Category Archives: performance management

Farewell to Performance Ratings at GE

While performance rating systems are still the norm at many organizations, it’s not really that surprising to hear that a company has abandoned the concept.

But it’s a little more noteworthy when that company is General Electric, an organization that helped pioneer the practice.

Yesterday, GE informed its workforce that 200,000 salaried employees will no longer be given one of five labels—ranging from “role model” to “unsatisfactory”—as part of their annual performance reviews, the Wall Street Journal reports.

This farewell to performance ratings has been in the making for at least the past decade, during which time the Fairfield, Conn.-based conglomerate has eliminated the famous (infamous?) forced-ranking system championed by former CEO Jack Welch.

Still, the new rating-free approach—which GE previously piloted with roughly 30,000 employees—marks a departure from a practice the “longtime standard-bearer for corporate management” has relied on “in some form or another for the last 40 years,” the Journal notes.

In its place will be a performance-management system that asks employees and managers to exchange feedback via a mobile app known as PD@GE, which compiles messages and forms a performance summary that’s delivered at the end of the year.

According to the Journal, the company is hopeful that the new approach fosters more nuanced pay and bonus decisions. High performers, for example, can still receive annual raises and bonuses, while managers are able to make “finer distinctions” with respect to middling employees, for whom more detailed feedback may serve as inspiration to improve.

The organization is also training managers to improve regular feedback conversations, the Journal reports.

At least one of those managers, Brian Finken, is confident that doing away with employee ratings will enable employees to focus more on review discussions—what they’re doing well and where they can improve—and less on scores that don’t really paint a complete picture of their performance.

Finken, a Florence, Italy-based operations leader in GE’s oil and gas business, also looks forward to implementing the new dialogue-driven approach to performance reviews, telling the Journal that he’s “glad I don’t have to spend time codifying feedback into one score. I can focus on the conversation instead.”

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Job Satisfaction Hits New High

According to the Conference Board’s latest job satisfaction survey, the rate of job satisfaction among U.S. workers is at the highest level it’s been since 2005, with nearly half (49.6 percent) of workers reporting that they’re satisfied with their jobs. The Conference Board notes that job-satisfaction rates have increased steadily since 2010.

Of course, this also means that half of U.S. workers are not satisfied with their jobs. The latest number is also a far cry from the highs hit in 1987 and 1995, when the Conference Board’s survey found that 60 percent of American workers were satisfied with their jobs.

The strengthening economy is a big factor in the higher job-satisfaction rates in the latest report, says the Conference Board’s Michelle Kan, who co-authored the report. “The rapidly declining unemployment rate, combined with increased hiring, job openings and quits, signals a seller’s market, where the employer demand for workers is greater than the available supply.”

In other words, employees today have more options than they’ve had in some time, and they know it — and HR needs to pay attention to their needs. Indeed, while the Conference Board report finds that workers are most satisfied with their colleagues (59 percent), interest in their work (59 percent) and their supervisors (57 percent), they’re much less satisfied with their organizations’ pay and promotion policies. In fact, the five job components with the lowest satisfaction are promotion policies (24 percent), bonus plans (24 percent), the performance review process (29 percent), educational/job training programs (30 percent) and recognition/acknowledgement (31.5 percent).

Gad Levanon, the Conference Board’s chief economist for North America, tells the Wall Street Journal that the high satisfaction rates of 1987 and 1995 are unlikely to be repeated soon.

“It was a whole different world in terms of employee-employer relationships,” he said. “There was much more loyalty. People looked to their employer for more than a job, in many cases.”

Nevertheless, said Levanon, a satisfaction rate of 55 percent may be achievable.

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Should Employers Say No to Pokémon Go?

By now, the Pokémon Go phenomenon has quickly swept the nation (yours truly excepted) into a fever of using smartphones and tablets to “find” and “capture” digital creatures from the Pokémon universe that virtually appear at specific locations in the real world.

(If you need any proof that it’s not just a game for kids to play, Forbes contributor Paul Tassi has been posting tips and tricks on its site for all the business world to see and use.)

Now, it may sound like an odd — or perhaps paranoid — question, given the seemingly harmless nature of the game, but could Pokémon Go actually have negative effects on employers and organizations, beyond a dip in worker productivity?

