Leadership development: a top concern in Canada

The good news is companies can take action

More than ever, leadership programs are a top concern for Canadian companies. Learn how to build a development model that will hit the mark.

By: Heather Stockton and Karen Pastakia

Leadership capability has been a consistent area of concern for the past 20 years, one that appears to have intensified: Deloitte’s latest human capital trends survey reveals that Canadian CEOs and senior HR professionals now consider it both the most important — and most pressing — challenge they currently face.

Despite the importance of developing company leaders, it is clear current programs and supporting infrastructure are not hitting the mark. Alarmingly, only one in five of those surveyed consider the leadership programs in their organization as excellent. In fact, almost half rate their ability to develop leaders at all levels in their organization as weak.

Start with understanding what’s needed to make the business successful, then determine existing capability and potential as well as where the gaps are. 

Mind the gap
According to Bersin by Deloitte research, the significant gap between the need to cultivate a channel of capable leaders and the ability to meet that need is owed largely to persistent deficiencies in four key areas:

  • A disconnect between the programs HR provides and the skills the business needs to successfully lead implementation of organizational goals and strategies.
  • A lack of rigorous data for identifying key leaders across the organization, assessing their potential for advancement and mapping clear paths for their development.
  • Significant inefficiencies in transferring skills developed in training to the workplace; some estimate the typical transfer of knowledge is less than 2%.
  • Stand-alone leadership development programs that don’t adequately link to other key HR programs or one another, negatively impacting succession and performance improvement efforts and the effectiveness of the leadership development program itself.

Even when done as well as possible, leadership development — systematically building the capabilities needed to lead effectively now and in the future — is hard work. These shortcomings make it even harder.

Get on track
These deficiencies create significant financial waste and pose real strategic risk for most organizations. They also create an opportunity to re-think and re-energize efforts that are not getting the job done. Organizations can do both by:

  • Aligning to real business needs. Closely link leader capability development with growth or other strategic initiatives, strategic changes, culture changes and/or other significant transformational efforts. The greater the link to real business outcomes, the greater the engagement, learning and leader capability development.
  • Making hard choices. Don’t dilute your efforts. Narrow everyone’s focus on the four to five key leader capabilities most required to drive your strategy (starting with senior management), then funnel most of your spend on those people and capabilities.
  • Getting hard data. 360˚ reviews are the most common tool for measuring leader capability but they don’t give you the hard data required to make informed decisions about current capability and future potential. Set aside the resources required to really know who your future leaders are and gain a reliable understanding of their optimum role fit and head room.
  • Accelerating development. Most training and development still focuses on outputs — desired behaviours – even though research clearly shows change is greatly accelerated by focusing on inputs — the thinking that drives desired behaviours. Organizations can significantly improve the uptake of new skills by focusing on cognitive patterns rather than behavioural ones.
  • Choosing strategic deployments. Proactively identify the experiences and development exposure that high potential leaders need. Do this as early as possible in their careers. As they rise through an organization, they will begin to demonstrate more breadth and agility — key attributes of successful senior leaders.

Properly preparing your company’s future leaders from among your current workforce may be a major challenge, but it’s also critical to long-term success. Start with understanding what’s needed to make the business successful, then determine existing capability and potential as well as where the gaps are. From there, build an acquisition and development model that is inclusive of all generations of leaders, one that looks at generational intersections and deepens the ‘leader bench’ in order to manage risk. And, of course, carefully manage performance and monitor progress along the way.

Leadership is not black magic or an amalgam of traits that somehow coalesce in some people but not in others. Leadership development is primarily about skills development — a combination of specific knowledge and refined practice. That precise combination enables the development of any skill.

How well does your organization develop its leaders? Could the process be improved? Would you like to re-think or re-energize leader capability development in your organization? Discuss it further with one of our leaders.

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