t be surprising to see that some (OK, many) older employees aren’t completely comfortable with taking orders from younger, less experienced colleagues, at least not initially. And that uneasiness may help explain the more than one-third of millennials who reported difficulty in managing older employees.

All the concerned parties here certainly have some work to do if they and their organizations are to succeed. In the aforementioned HRE feature, Vanessa Walsh, who heads up leadership and professional development at Wells Fargo, explained what the San Francisco-based banking and financial services firm is doing to help its people bridge the generation gap.

Wells Fargo, which holds the No. 11 spot on this year’s “Most Admired for HR” list, currently oversees 10 affinity groups. The latest addition is “My Generation,” which consists of employees from different age cohorts “who are interested in what it means to be of a certain generation in the workforce,” says Walsh. “We don’t have one group focused on boomers or Gen Xers or millennials. These groups just get people together to learn about these different age groups.”

The idea, she says, is to discuss—and in some cases, debunk—stereotypes associated with various generations in the workplace.

What the group is not, says Walsh, is an effort to force young workers to adapt to old and “established” ways of working. Such an endeavor would be fruitless anyhow, she says.

“I don’t know that we’re going to ‘rewire’ 75 percent of the workforce. Nor should we. So, for me, the question becomes, ‘How do we shift to where they are?’ ”

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Changing Priorities for Recruiters

How different will the world of recruiting look five years from now? If you ask Kevin Wheeler, founder of The Future of Talent Institute in Fremont, Calif., the answer is really different!

ThinkstockPhotos-478800411Wheeler, a self-described “futurist,” told attendees at this week’s Recruiting Trends Conference at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort in Orlando, Fla., that recruiters should brace for dramatic change in the coming months and years.

Among a few of the forces at work in reshaping the recruiting landscape are increased automation and the changing nature of work.

Because of automation, Wheeler said, “mid-level and manufacturing-worker jobs are disappearing,” opening the way for workers who possess significantly higher skill levels.

“I was in Australia a few weeks ago, where they have McDonald’s with no workers in the front of the store,” he recalled. “You order on a kiosk … and they have two employees bring your food out.

”Think of all of those people who work at McDonald’s who won’t have jobs in a few years,” he said.

Wheeler pointed to an Oxford University study titled The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerisation? showing that telemarketers, accountants and auditors, and retail sales people were among the jobs most at risk of disappearing.

Recruiters, he said, are also going to become much more technologically savvy.

“You probably have read [Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee’s 2011 book] Race Against the Machine — that we’re competing against computers and technology,” he said. But a better way to think about it, he added, is as a race with the machine, because if you end up racing against the machine, you’re going to lose!

Wheeler noted that recruiters are also going to need to get their hands around a workplace that includes many more contract workers. (Gig workers were the subject of a recent HRE cover story titled “The Contingent Quandary.”) When he asked how many of those in the room were involved in selecting contract workers, only a few hands went up. But in the future, he predicted, recruiters are going to need to play a much more active role in advising hiring managers on the merits of bringing in such workers, based on the type of work that needs to be done.

“Forget about culture,” he said. “It’s going to be more about whether or not that person can repair this chair.”

As a result, Wheeler said, recruiters are going to need to possess a different set of skills, such as social intelligence, virtual collaboration, co-creation and cross-cultural competence. “These are going to be core to your survival, not interviewing skills and sourcing skills,” he said. “Computers can do those.”

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Keeping the CHRO in the C-Suite

Human resources is rarely appreciated for providing thought leadership.

At least, that’s according to Lynda Spiegel,  who wrote “Why HR Belongs in the C-Suite” on the Wall Street Journal‘s The Experts blog today.

Spiegel, who spent 15 years as an HR professional, writes that most companies hire a senior HR professional to report to the COO or the CFO, trivializing the profession into a function “rather than an overarching discipline” integral to incubating corporate success:

Throughout my career, I’ve worked for chief executives whose understanding varied with respect to how human resources contributes their companies’ growth and productivity, but they each initially viewed human resources as a nonrevenue producing function limited to personnel management. Some came to recognize the need for a chief human resources officer to provide strategic direction alongside the CFO, COO and CMO. One CEO, however, memorably invited me to the c-suite only once. And that was to discuss the annual holiday party.

But, she continues, CHROs belong in the C-suite not only for their role in managing companies’ critical asset— aka its talent—but also because they make the C-suite team more effective. “They help focus the team as a cohesive unit and by doing so, support the CEO’s mission and with their skills in organizational psychology, can arguably better manage meeting dynamics when things get rocky.”

As Spiegel concludes: “The most effective CHROs don’t necessarily come from a HR background, but they are as much strategic visionaries as their cohorts in the C-suite.”