Well, of course it could, according to a few different sources.

According to the International Association of IT Asset Managers (IAITAM), fans of the game “do not include the corporate professionals who deal with Information Technology Asset Management (ITAM) designed to keep phones, tablets, and other devices secure in the workplace.”

And that’s why the group has called on corporations to ban the installation and use of Pokémon Go on both corporate-owned, business-only (COBO) phones/tablets and “bring your own device” (BYOD) phones/tablets with direct access to sensitive corporate information and accounts.

Here’s IAITAM CEO Dr. Barbara Rembiesa discussing the dangerous world that players enter when tracking down the fanciful creatures on the phones, tablets, etc.:

Frankly, the truth is that Pokémon Go is a nightmare for companies that want to keep their email and cloud-based information secure. Even with the enormous popularity of this gaming app, there are just too many questions and too many risks involved for responsible corporations to allow the game to be used on corporate-owned or BYOD devices. We already have real security concerns and expect them to become much more severe in the coming weeks.

The only safe course of action, she advises, is to bar Pokémon Go from corporate-owned phones and tablets, as well as employee-owned devices that are used to connect to sensitive corporate information.

The group outlines three of its greatest concerns when it comes to the game:

* DATA BREACHES. The original user agreements for Pokémon Go allowed Niantic to access the entire Google profile of the user, including their history, past searches and anything else associated with their Google Login ID. This has since been corrected, but for COBO devices the result was, by definition, a data breach. It is unclear of the extent of data breaches that took place prior to the changes, what happened to the information accessed, and how that information was stored and/or destroyed. Further, there is nothing that would prohibit Niantic Laboratory from once again seeking access to all or some of this information.

* RISKY KNOCKOFF COPIES. There are now reports that some versions of the Pokémon Go app available from non-official app stories may include software allowing cyber crooks to remotely control the user’s phone or tablets. Unsophisticated users may not understand that third party app providers should be avoided due to the risks involved. The online security firm Proofpoint already has detected knockoff Android copies of Pokémon Go in the wild containing a remote controlled tool (RAT) called DroidJack.

* ENCOURAGING BAD BEHAVIOR. One of the most important things for employees using COBO devices, in particular, is the need to stick with approved software and apps. Pokémon Go must be considered a “rogue download,” which is any software program downloaded onto a device that circumvents the typical purchasing and installation channels of the organization. Rather than simply banning Pokémon Go, corporations should also use this as a learning opportunity to encourage maximum employee understanding of the rationale against rogue downloads, particularly the security risks they represent.

Also lending his voice to the chorus of concern is Philippe Weiss, Chicago-based lawyer and managing director of Seyfarth Shaw at Work.

Weiss offers managers five “valuable strategies to safely manage Pokémon Go perils” at work:

Prioritize Performance over Pokémon: Start watching your employees’ timeliness and attendance with greater attention than usual in the coming weeks. Follow-up on even small delays in work/task completion while the Pokeman Go craze is upon us. – Note any employees walking around with gazes fixed on their smartphone screens (and exhibiting an accompanying semi-spaced-out demeanor). – Train your managers to know when and how to safely tell employees: “Pokemon STOP!” (And train them not to set the wrong example, themselves, by playing Pokemon Go during work time).

Train on Pokemon Go Protocols: Give security people and managers simple scripts to use when they encounter any wandering/errant players. The key is to “Respectfully Reroute” players, quickly and safely.

Patrol Possible Player Pathways (especially if you operate any outdoor facilities): Regularly check all doors, gates and access ways to unauthorized areas to confirm that they are effectively secure. (And do not leave any hazards exposed. You don’t want distracted players falling into a floorboard gap followed by a 30 foot drop to the sub-basement.)

Use the Power of Your Policies: Remind everyone at work about your electronic device policy and ask that smart phones be turned off at all meetings. Don’t cede your power to the Pokemon.

Consider the Potential Poke-Payoff: On the plus side, if your store or business is near (or is itself) a Poke Stop or Pokemon Gym, you most likely have already seen increased foot traffic. Businesses can also purchase an in-game module called a “lure” to attract Pokemon (and thus, more players/potential customers) for a 1/2 hour period.  However, be ready for the possible resulting Poke-mayhem. If that happens, take steps to ensure that your own employees continue to focus on their work.

