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Despite research showing that succession is an essential part of strategic planning, many pexels-photo-58457companies ignore leadership development to focus on more immediate challenges. But your organization’s future success depends on identifying and developing the next generation of its leaders. (Harrsion Monarth, ‘Evaluate Your Leadership Development Programme’ Harvard Business Review January 2015).

Developing leaders in any organisation remains a major challenge and has done for many years even though attitudes towards work are changing.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Jeffrey Arnett asks ‘What really motivates workers in their 20s?’ Quoting research by the Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults, Arnett observes that young people see the need to develop expertise in their job, which often means doing the lower-level work for a while. Asked what they would do if they were in a boring job, 78% agreed that ‘I would be patient and try to move up within the company.’ (Jeffrey Arnett ‘What Really Motivates Workers in their 20s?’ Harvard Business Review August 2015).

In truth, they may to do this largely by their own efforts. The sad fact is that developing junior staff for leadership positions is not seen as a strategic priority in a large number of companies. Time and time again research shows that, although leadership development is a core factor for an organisations success, many don’t assign resources to it; preferring to deal with more immediate day-to-day problems and issues.

Take a 2014 survey by Deloittes, for example. The authors write that ‘leadership remains the number one talent issue facing organizations around the world, with 86 percent of respondents in our survey rating it as ‘urgent’ or ‘important.’ Only 13 percent of respondents say they do an excellent job developing leaders at all levels.

The pattern is similar across all industries; with large companies faring as poorly as their smaller competitors. The situation has been the same for many years.

John Adair, for example, writing about ICI in the 1980s discusses the results of the poor focus on leadership development on corporate performance. In 1988 the company’s profit fell by an enormous 48%. ‘The main board directors decided that ICI’s top priority was to develop manager-leaders. Over the next five years, they went about growing leaders in the nine divisions of ICI. After five years, ICI was the first British company in history to make a billion pounds profit.’ (Adair.J.E.2 009, ‘How to Grow Leaders).’

In 2012, I recognised the problem in an article I wrote about the contact centre industry.

‘Team leaders and supervisors play a huge part in any contact centre or customer facing department. However, the amount of effort allocated to develop and support them in their roles is insufficient.

My suspicions were raised by an article in the ‘Financial Times’ at the start of the year. The article discussed how the Chartered Management Institute are putting more resource into developing the leadership skills of younger people. The initiative was to help fill the 1 million new leadership positions coming up in the UK over the next 10-years. The article implied that effort is needed as organisations have mixed records in supporting leadership development in their own operations.’

In some contact centres there is almost an air of desperation among first line supervisory teams. Functions such as human resources and recruitment have been cut or outsourced. In one company, the Organisational Development team, which worked closely with team leader groups, has been reduced from three to one. At a time when more support is required, the opposite is happening.

I have regular conversations with people in the contact centre industry. Most say that having effective managers and team leaders are the most important ingredients for a successful high performing centre. Leaders set the tone and establish the standards in operations with large numbers of staff. What is also apparent is that in organisations where management and team leader development is given a low priority, there are detrimental impacts on performance. The problem with team leader development in contact centres, for example, plays out as follows:

  • A regular observation in contact centres is that team leaders are the most important people in the centre. However, people in these roles often receive little or no development, either prior to their appointment or when they are in position
  • In many cases the job of the team leader has become more complex. The lack of development of team leaders can therefore have detrimental impacts in a number of areas of contact centre performance; including customer service, performance management, employee morale and staff retention levels
  • There is a need for the contact centre to have a clear strategy for team leader development, which is reviewed regularly, to ensure it is consistent with what is required from the role holder.

My consulting assignments have endorsed the view that the amount of time organisations spend developing people in leadership roles, particularly when they are first appointed, varies greatly in practice.

Leadership development is a subject written about by many leading management thinkers. Tom Peters writes:

‘Are you, Big Boss, a formal student of frontline supervisor behavioural excellence? Do you have the best training programme in the industry for first-line supervisors? Do you formally and rigorously mentor first-line supervisors?’

Tom goes on: ‘companies should ‘start down the path to Matchless Supervisory Excellence by creating the best imaginable first-line supervisory training programme ASAP.’(Peters.T,’The Little Big Things, 2010).

I can’t help thinking though that the issue has gone missing on the radars of many senior executives.

Here is a short exercise for readers who interview for new staff. Say you are on an interview panel. The job is to appoint a middle or senior manager to a role with people responsibilities. You are given a free hand to ask any relevant question.

What questions would you ask?

Here’s mine (courtesy of Tom Peters):

  • In the last twelve months can you please name three people whose growth you have significantly contributed to?
  • What did you do?
  • What did they do?
  • How did they benefit?
  • What happens next?
  • Where do you see them in three years’ time?

In this series of blogs, we set out to explore these critical issues and important questions. We look at the implications when organisations fail to take the development of leaders seriously and what this really means in practice. We also set out a series of practical steps that can be followed to develop a strategy and culture of leadership development in any organisation.

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