Posts belonging to Category leadership development

Being a Better Boss

There’s been no shortages of stories about CEOs who have run amok. Business leaders who couldn’t care less what others think. Who believe they have all the answers — and fail to listen to what those much closer to the front lines are seeing and hearing.

475752015(1)At the same time, there’s been no shortage of books, written by the countless experts out there, on the key ingredients that go into what it takes to be great boss. I’m sure you’ve read a few.

But what do the masses think?

Posted yesterday afternoon are the results of a recent CNNMoney poll, in which the website asked its readers to weigh in on what they think characterizes the best bosses. According to the site, the traits showing up most frequently in the responses were ….

1) Respect and appreciate their employees

They respect what you do, they respect your expertise and they respect the fact that you may have your own work style.

‘Great bosses earn respect by giving respect,’ said one reader.

Bosses who say ‘thank you’ came up a lot, too, as did bosses who publicly give credit where it’s due, who welcome employees’ input and feedback, and who recognize that employees are humans, not just ‘resources,’ as another reader put it.

2) Create trust and support

An excellent boss trusts you to do your job, has faith in your team, encourages your success, goes to bat for you and is always approachable.

Great bosses are also consistently ethical and fair, and they hire good people, readers said.

3) Give employees the backing and resources to do their jobs

A great boss provides clear guidance, coaching and structure, but also the leeway to develop a sense of ownership over your work.

And when something goes wrong … great bosses assess what happened and help you fix the situation rather than assign blame.”

There’s obviously much more to being a great boss than the items listed above. Just a few others that come to mind include first-rate listening skills, an extraordinary ability to inspire your workforce and one’s ability to lead by example.

But while the findings from the CNNMoney poll certainly just scratch the surface of what it takes to be a great boss in today’s environment, I would think the three most cited reasons — even though they’re not coming from the so-called “experts” — might be as good a place to start as any as we (both personally, as HR leaders, and as organizations) evaluate and further build on our ability to lead.

Survey: Weak Leadership Pipelines a Big Concern

leaky pipesWho will be the business leaders of tomorrow? This is clearly on the minds of HR leaders around the world, judging from a new survey from Right Management titled Talent Management: Accelerating Business Performance. The survey of approximately 2,200 HR execs from 13 countries finds that 46 percent identified leadership development as the top priority for this year and that only 13 percent have confidence in the strength of their leadership pipelines to fill critical openings.

This lack of confidence stems from the de-prioritization of talent development in the wake of cost cuts, according to Ruediger Schaefer, Right Management’s global talent management chief:

Today’s optimism for growth is limited by a lack of organizational agility, and employers are seeing the impact of the financial cuts and cost reductions that placed talent development on the back burner. As a result, too man companies are facing talent shortages, skills mismatches and weak leadership pipelines that threaten business growth. Future success is dependent on a sustained strategic commitment to assessing, developing and activating talent.”

Other findings from the survey include:

  • The top three global talent management challenges are lack of skilled talent for key positions, shortage of talent at all levels and less-than-optimal employee engagement.
  • Forty-eight percent of global employers plan to broaden their employee engagement programs to keep top talent on staff.
  • Management succession planning ranks as a higher priority in the Americas (36 percent) than in Europe (17 percent) and Asia Pacific (31 percent).


Leadership-Development Spend Up Again

Figure I might finish off the week with some positive news received a couple of days ago from Bersin by Deloitte.

New research from the Oakland-based consulting organization shows that U.S. organizations boosted leadership spending 14 percent on average for the second consecutive year. That translates to an estimated $15.5 billion in 2013. (Smaller organizations enjoyed the largest increase.)

466169293As I write this, we’re putting the finishing touches on our annual “What’s Keeping HR Up at Night” survey that we’ll be sending out soon. And if the findings of 2014 survey are similar to last year’s or the year before that, leadership development will end up somewhere near the top of our list of issues HR leaders are most worried about (in 2013, it was the second-most-cited issue).

Well, if the Bersin study (Leadership Development Factbook 2014: Benchmarks and Trends in U.S. Leadership Development) is any indication, HR leaders are busy translating some of that worry into actual initiatives.

In addition to a 14 percent rise in spend, the research found employers are beefing up their staffs in the area of leadership development, with a 12 percent overall increase at U.S. organizations. It also found emerging leaders are getting a healthy dose of the funding, with 17 percent of leadership-development budgets going to high-potential professionals who have not yet reached an official managerial role.