“The phenomenon is here,” Weiss notes, “but Pokeman GO need not mean that Performance STOPS!”

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A Mixed View of Volunteer Work

When employees volunteer in the community, how do co-workers view these efforts? As genuine acts of kindness? Or subtle self-promotion? And can taking part in altruistic endeavors outside the office actually help one get ahead at work?

A pair of researchers from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business sought to answer such questions in a pair of recent studies, and found answers that suggest employees who do volunteer work might be seen in a less-than-charitable light by some of their colleagues.

Volunteering is “something that can be done with your kids’ school or through your church,” notes lead study author Jessica Rodell, an associate professor of management at the Terry College, in a statement.

“But it turns out that this behavior can have a real impact on how people view you at work.”

In an effort to get a sense of that impact, Rodell and co-author John Lynch, an assistant professor of managerial science at the University of Illinois-Chicago, first conducted a field study that involved 120 employee-colleague pairs. Employees directly reported information about their volunteering activities.

Roughly four weeks later, the authors asked the colleagues to provide an evaluation of the employee’s reputation (the credits and stigmas they associated with the person), the attributions the colleagues made for employee volunteering, and their general interactions with and treatment of the employee.

The second study relied on an experimental design to further demonstrate the types of credits and stigmas assigned to people who volunteer. Students in a large introductory management course were asked to evaluate profiles of potential teammates, which included a description of that person’s volunteering and their motives for volunteering. In total, 305 students participated in this experiment.

In the course of their research, Rodell and Lynch found that employees often have mixed feelings about their colleagues’ volunteer efforts, with their perceptions largely shaped by what they believe to be a co-worker’s motives.

When an employee is seen as being “personally compelled to volunteer,” for example, both supervisors and co-workers tend to hold the volunteering employee in high regard, according to the authors.

Colleagues and managers tend to form a more negative opinion, however, when an employee is viewed as “a showboat who volunteers to enhance his or her image or score brownie points.”

In the grand scheme of things, a person’s volunteer work in the community may just be one piece of data “that we use to determine someone’s character,” says Rodell, “which affects how we treat them.”

In some cases, participating in volunteer activities may even help alter one’s career trajectory.

Take, for instance, two employees whose performance ratings are identical. One of those workers, however, has done volunteer work “for what appeared to be good reasons,” says Rodell. “That person would be more likely to get a raise or promotion because that volunteering positively affects their reputation at work.”

Naturally, the second worker in this scenario may harbor some resentment over such a decision, stewing in the belief that a colleague is getting a bump at least partly because of work that he or she did that wasn’t at all job-related.

Managers and organizational leadership shouldn’t discount this type of reaction, and workers should be made aware of the possible workplace repercussions of volunteering.

“Employees should know that, if they’re going to volunteer, it’s going to have consequences, depending on how they manage it,” says Rodell. “And, if done for the right reasons, it’s ultimately going to benefit them.”

While the authors acknowledge employees’ views on volunteer work as “a mixed bag” with both positive and negative connotations, co-workers are generally “OK with the fact that someone might personally benefit from their volunteer work,” she concludes, “with the caveat that they are also doing it for good reasons.”

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Why You Shouldn’t Link Culture and Retention

Here are some vexing questions on culture: Why do people leave Google, Virgin and Zappos and take jobs elsewhere? Why, if 516216924 -- worker leavingthose companies are so focused on building exceptionally strong and compelling cultures, don’t people stay forever? Doesn’t it entirely contradict all the rhetoric about the power of culture if even the bellwethers of the corporate-culture surge can’t convince people to stay?

So poses Colin J. Browne — head of a Gauteng, South Africa-based culture, engagement and leadership think-tank firm called How to Build a Happy Sandpit — in a recent post on his company’s website. In his words,

“One of the greatest misunderstandings about culture is that it has some mystical power to lock people in to your organization for the long term. If you’re building it for that, you could be wasting your efforts … .”

On the contrary, he writes,

“[t]he answer lies in what I consider one of the most fundamental hallmarks of human nature: Familiarity breeds contempt. In a work sense, Happy Sandpit research [of 308 executives and business leaders over the past three years] shows that, within about 18 months, all employees slightly resent you for ever hiring them in the first place.

