Unlocking leadership potential in turbulent times

In turbulent times like these, developing leaders truly matters – yet more than half of executives we talk to say their leadership development initiatives fail. What does it take to unlock an organization’s leadership potential?

The four core beliefs associated with improving leadership across an organization include focusing on the shifts that matter, linked to value; engaging a critical mass of pivotal influencers across the organization; architecting programs to maximize behavioral change; and embedding and measuring the change.

The next question: How do you make this happen in practice?

The approach we favor is based on more than 100 leadership development interventions annually as well as the latest research. It centers on the key outputs typical for each of four phases – and (you should know) the first three typically take 2-3 years to reach the entire organization.

  1. Diagnose: Determine the gap to where you want to go. Create a leadership model tightly linked to the strategy and context. Prioritize 3-5 “from-to” shifts (behaviors, skills, mindsets) that the leadership program will trigger. Quantify the leadership chasm at each level of the organization and assess current leadership development initiatives.
  2. Design and develop: Decide what you need to get there. This phase involves designing the interventions required for all target groups. From there, create the leadership development journey by group. This encompasses all content, defines target participants (who, how much, when), and selects the initial ones. It also includes developing reinforcing mechanisms (change story, symbolic actions, system changes) as well as the signed-off business case (including target impact, work plan, budget and organizational requirements to deliver the program).
  3. Deliver: Moving to action. At this stage, organizations deliver the leadership development intervention and embed it in the broader organizational system. Specifically, they deliver the program across all cohorts, employ modern adult learning principles (field, forum and coaching), apply system embedment (communication, role modeling, and reinforcing mechanisms, including inserting the leadership model into all talent processes), and establish governance and measurement at multiple levels of the program.
  4. Develop: Keeping momentum going. Organizations must endeavor to continue evolving the program as the organization changes its strategy and context. Among other things, they can achieve this by continuously tracking its impact, reinforcing critical behavioral changes, developing and applying a clear plan for program graduates (yearly refresh, retention policies, etc.), and regularly reassessing the organizational leadership requirements given the context.

An emerging market conglomerate recently created a new leadership model to support its ongoing transformation. It brought the leadership model to life through a series of leadership journeys, culture change initiatives and performance management integration. The result? More than 6,000 employees were reached, which contributed to an 8 percentage point increase in overall organizational health.

Leadership development significantly enables organizational performance. But our research indicates that organizations should avoid following a generic approach that most favor. Too often, it proves to be piecemeal, narrow, short-lived, and misses objectives and performance goals. Instead, organizations should embrace a more tailored and comprehensive approach that develops leadership effectiveness at scale. It requires effort – but the payback is great.

Learn more about our People & Organizational Performance Practice