Committing to Leadership Growth
There is nothing new about dedicating time, energy and resources to develop leaders through formal or informal learning. Organizations have made commitments to leadership growth and improvement for years. However, it is always surprising to us how often HR leaders need to convince senior leaders that investing in leaders will result in better business results. Often they need to fight to budget or “borrow” funds from another initiative to find the dollars needed to create a meaningful and impactful learning experience. As many teams are finalizing their L&D plans for next year, let’s explore the obstacles you might face and the business case for why investing in your leaders is a good use of company resources.
Common objections that our clients face when trying to build or expand upon leadership training include:
- No budget!
- No time
- Not a business priority
- No quantifiable ROI
- No agreement that performance gaps exist
The Business Case for Why
For each objection there are ways to overcome the perception from some senior leaders that investing in leadership development is a ‘nice to have’ rather than a ‘must have’.
- Not having a budget to build a learning and development program or deliver training to leaders is a major obstacle. To earn budget approval you must be able to make the link between what is valued in the organization and where resources are allocated. If your organization says they want to recruit and retain the best employees, that can only be achieved through strong leadership. Since the top reason employees leave an organization is due to a poor relationship with their manager, high performing organizations can’t afford to have ineffective leaders. If senior leaders expect teams to deliver increased business results, they need strong leaders to lead them there. This is achieved through dedicated learning, development, coaching, mentoring and feedback. Not all of the learning activities will need to be costly. There are many things that can be done internally for low cost or free, however, the overall program must have some budget to work with. As one advisor once said to me “people don’t value things they don’t have to pay for”. If your senior leaders are unprepared to invest in leadership development and put “their money where they mouth is” then it’s a strong indication that this is not a core value of the organization.
- Time is always scarce. Pulling leaders away from the business for learning is a challenge. Find ways to break up the learning experience into small pieces to allow for greater flexibility or conduct intensive off-site learning sessions where there is dedicated time away from the business and all leaders are expected to attend and be focused on the learning experience. In our fast paced work environments, the use of technology can help support learning, though our clients find that face to face learning with peers still delivers the best outcomes by increasing both engagement and performance quickly.
- Similar to the objection around budget, if learning isn’t a business priority it is sure to become one when performance drops, client deliverables are missed or targets aren’t achieved. Business performance is directly tied to employee performance. Naturally strong leadership is a significant contributor to keeping teams on track, on time and on budget. There will always be cycles in your business that will prevent formal learning to take place, but informal learning, just-in-time e-learning, mentoring and coaching can always happen to ensure that leadership development is an on-going activity that is imbedded into the business, not separate from it.
- Measuring the ROI of learning has long been debated. Since Kirkpatrick released his 4 levels of evaluation, L&D professionals have struggled to track and measure outcomes from learning. We find that many clients simply do not want to invest the money required to evaluate the impact of learning on business outcomes due to the complexity and time required. However, there are several ways that assessment tools can be used to validate, support and reinforce the positive impact of leadership development. They include:
- Engagement surveys – individual leadership scores
- 180 degree assessment tools
- Customer satisfaction surveys
- Increase in team results
- Reduced turnover of high performing employees
- Sometimes our clients confide in us that while they know leadership gaps exist and can see the need for development, they need to convince senior leaders that an issue exists. This is particularly difficult if a leader’s team is achieving business results. If your senior leadership team believes that leaders are born, not made and that people will just “know the right things to do”, it will be an uphill battle to gain their support for a robust leadership development program. If senior leaders think that hitting revenue targets is proof that a leader is effective, this will be challenging to overcome. The best approach is to agree that high levels of performance exist and that since the leader(s) are so high performing they should be rewarded with further development. You can integrate skill development (often people leadership skills) within a broader learning plan that includes very advanced learning so that leaders don’t feel that the learning is “too basic” or not sophisticated enough for their level. Using self-reflection tools is also a great way to have leaders self-identify where their areas of development are which often leads to a request for support and learning.