“It’s not that they don’t like their work, or their workplace, their colleagues or their bosses, it’s just that when we become used to things, we’re less inclined to see them as fresh and exciting and more inclined to overstate the irritations that surround us. And any workplace is full of irritations.”

In Browne’s estimation, given enough time and enough repetition of the tasks that make up [employees’ roles], the artifacts, strong values and general way of feeling while they are there begin to take a back seat to the day-to-day of their work. In that context, a new job offer bears the promise of reinvigoration, reinvention and a release from the things they’re bored with.

Since many more companies are awakening to the understanding that focusing on culture strengthens their employee-value proposition, the things you offer your employees may begin to lose their edginess, he says, adding that “you can get caught up in a vicious cycle if you react to that.” As he puts it,

“A far better goal for your culture efforts is to increase productivity, the voluntary sharing of talent, good will and skills, to iron out the rough spots that create barriers to team work and to develop a clear set of profiles for the people [who] you’ll have to hire to replace the ones [who] have left.

“Culture isn’t about retention. It’s about performance. Let that inform your decisions and you could save yourself from a world of pain.”

Not that we haven’t presented this premise in previous features and news analyses, but his way of articulating it caught a fresh eye so I gave it a fresh look.

I also contacted Browne to ask him specifically what HR practitioners and leaders should be doing to achieve that “far better goal.” His response:

“The one challenge shared by anyone who leads people in a discretionary environment [differentiated from a non-discretionary one, such as the military, where you are expected to follow orders fairly rigidly] is to convince people to volunteer their best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm for the long term. You can’t lift them up by their feet and shake that stuff into their brains, so they have to choose to give it to you.

“Every culture conversation seems to be about how we make that happen, but I think we’re overlooking a couple of obvious things which keep hindering progress pretty much across the board:

  1. We don’t build jobs that support best efforts, loyalty and enthusiasm in the long term. You can come out of a design college and get a job at your dream digital-design company, be given the latest Mac computer and software to work on, in a great office, with exciting people and still feel like your job is boring within six months, because the projects you are working on and the clients you’re working with are, in fact, boring. Unless we’re building perfect jobs, therefore, which in an imperfect world with imperfect clients is impossible, people will find that they’ve had enough one day and go and find something else to do.

  2.  People are more loyal to their friends than they will ever be to a boss or a company. Ironically, the best reference for this is the behavior of soldiers in combat. While it’s often supposed that soldiers commit acts of great bravery for the grand notion of country, or unit or even God, the evidence suggests that, instead, they do it for the person next to them. When the order to retreat is given, they will blatantly ignore that order in order to rescue one of their colleagues. At the moments that matter, their loyalty is clear, and it’s not to ‘management’ or any sort of system. It’s to each other.”

I asked him to send me a specific, itemized list of the things HR should be doing or thinking about in light of his research. Here is that list:

  • You increase productivity when employees feel that they will let their colleagues down by slacking and care enough not to want to do that either because they’re emotionally invested or feel emotionally handcuffed. Either way, it works. This doesn’t happen overnight of course, but, by increasing the autonomy of individual teams — you can be as granular about this as you like, and I would encourage you to not be too broad — [so they can] make decisions on their own behalf [and] you make them more accountable for their results and actions, which then makes each individual member accountable to the others. You can’t be the one person who never pulls [his or her] weight in such an environment and expect to get anywhere. And to counter an obvious objection, if you find you have an entire team of slackers who merely cover each others’ backs instead of a productive team that cheers one another along, you change the challenge that they must meet and leave them to sort out the how. Raised expectations can have a very big impact.

  • They share talent, good will and skills voluntarily, because they’re sharing them with people they care about and whose success they link to their own. It doesn’t have to be altruistic; it just makes good sense as long as it is reciprocated and constant.

  • You iron out the barriers to teamwork by allowing them to decide how to work together. This goes to point one. Managers should care about the results and have a view about the way in which those results are achieved, but you’re unlikely to get the best out of people when you force them to stick to a rigid process that prevents them from developing their own flow. This may seem like voodoo to many organizations, which depend on processes to iron out the risk of defect, but those things are not mutually exclusive. You can have processes that must be adhered to, being followed by two teams with wildly different personalities, and get identical quality.

