Executive Engagement in Leadership Development – What’s The Big Deal About The “Big Cheese”?

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During our annual IMPACT conference last week, I shared highlights of this year’s research results on high-impact leadership development and the 21st century leadership trends.  As we discussed in our intimate group of 100+ global senior HR/LD/OD/Talent/Business executives, our leadership talent is becoming scarcer and developing global leaders from within is becoming increasingly important.

To invest in this development effort, high-impact organizations (those at level 4 in Bersin & Associates Leadership Development Maturity Model®)  are leveraging our six best practices of leadership development—first introduced in 2009 and still viable today as validated in this year’s research:

1. Maintain strong executive engagement;
2. Define tailored leadership competencies;
3. Align with business strategy;
4. Target all levels of leadership;
5. Integrate with talent management; and,
6. Apply a targeted solution.

The most important practice of all is to obtain the engagement of top leaders and managers. This is because leadership development is much more than leadership training. Leadership development is an ongoing, systematic process that involves a great deal of coordination, integrates multiple processes and requires support at all levels throughout the organization. Understanding this, it is not surprising to find that during our 2010-2011 leadership development research study (the full study will be published in our library in June 2011), 66% of mature (level 4 in our maturity model) organizations surveyed have engaged executives in their leadership development (while 0% of the least mature organizations surveyed have engaged leaders).

What Does Executive Engagement Look Like?

Although most organizations have many key elements in place, without management support it is almost impossible to successfully develop a culture that embraces learning and adopts a true leadership development initiative. Executive engagement looks and smells differently at all organizations. However, when senior management is involved, the development programs are more robust, they target more leaders and there is a stronger culture for learning. This is true regardless of the size of the organization, the industry it is in, or the geography in which it sits.  Our research revealed that in high-impact organizations, executives are often caught doing many of these things:

• Teaching courses or presenting key business issues;
• Nominating and approving program participants;
• Promoting programs and encouraging participation;
• Reviewing and approving leadership development strategy;
• Actively coaching and mentoring future leaders;
• Identify key business issues for leadership program participants to resolve;
• Holding business leaders accountable for developing their direct reports; and
• Requiring all leaders to have a development plan in place.

Who's Doing It?

At the most mature organizations, executives do ALL of these things. Case in point is Lawson Software, a global ERP leader. The CEO at Lawson is carefully crafting the alignment of all Lawson leaders around a common set of company values and core leadership behaviors for the sole purpose of driving even increased revenue. So, the question is: How’d he do it? And, the answer is……: Through his personal engagement of each and every action in the bulleted list immediately above.  Watch our library in the next few weeks for the publications of this Lawson case study – a showcasing of executive engagement at its finest. 

Textron, a multi-industry company with a network of businesses with total revenues of $10 billion and more than 37,000 employees in nearly 33 countries, stacks right up next to Lawson. Senior executives at Textron understand that talent development leads to improved profit and retention, and overall success of the organization. They, also, have demonstrated their exemplary commitment and support to executive engagement in a number of ways:

• Executives have allocated resources to enable the creation of development programs that facilitate the identification, development and positioning of leaders;
• The CEO has requested that executive staff and business unit presidents attend premier executive development programs;
• Senior leaders present educational sessions related to their areas of expertise at executive leadership programs;
• Executives had identified project-based business-driven action-learning activities that are incorporated in leadership programs;
• Leaders present recommendations for solving key business issues to senior executives and, in return, the executives provide feedback, and often choose to act, on the recommended solutions;
• Executives identify and select participants to attend senior-level leadership development programs;
• The CEO and other executives continuously address the importance of leadership development at various meetings and through other forms of communication such as newsletters and emails; and,
• Leaders throughout the company and at all levels embrace talent development at Textron.

What Does It Get Them?

The commitment of senior leaders means that leadership development in mature organizations will be:

• highly regarded as a true competitive advantage;
• a part of the organization’s DNA;
• aligned with corporate strategy focused on the right business issues; and
• the catalyst for improved business results.

So, how are your executives engaging in leadership development at your organization? Is it making a difference in regards to your business goals?

Please write to me at barb.arth@bersin.com.  I’m eager to hear how your executives are different from the rest when it comes to engaging in leadership development to drive your business results.

Next post, we’ll chat about the second best practice of leadership development: define tailored leadership competencies.  Please stop back soon!

Andrea Derler

Andrea Derler, Ph.D., joined Bersin by Deloitte in March 2015 and leads the Leadership & Succession Management research practice. She brings international work experience as leadership trainer & coach and a solid academic background to this role. Prior to joining Bersin, she collaborated closely with organizations in the USA as well as Europe in order to pursue practice-oriented leadership research. Andrea studied international management, organizational culture and integral leadership and facilitated leadership development efforts in a variety of industries. She holds a doctoral degree in Economics (Leadership & Organization), and a Master’s degree in Philosophy. Her work about leaders’ Ideal Employee recently received wide-spread media attention in Europe and was published in the Leadership & Organization Development Journal

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