The most pressing issue at hand for human resources functions in most companies is leadership and talent development. Yet these same companies freely admit this is a keen area of weakness for them. These organizations waste millions of dollars each year developing workshops, coaching sessions and corporate universities that don’t provide the tools managers need to drive business results.
The Boston Consulting Group released results from its eighth annual BCG “Creating People Advantage” report, a survey of more than 3,500 senior business and HR leaders. Deborah Lovich, a senior adviser for Boston Consulting Group, said there are some marked disconnects between leadership development program intentions and actual results.
1. Learning doesn’t match business priorities. Once talent or leadership issues are identified as a priority, they’re often seen as HR issues. Then the line leader throws them over the fence for the learning leader to deal with. However, the line leaders don’t stay involved, and the resulting programs or learning solutions become disconnected from the business priorities. “That disconnect prevents them from driving that value and impact on the business,” Lovich said.
2. Learning events are perceived as one and done. Leadership and talent development are often one off interventions, a workshop, class or program. But when they’re over, they’re over. When designing programs, learning leaders don’t recognize that the best way to build capability, skill or behavior muscle is through repetition on the job.
“If I were to ask you, Tell me something you’re good at and how you got good at it, you wouldn’t say I did a class alone, or I did a workshop, or I did a program,” Lovich said. “You’d say I tried, I failed, I tried, I failed. I practiced, someone coached me what to do. Eventually I get it right, and I stay good by practicing day in and day out, making it part of how I work every day.”
Even if a program has follow up, it may only last for a few weeks or a month, and eventually people go back to doing what they normally do; the new skills fall away. That disconnect between learning and line leaders becomes even more important because line leaders must reinforce and coach new skills learned.
When learning leaders want to build a new capability, Lovich said they need to start by thinking about what skills are needed to advance or make an impact on the business every day. Then backfill the story with the right learning to teach employees how to create that value or to behave differently on the job. “Ideally, that training is given in part by your line leader who can say, ‘Here’s how I’m going to follow up with you, and watch you, and couch you, and train you.’ ”
3. Look at the impact of learning. Learning leaders often measure days of learning or program satisfaction. But those measures can lead to what Lovich calls “edutainment” programs. During program development, learning leaders drift into thinking, “Oh, we’ve got to make it sexy and entertaining and really make it pop so people will be satisfied.” But they don’t ask: How did the learning change how you interact with your team? How did it change how you deliver value to your customers? How did it change how you manage the business? That’s the impact Lovich said should be at the forefront of the learning leaders’ minds.
4. Identify the right programs and capabilities from the start. To build learning programs that wire into day-to-day work, led by leaders and measured in the right way, learning leaders must consider the associated formal and informal people, processes and systems: what people are rewarded for, what they’re made heroes for, what they get bonuses, promotions or fired for. If people, processes and systems don’t reinforce the new capabilities, employees won’t do them regardless of what training they receive.
Lovich said it’s not uncommon for there to be a disconnect between the learning agenda and the formal and informal people, processes and systems. Once learning leaders identify which capabilities they want to build, they have to partner with the HR leaders who manage and oversee people, processes and systems to make sure those capabilities are actually valuable.
Line leaders are also important here. They should make examples of employees who flex or deploy the new skills, and give them the proper rewards and recognition. “Most importantly, don’t give recognition and rewards to people who are known for being bad at something,” Lovich said. “You delivered your numbers safely, but you didn’t take any risks or innovate, but I’m going to hold you up like a hero, guess what? Everyone’s going to want to be like the hero.”