On a more sober note, the study also revealed first-level managers were receiving the lowest per-person funding in leadership development. For example, within large organizations, these leaders each receive, on average, $2,600, or 34 percent less than emerging leaders and half the amount of mid-level leaders.

Considering the impact this level can have on engagement and performance, it would be nice to see this group get a bigger piece of the T&D pie.

Companies also continue to fall short when it comes to “priming the pump” as far as their leadership pipelines are concerned.

The research indicates that successors have been identified for just 10 percent of their first-level leaders and 19 percent of their mid-level leaders. The pipeline at higher levels also looks weak within these organizations, with successors identified for just 24 percent of senior-level positions and 36 percent of executive positions.

Further proof that companies still have a lot more work to do on this front.

It Appears Leaders are STILL Behaving Badly

Despite the rhetoric, concern and attention paid to the need for more effective leaders and managers over the last decade — including in the pages of HRE and 467703295-- bad manageron its websites — the latest indication from Bruce Tulgan at Rainmaker Thinking Inc. is they’re about as ineffective as ever.

Tulgan calls it the “under-management epidemic” and says “today’s workplace is afflicted” with it. He defines the epidemic as “a condition in which a leader with supervisory authority fails to provide, regularly and consistently, any employee directly subject to that authority with the ‘management basics.’ ”

And those he defines as: 1) clear statements of broad performance requirements and specific expectations, 2) support and guidance regarding resources necessary to meet requirements and expectations, 3) accurate monitoring, measuring and documentation of the individual’s actual performance, 4) regular candid feedback about the individual’s actual performance, and 5) rewards and detriments allocated and distributed in proportion to actual performance.

Here’s a more detailed description from Tulgan, in The Stubborn and Persistent Under-Management Epidemic (linked above), of just how bad this “under-management” can be:

We find that the vast majority of managers spend an inordinate percentage of their ‘management time’ in what we call, ‘firefighting mode,’ solving one urgent problem after another — usually problems that could have been avoided with better planning or identified and solved more easily at an earlier point. When not in ‘firefighting mode,’ these managers prioritize ‘catching up’ on their other work and their management practices take a back seat, defaulting to a mode we call, ‘managing on autopilot,’ in which they communicate with their direct reports mostly in low-structure, low-substance conversations punctuated by way too many mediocre meetings and way too many emails. As a result of ‘managing on autopilot,’ unnecessary urgent problems occur or small problems go unnoticed and thus grow more serious or urgent. Then the manager gets pulled back into ‘firefighting mode.’ Most managers don’t realize they are stuck in a vicious cycle.”

Worse still, Rainmaker actually revealed this cycle 10 years ago in its inaugural study on the subject, yet “our ongoing research shows that under-management has not improved” since then, Tulgan writes. “One important and fascinating new finding shows that, while nine out of 10 managers are, in fact, under-managing, most of them don’t know it! Five out of 10 managers think they are doing an ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’ job … .”

Less than a year ago, I spoke with Richard Wellins, senior vice president of Bridgeville, Pa.-based Development Dimensions International, about a leadership report DDI had just put out with no more good news than Rainmaker’s. (Here’s that news analysis.)

That study, Driving Workplace Performance through High-Quality Conversations: What Leaders Must Do Every Day to Be Effective, taken from a meta-analysis of DDI’s assessment data from close to 4,000 leaders worldwide, found most front-line leaders lack the fundamental interaction skills and behaviors required to be effective leaders. And senior leaders, it found, are even worse

There too, business leadership seems to be way too knee-jerk, with 90 percent of executives acting before checking their understanding of an issue and being ineffective at inviting ideas from others and facilitating effective conversations to build relationships and get work done

“Leadership really is a series of conversations,” Wellins told me. “The quality of that interaction accounts for a large variance of good or bad leadership,” yet few employers really understand that and hire, develop and reward their leaders accordingly.

I wish I could sign off here with a solution to all this. Maybe next year. Hopefully not 10 years from now.

Rough Road Ahead for HR?

rough roadFindings from a new study suggest HR departments aren’t ready to respond to the talent challenges facing them now and in the days to come.

The Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends 2014 report compiled data from a survey of 2,532 business and HR leaders at organizations from 94 countries around the world. In the poll, 86 percent of respondents cited leadership development as the biggest challenge for their organization, followed by employee retention and engagement (79 percent).