  • You create a clear set of profiles to replace those people by giving employees some say, or perhaps even all the say, about the people who join their team. They’re the ones who have to work with that new person and, unless you long to deal with employee friction, the manager’s view should be given less importance.

His list, he says, is a worthy goal of culture because it achieves the things you need it to: people giving their best efforts while they are with you.

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Pay for Performance is Given a Poor Grade

Money on hand.

Money on hand.

Employers have long embraced the notion of paying for performance. But are these programs really making a difference? Are they really leading to better employee performance?

If we’re to believe the latest survey of 150 companies coming out of Willis Towers Watson, the impact these efforts are having on organizations leaves something to be desired.

According to the Arlington, Va.-based consultancy, the vast majority of North American employers say their pay-for-performance programs are falling short when it comes to driving individual performance.

Moreover, the survey finds that only one in five companies (20 percent) find merit pay to be effective at driving higher levels of individual performance at their organizations. Further, just under one-third (32 percent) report their merit-pay programs are effective at differentiating pay based on individual performance.

Nor are employers the only ones giving these programs low marks. Only about half of employees say these programs are effective at boosting individual performance levels; and even fewer (47 percent) believe annual incentives effectively differentiate pay based on how well employees perform.

Why the low marks?

Part of the reason is employers are either trapped in a business-as-usual approach or suffering from a me-too mentality when it comes to their programs, according to Laura Sejen, global practice leader for rewards at Willis Towers Watson.

Sejen elaborates …

“Pay-for-performance programs, when designed and implemented effectively, are great tools to drive performance, and recognize and reward employees. However, conventional thinking on pay for performance is no longer appropriate. Companies need to define what performance means for their organization[s] and how managers can ensure they are driving the right performance, and re-evaluate the objectives of their reward programs to ensure they are aligned with that definition.”

Nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of those surveyed say managers at their organization consider the knowledge and skills required in an employee’s current role when making merit-increase decisions, according to the study. That compares to fewer than half (46 percent) who say their programs are designed to take these performance indicators into consideration.

The Willis Towers Watson findings probably shouldn’t come as a huge surprise to those in HR, since they echo the findings of other studies we’ve reported on in the past.

Roughly a year ago, for instance, we reported on research by Organizational Capital Partners and the Investor Responsibility Research Center Institute that found 80 percent of S&P 1500 companies are not measuring the right metrics, over the right period of time, for performance-based executive compensation.

So what’s the key takeaway here? Well, if we’re to believe the research, it’s the fact that employers clearly have a lot more work to do when it comes to pay for performance—and no one knows this better than the companies themselves.

But, of course, knowing and doing something about it are two entirely different things.

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The Ramifications of Stacked Rankings

It’s fair to say that employee-ranking systems are controversial and pretty unpopular. But illegal?

A former Yahoo! Inc. employee contends the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based technology company’s quarterly performance reviews violate state and federal laws, and claims as much in a lawsuit filed Monday in San Jose, Calif.

The reviews, which rate every Yahoo! employee on a scale of 1 to 5, have been one of Marissa Mayer’s “signature policies” since taking over as CEO in 2012, according to the New York Times.

Earlier this week, the Times summed up the suit filed by Gregory Anderson, in which he challenges Yahoo!’s performance review system as “discriminatory and a violation of federal and California laws governing mass layoffs,” according to the paper.

Anderson, an editor who supervised a handful of Yahoo! sites before his November 2014 firing, charges that the company’s senior managers “routinely manipulated the rating system to fire hundreds of people without just cause to achieve the company’s financial goals,” notes the Times.

Such cuts, Anderson claims, amounted to “illegal mass layoffs.”

As the paper points out, California law mandates that employers making layoffs that involve more than 50 employees, and take place within 30 days at a single location, must provide workers 60 days advance notice. On the federal level, the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act obliges employers to offer advance notice for a layoff of 500 or more employees.

According to the Times, Yahoo! never provided such notices when it let go of 1,100 employees between late 2014 and early 2015, “ostensibly for performance reasons.” The company is now faced with the prospect of paying each affected employee $500 a day in addition to back pay and benefits for each day of advance notice it failed to provide, the Times reports.

For its part, Yahoo! maintains that its rating system is sound. In a statement, the company says its performance review process “also allows for high performers to engage in increasingly larger opportunities at our company, as well as for low performers to be transitioned out.” In regard to Anderson’s legal complaint, the company says his specific allegations are groundless, and claims that Anderson unsuccessfully sought a $5 million settlement before filing the suit.

