Organisation : Leadership Development and Learning Can Drive Performance


Albert A. Vicere is executive education professor of strategic leadership at Penn State's Smeal College of Business, and president of Vicere Associates, Inc., a leadership consulting firm with clients around the globe.  He is one of the country's top leadership coaches, and is the author/editor of several books including Leadership By Design, The Many Facets of Leadership and more than 80 articles on leadership development and organizational effectiveness.

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When consultant Ram Charan and retired CEO Larry Bossidy entitled their best-selling business book, Execution, they redefined a word for the business community.  For senior executives, execution no longer refers to a punishment or an untimely demise.  It means the ability of an organization to deliver on its promises, the ability to perform efficiently and profitably, the ability to get results.


Recently I had the opportunity to help facilitate a discussion on best practices in leadership development and learning.  The meeting was held in New York, hosted by British Petroleum, and attended by senior staff members responsible for leadership development at a dozen major organizations.   The high-energy discussions focused on how to link leadership development, learning and business strategy in order to drive execution.


From the outset, participants made it obvious that the issue of linking leadership development and learning to business performance was critical, not just for them but for their company’s senior executives.  Equally obvious was the level of sophistication of those in charge of the process. Many of the attendees were former line executives, and all of them were intensely interested in how to demonstrate the value of leadership development and learning to an organization’s ability to execute plans and strategies.


Participants emphasized that leadership development and learning were evolving from a “program” focus into ”interventions”—relevant, focused initiatives designed to cultivate the capabilities an organization needs to identify opportunities in the business environment, define strategies to pursue those opportunities, and execute on those strategies.


The top issue for the participants was the ability to translate their organization’s strategy into action and they saw leadership development and learning as key mechanisms for doing that.  As the participants shared examples of their company’s best practices, it became clear that when leadership development, learning, performance metrics, and reward systems were all aligned to an organization’s articulated strategy, the ability to execute on that strategy and demonstrate progress was dramatically enhanced.


The ability to connect leadership development and learning to business results was a hot topic, especially in today’s environment of scarce resources.  In fact, participants suggested that measurement may be the stickiest issue in leadership development and learning today.


Discussion on how to calculate a return on leadership development and learning investments were frustrating until we saw the light, stopped talking about return on investment (ROI), and began talking about return on expectations (ROE).  Participants agreed that due to all sorts of complications we may never be able to calculate a clear financial return on learning initiatives, but if we’re clear on what we’re trying to accomplish through leadership development and learning and if we measure our results against those expectations, we may have the data we need to prove the value of our investments.


There were some thorny issues, like overwhelming number of leadership development and learning initiatives that go on across a typical company. Just getting the process under control was seen as critical—“knowing what we are doing and spending.”  And there was tremendous interest in more effectively linking performance management and learning to both drive results and measure effectiveness.


But at the end of the day, we had done a pretty thorough high-level analysis of the state-of-the-practice in linking leadership development and learning to business strategy.  We determined that CEO’s and senior executives are leading the charge to use leadership development and learning to speed-up and enhance the execution of business strategy.  We also learned that we must align strategy, leadership development, learning, business performance metrics, and reward systems in order to drive execution.  And we learned that defining expectations for leadership development and learning initiatives was key if we ever hope calculate a return on a company’s investment in them.


Not a bad return on the expectations we had set for the meeting.


 Copyright © 2004 Albert Vicere

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