At 77 percent, “re-skilling the HR function” ranked as the third most-pressing issue, with many executives feeling their HR teams lack the skills and data they need “to understand today’s global business environment, local labor markets, evolving workforce demographics, shifts in technology and the changing nature of work itself,” according to a Deloitte press release.

For example, while 75 percent of respondents rated “workforce capability” as an “urgent” or “important” challenge, only 15 percent said they believe they are ready to address it. More than two-thirds of those polled (70 percent) see new learning methods such as free online and mobile learning platforms as urgent or important, but just 6 percent say they have mastered the content and capabilities necessary to make online learning accessible and digestible for employees.

Overall, more than one-third of the business leaders polled (34 percent) said their HR and talent programs are just “getting by” or even “underperforming,” with less than 8 percent of HR professionals expressing confidence that their teams have the requisite skills for today’s global environment.

While leadership may be underwhelmed with HR’s performance, it seems many organizations aren’t doing a great job of equipping HR teams with the tools they need to keep pace, either.

In the study, 43 percent of respondents described their organizations as “weak” in terms of providing HR with the appropriate training and experience, with 47 percent saying the same with respect to preparing HR to deliver programs aligned with business needs.

With “radical shifts in demographics and technology” occurring, “doubling down on the human capital practices of the past” won’t be enough to help HR teams do more than just get by in the future, said Josh Bersin, principal and founder of Bersin by Deloitte, in a statement.

“The research shows that organizations should re-imagine their approach to engaging people and move to re-engineer many of their HR practices,” according to Bersin. “Attracting top talent has become a serious competitive issue that demands attention at the highest levels of the organization.”

A Couple of Firsts at GM

By  now, you probably have heard that Mary T. Barra will soon be the first woman to lead a major automaker, when she replaces Daniel F. Akerson when he retires as General Motors’ CEO in January. But while this wasn’t mentioned in any of the stories I read covering the announcement, my guess is Barra (pictured below with Akerson) is also probably the first woman or man to take the helm at one of the “Detroit 3” who has spent a stint (though admittedly a relatively short one) in the top HR job.

GMManagementChanges04-mediumBarra, 51, has worked for GM for 33 years, most recently as executive vice president of global product development. But before taking on that post, she served briefly (from 2009 to 2011) as vice president of global human resources at GM, taking over that role from Katy Barclay, now the top HR officer at Kroger.

As a New York Times story points out, Barra’s appointment represents something of the “changing of the guard” at GM, which now has four key positions filled by women, including Melissa Howell, GM’s current senior vice president of global human resources.

At some point, it might be interesting to learn directly from Barra how she feels her time in HR has shaped her thinking. Certainly, when she officially moves into her new role, she won’t be the first CEO who has made a stop along the way in HR, but there’s no denying it’s a fairly rare occurrence.

That said, Jason Hanold tells me this is changing, with more companies including HR as a key rotational assignment in order to occupy a C-Suite role. “This is a growing trend in succession planning and talent-management considerations,” says Hanold, managing partner at Hanold Associates LLC, an executive-search firm specializing in CHRO assignments. I certainly would have to put this in the category of a good thing.

Hanold says he’s never personally met Barra, but understands she has a reputation for being “a strong, smart leader who drives consensus-building versus being a consensus-driven leader.”

Jena Abernathy, senior partner of leading executive-search firm Witt/Kieffer, who focuses primarily on CEO searches, also chimed in on the appointment, noting that gender isn’t the only breakthrough here.  In many corporate cultures, she says, time in HR is “considered a non-starter for moving any further in the organization.”

Abernathy says she has “observed first-hand over the past two decades that very capable, competent women end up in support positions in senior leadership such as HR. What Barra was able to do was move into other roles that allowed her to have more operational experience and exposure, and ultimately positioned her for the top job at GM.”

Some of you may recall a little over a month ago I quoted former GM co-chair Robert Lutz (who’s worked closely with Barra during their time together at GM) here on this same blog saying …

If human resources was either outsourced or cut down, back to its basic function of keeping basic records and making sure people get paid and that the promotional increases take place, I think we’d all be a lot better off, because they create way more work than they actually alleviate.”

As someone who’s taken on the HR role for a even a short spell, I would like to think Barra doesn’t share Lutz’ views.

Here is a video introducing Barra as the CEO-elect to employees …

(Photo by Steve Fecht for General Motors.)