Spiegel’s compelling argument is sound and makes great business sense. The only question is whether the other members of the C-suite are actually reading it.

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Connecting Work to a Higher Purpose at KPMG

musclesAccounting — perhaps not the world’s most exciting profession, but that’s not to say it hasn’t had its moments in history. Accountants, after all, helped manage the Lend-Lease Act during World War II that helped defeat Nazi Germany. They helped resolve financial conflicts that enabled the agreement to free the Iran hostages in 1981, and they certified the election of Nelson Mandela in South Africa in 1994.

The accountants cited above all happened to work for KPMG. Now, the firm is using these and other stories from its past to ramp up employee engagement by connecting their work to a higher purpose, writes Bruce N. Pfau, KPMG’s vice chair of HR and communications, in a new post on the Harvard Business Review’s website.

In connecting to a “higher purpose,” Pfau cites the (possibly apocryphal) story of President Kennedy and the janitor at Cape Canaveral: When JFK asked the janitor “What do you do?” the janitor replied, “Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”

Citing research showing that connecting their work to a higher purpose motivates employees to go the extra mile, KPMG began an initiative last year “aimed at inspiring our already high-morale workforce to reach new levels of engagement by reframing and elevating the meaning and purpose of their work,” writes Pfau.

Pfau’s team created a video that highlighted great moments from KPMG’s past, such as the aforementioned accomplishments, with the theme “We Shape History!” Next, they created posters with the slogan “We Champion Democracy,” with the goal of helping employees see themselves as part of a profession that helps societies by enabling families to make better financial decisions.

Finally, the team presented KPMG’s employees with a challenge: Create 10,000 digital posters that celebrate the work you or your team does. Employees would receive two extra paid days off if the goal was met by Thanksgiving; that goal was met before July 4 and, by Thanksgiving, 42,000 stories had been submitted.

One year after the initiative began, Pfau writes, the percentage of employees who agreed that KPMG is a great place to work went from 85 percent to 89 percent on its engagement surveys, 60 percent said the initiative had strengthened their pride in KPMG, and the firm jumped 17 spots on Fortune‘s 100 Best Companies to Work list to become the highest-ranked Big Four firm for the first time in its history.

One problem Pfau encountered was that, although a key ingredient to success appeared to be managers’ willingness to talk to their teams about the positive impact of the work they did, some managers did not do this. The difference was noticeable: The turnover rate within the group whose managers talked to them about purpose was 5.6 percent, versus 9.1 percent within  the group whose managers did not do this.

In response, Pfau incorporated “purpose storytelling training” into KPMG’s leadership development programs. The training certainly appears to have been effective in one example he writes about: In speaking to a group of 1,500 interns about her higher purpose, a partner who’d gone through the training concluded with a parable about three bricklayers restoring a church — when asked what they were doing, one bricklayer replied “I’m laying bricks,” another replied “I’m repairing a wall” and the third replied “I’m building a cathedral to The Almighty.”

“So,” the partner concluded, “do you want to be bricklayers or cathedral builders?” The crowd leaped to their feet, writes Pfau.

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Not So Fast in the Race to Innovate?

Is innovation overrated? Well, if we’re to believe researchers from Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business who have studied Formula One racing teams, the answer could very well be “yes.”

ThinkstockPhotos-184766512OK, Formula One racers wouldn’t be the first place I would look either to better understand the workings of innovation. But academic researchers at the school recently pored over data from 49 teams over a period of 30 years of Formula One racing and found that those innovating the most (say, making radical changes to their cars) weren’t usually the most successful on the course.

“We found that it wasn’t always good to be the aggressive innovator,” according to Jaideep Anand, co-author of the study and professor of strategy at The Ohio State University’s Fisher College of Business. (The study, titled Driving Performance via Exploration in Changing Environments: Evidence from Formula One Racing, is featured in the current issue of the journal Organization Science.)

In other words, he says, the “conventional wisdom that companies need to embrace change is often wrong,”

But isn’t it a bit of a stretch to equate the kind of innovation occurring on a race track to business?

Not according to Anand.

Forumula One racing, he says, is actually a very good venue to study the value of innovation in business, because it’s an innovation-intensive industry with teams of engineers, drivers and sponsors who all have to work together to succeed.

As an OSU press release issued yesterday puts it …

“The independent governing body for Formula One (FIA) imposes changes to racing teams’ environments by releasing a new set of rules each year, which is similar to the changes in the regulatory and business environment that businesses face on a regular basis.”

OK, I sincerely doubt  many business leaders are going to instruct their innovation teams to slam their foot on the brakes in light of these findings. But that said, I suppose it’s never a bad idea to revisit what you’re doing on the innovation front and see what kind of impact it’s having. Who knows, maybe a tune-up might be in order?

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