It could be a while before this case winds its way through the legal system. And we’ll certainly be following it here. (In fact, come back to HREOnline early next week for a more in-depth analysis of Anderson’s claims, including some expert insight into the nuances of the lawsuit and its chances of succeeding.)

In the meantime, the stacked rankings that have been a hallmark of Mayer’s tenure at Yahoo! will likely remain a polarizing concept. Although the stacked ranking system has never had a shortage of detractors, a claim that such rankings are actually illegal seems unique. It will be interesting to see how this one plays out.

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Change Brings Unclear Expectations

When it comes to change in the workplace, employees aren’t as worried about workload as one might think, according to a new  poll from ComPsych Corp.

It finds 31 percent of more than 2,000 surveyed employees are most troubled by unclear expectations from supervisors, while 20 percent are most worried about people issues around change.

“Change has become a constant for many workplaces, whether in the U.S. or globally,” said Dr. Richard A. Chaifetz, Founder, Chairman and CEO of ComPsych. ”Employees are telling us that much of the disequilibrium around change is coming from managers. These challenges have resulted in our training topics of ‘resiliency’ and ‘coping with change’ being by far the most popular,” he added.

When you experience change at work, what is most stressful for you?

31 percent said “unclear expectations from supervisors”

20 percent said “confusion / conflict between coworkers / departments”

18 percent said “belief that workload will increase or become more difficult”

15 percent said “uncertainty about future / questions about stability of company”

13 percent said “new processes / operating rules / skills needed”

3 percent said “other”

It’s interesting to note that employees cite their managers as the primary source of disequilibrium, which makes me think there is an opportunity for HR here to better train managers to be clear with their expectations of their workers.

As for the 20 percent who are most concerned about the
“people issues around change,” it seems that communication efforts could be well-utilized to allay such workers’ concerns about their roles in a changing workplace landscape.

And, while wonky words such as disequilibrium and resiliency may not have been in the workplace lexicon for very long, as the pace of business continues to accelerate, it seems certain that we will be seeing much more of them in the future. I suggest you start building up your resiliency to them now.

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The Perils of Anonymous Feedback

A number of firms have reached out to us recently about their internal feedback tools, which they say can increase engagement and improve performance by letting employees send their colleagues kudos or offer constructive criticism. Now that “continuous performance management” is officially a thing, it would seem that the time is ripe for HR leaders to push for rolling out these tools within their organizations.

They might want to proceed cautiously, however, after reading Quantum Workplace’s Natalie Hackbarth, who reminds her readers that the New York Times’ less-than-flattering expose on Amazon’s workplace culture last August included details of how employees used the company’s Anytime Feedback Tool to slam and criticize each other, leading to what sources described as a “bruising workplace” and “purposeful Darwinism.”

Now if “purposeful Darwinism” is the sort of workplace culture that you and your CEO are aiming for, then have at it. For everyone else, Hackbarth included some advice and perspective from industry thought leaders on the lessons learned from Amazon’s experience.

Here’s Bersin by Deloitte’s Josh Bersin on the matter:

“Our research shows that companies that value open feedback and communication outperform their peers. This does not mean, however, that an anonymous feedback tool should let employees do away with respect, honesty, confidentiality, and fairness. We urge companies that use these tools to set guidelines in place, and communicate that nobody should say anything online that they would not say in person.”

And here’s Paul Hebert, an engagement and recognition consultant:

No one ever erred by underestimating human behavior. I’m sure that when Amazon did this some guru said it was the future of employee reviews—transparent and real time. This is why we shouldn’t blindly follow outliers and try to emulate who we ‘think’ is doing it right. Yes, even Amazon can make big mistakes. Transparency without accountability is a cesspool.”

And finally, here’s John Whitaker, of HR Hardball, whose last line I find especially memorable:

“Many business leaders will see this as a justification for not employing feedback tools that offer a wonderful way to build engagement. This story only justifies the paranoia many already feel about an open forum for employees to vocalize. Don’t bury the lead, though—the real story is the reflection on Amazon’s culture. When you create a culture of fear, don’t hand the inmates a shiv.”

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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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