The Power of Admitting When You’re Wrong

Two reports came across my desk recently that got me thinking about business leaders and when they should admit that they’re on the wrong track, or that they’ve goofed.

147298486-- exec makes mistakeThere’s no doubt been enough said over the years about the importance of confidence and commitment to one’s ideals and principles as hallmarks of authentic, effective leadership.

But this study from Boston-based Forum Corp., Driving Business Results by Building Trust, puts more stock in something it says leaders don’t do as well as they think they do: admit when they’re wrong. It finds most leaders (about 75 percent) indicated that they acknowledge their own mistakes often or always, yet only 16 percent of employees indicated leaders acknowledged their own mistakes often or always.

Even more telling, from the 948 respondents (711 leaders and 237 employees), 87 percent of leaders said they often or always apologize, while only 19 percent of employees indicated their leaders did so.

“When we asked leaders why they were reluctant to apologize,” Forum’s report says, “the most frequent comments related to their image or reputation: They didn’t want to look weak or incompetent.” Which kind of gets to my second paragraph above.

Forum says it’s all about trust:

Since mistakes are a natural part of business, as many pointed out, leaders have many opportunities to incorporate “moments of trust” into their working day: where they use mistakes to build trust and foster learning. Trying to bury mistakes or punish others for making them has a damaging effect on trust.”

Not speaking up about something gone wrong can also have a devastating effect on projects, according to this post by Gretchen Gavett: “The Hidden Indicators of a Failing Project,” on the Harvard Business Review‘s HBR Blog Network. Gavett quotes Matthew McWha, the practice manager at Arlington, Va.-based CEB, as saying, “There’s a lot of perceived personal risk in saying, ‘I’m managing a failing project.’ Or people actually think they can turn it around, so they don’t bring it up. They think they’re better off trying like the dickens to recover it in the meantime.”

According to McWha, the culture of project management often discourages the raising of important red flags that could turn problem projects around. On the contrary, the No. 1 driver of successful projects, he says, is a great manager who isn’t just “good at conducting the trains [but] someone able to manage stakeholders and risk, and be comfortable adapting and changing course if necessary” … i.e., if and when mistakes are made or a failed course comes to light.

Gavett also cites research from Bent Flyvbjerg, author of Megaprojects: An Anatomy of Ambition, and his Oxford colleague Alexander Budzier in her argument that too many projects are measured by time and budget instead of business outcomes. She writes:

In the end, even the drivers of even successful projects aren’t actually technical, Flyvbjerg and Budzier explained: They largely involve the project’s environment, whether there’s organizational resistance, and how risk is being managed. All of these internal indicators, combined with our own human perceptions about what we can and can’t do or say, play into whether projects are headed for a head-in-your-hands kind of moment.”

I’m fascinated enough by this power of admitting errors or wrong directions in leaders — a power we haven’t written a whole lot about and it seems is missing in most workplaces — that I plan to take it up in an upcoming news analysis on our HREOnline website. Stay tuned.

Got Issues? Talk to Watson

The bleary-eyed attendees sipping their coffee and munching their pastries got a non-caffeinated jolt at this morning’s opening general session at HR Tech when Kenexa founder Rudy Karsan took to the stage and told them why he’s so optimistic.

“We are living in the golden age!” he said, a statement that might be viewed quizzically in this era of government shutdowns and economic and political turmoil. But that’s a shortsighted view, as Karsan went on to note how, in fact, the human race is much better off today than at any time in its history.

“Every positive metric has not only grown but accelerated in the last 50 years, while every negative metric is decelerating,” he said. Today, an average person has better health than a monarch did 100 years ago, Karsan noted. Rapidly growing GDP and plummeting illiteracy levels are being accompanied by innovations such as vertical farming, transforming cities like Munich, where a growing percentage of that German city’s fresh produce is produced within its boundaries.

The future will be even better because of innovations like cognitive computing, said Karsan. This led him to the main part of his presentation, which was a demonstration of how IBM’s Watson computer can help organizations boost employee engagement and productivity by rapidly answering their questions and helping them with their development. (IBM recently acquired Kenexa.)

“One of the best ways to engage employees is to give them access to information effortlessly, where and when they need it,” he said.

Watson can serve not only as a “knowledge concierge” to employees, quickly resolving concerns related to payroll and their employer’s philanthropic activities, but it can also help managers translate the findings of employee-engagement surveys into action plans so they can become more effective mentors and champions to their employees, said Karsan. It’s able to do this not only by supplying direct answers but also combing through the company’s informational warehouses and finding relevant documents and reports, he said.

In a follow-up interview after the presentation, Karsan told me that Watson is already live at clients such as USAA. “We do expect some bumps in the road as we deploy Watson to other companies — it’ll be no different than any other major innovation,” he said. “Look at the early days of the Internet.”

Speaking of the Internet, it’s important to note that Watson isn’t connected to the Internet; it hasn’t been programmed but instead is taught the domains it knows.

I asked Karsan whether having constant access to a service like Watson could risk employees becoming a bit lazy — what if Watson went down one day and they’d have to do their own research? “If you have the right person in the right job, laziness does not exist,” he responded. “The laziness trait gets expanded when you have people doing what they perceive as meaningless work. That’s why it’s important to put the right person in the right job in the first place.”

Karsan says he’s particularly excited by Watons’ potential impact on managerial and leadership development. “These are not hard sciences,” he said. “It’s more of an art form — there’s lots of communication and collaboration involved. Watson will give you a range of solutions, rather than a deterministic solution. Watson will not replace judgment. It will lend precision to a lot of the guesswork out there — it will let us replace guesswork with data and science.”

Measuring the Value of Int’l Assignments

There’s little doubt an international assignment should be more than just a nice-to-have in today’s increasingly global marketplace. So it’s somewhat surprising to come across a just-released study suggesting that U.S. and Canadian employers put much less stock in the value of those assignments than their European and Asian counterparts.

GlobalThe research comes from The Conference Board and Right Management, which surveyed HR executives at 600 organizations worldwide and found that just 15 percent of the North American HR executives identified international assignments as a practice that has a significant impact on accelerating leadership development at their respective organizations. That compares to 48 percent among those from Europe and 44 percent among those from Asia.

Though it might not come as a huge surprise that such a gap exists, the size of the disparity is definitely noteworthy, especially as multinational employers continue to look to foreign markets to grow their businesses.

Ric Roi, head of the Global Center of Excellence for Talent Management at Right Management, points out that “North American respondents seem to concede that international postings play a relatively minor role in their global leadership development programs.”

If true, it’s fair to wonder if North American employers might someday find themselves at a significant disadvantage on the global stage.

CEOs Want Second Opinions

second opinionsC-suite executives may have a reputation for being tough-minded, independent decision-makers, but even the best leaders need some coaching. A new study, however, suggests many of them aren’t getting it.

Research conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University’s Rock Center for Corporate Governance and The Miles Group finds nearly two-thirds of CEOs not receiving the leadership counsel they seek.

The survey of more than 200 CEOs, board directors and senior executives of North American public and private companies found 66 percent of CEOs indicating they do not receive coaching or leadership advice from outside consultants or coaches. Nearly half of senior executives said the same.

If top leaders aren’t getting this type of input, it’s not because they don’t want it, according to the study.

A full 100 percent of CEOs said they are open to making changes based on feedback, as did 90 percent of senior executives. Eighty percent of directors indicated their CEOs are receptive to coaching.

Kevin Cashman, a Minneapolis-based senior partner in Korn/Ferry International’s leadership and talent consulting practice, agrees that “most CEOs do not get coaching, but are generally open to it,” adding that Korn/Ferry research and experience indicates CEOs seek coaching to deal with ambiguity and manage complexity; build high-performing teams; lead and influence across global enterprises; and coach, develop and optimize key talent.

“[The] current generation of CEOs [are] much more open to coaching and development than previous ones,” says Cashman. “Most have been assessed or coached earlier in their careers, so [they] are open to the value.” 

With so many top leaders suggesting they are amenable to outside advice, HR has an opportunity to step in and narrow this coaching gap, says David F. Larcker, director of the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business and a co-author of the study.

“HR can help by making it clear that seeking coaching can be a good thing, as opposed to something that an executive should be cautious about revealing because it identifies a weakness,” says Larcker. “Obviously, HR can set up a process of finding good coaches and pairing coaches with executives. I think it’s also important to—maybe publicly within the company—celebrate the successes that occur when someone becomes a much better leader after coaching.”

While C-level execs have been successful enough to learn the leadership positions they currently hold, “they still need to develop additional skills that enable them to become great leaders,” says Larcker.

“Nobody has all the skills they need for this type of job. It is important to have some expert advice about what needs to be improved and how best to do this.”