LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT: THE NEVER-ENDING JOURNEY

Sharp focus on leadership outcomes and the fine-tuning of development programs are strategies that help keep i4cp member company Amway in the forefront of direct sales worldwide.

Another i4cp member, ConAgra Foods, takes a similar approach, garnering recognition for excellence in leadership development in the process. "We call the leadership behaviors that we believe set us apart and enable us to accomplish our strategy the ‘Ways We Win,'" explains Jackie Drown, ConAgra Foods' director of organization development.

Winning achievements in leadership development, such as those at Amway and ConAgra Foods, are among the hallmarks of organizations that consistently perform well and distinguish themselves in their industries. The strategies and behaviors that set high-performing organizations apart are highlighted in a new study - i4cp's Leadership Competencies: Readying for the Future - which has uncovered evidence that high-performers think differently when it comes to leadership development and the challenges that their leaders are likely to face in the years ahead.

Seventy-one percent of the512 business professionals who responded to i4cp's latest Leadership Competencies Survey confirmed that their organizations are actively involved in leadership development to a high/very high extent. Most (82%) acknowledge that they use a competency-based approach to help their leaders prepare for the challenges they face. And respondents agree that there will be plenty of challenges for leaders in the decade ahead.

Higher-performing organizations view challenges differently
When the survey asked about the challenges that current (and future) leaders will face in the next 10 years, high-performers (based on revenue growth, market share, profitability, and customer satisfaction) had a distinctive take on the issues of concern to executives. High-performers' predictions about challenges focused at the strategic level on such long-term success drivers as strategy execution and innovation. In contrast, lower-performers' top forecasts largely reflected concerns about financial matters, including such issues as operating efficiency, profitability and the economic landscape.

Clearly, high-performers also consider financial factors to be among the challenges their current and prospective leaders may encounter in the coming decade, but they don't rank them as highly. Profitability and the economy placed ninth and tenth, respectively, on high-performers' top-ten list, suggesting that taking care of the other eight issues effectively may fuel profitability and contribute to constructive responses to economic challenges.

Higher-performing organizations believe their leaders are better prepared
After inquiring about anticipated leadership challenges, the survey asked how well prepared respondents believed their leaders were to handle the issues they'd identified. Those representing higher-performing companies rated their leaders better prepared to handle every one of the full list of 24 potential challenges about which the survey asked.

But the real story emerged from the gaps between the predicted challenges and the degree of leaders' preparation for them.

The standout result in gaps was a huge 65 percentage points. That chasm reflected the difference between lower-performers' projection that the pace of change would challenge leaders and their assessment of their leaders' preparation for it. A 65-point gap should be a big wake-up call for companies. In a world where change is rapid and unrelenting, its status as a challenge for leaders should be a given. It should also be a given that lack of preparation for change spells R-I-S-K! Organizations that fail to help their leaders develop change management competencies could find the business consequences disastrous.

Lower-performers had the biggest and most troubling challenge/preparation gaps overall. Strategy execution, innovation, talent acquisition/retention, operating efficiency and profitability showed gaps in the 50-to-60-percentage-point range. Conversely, among higher-performing firms, the greatest gap was 47 points. That challenge? In a word: innovation. Other gaps in the 40-point range for higher-performers pertained to strategy execution, talent acquisition/retention, the pace of change and knowledge retention.

Survey results indicate that both higher- and lower-performers already include in their leadership development programs competencies that address many challenge/preparation gaps. But i4cp found that lower-performers failed to include competencies related to their biggest gap. Change management skills were not among their most-emphasized business and management competencies. Higher-performers left out knowledge retention competencies (fifth-ranked among their top five gaps) - a reminder that there's always room to improve leadership development programming.

Amway and ConAgra Foods achieve leadership development successes
Organizations that do leadership development well don't just rest on their laurels. Larry Looker, global manager of leadership development at Amway, is at work re-tooling the company's approach to ensure that Amway's Global Leadership Competencies directly drive the corporation's strategic agenda priorities.

With Amway strategic components providing his foundation, Looker is working with outside consultants to identify strategic leadership outcomes consistent with Amway's Founders' Fundamentals and Values. "Those are the outcomes, segmented by leadership levels, that we want leaders at Amway to focus on in order to achieve our strategic priorities in a values-driven manner," he says. Ultimately, he expects the leadership outcomes will reinforce the practicality of Amway's Global Leadership Competencies, and will be vetted across the organization.

At ConAgra Foods, leadership development programs already have received accolades, including a top-fifteen spot on Leadership Excellence magazine's Top Leadership Development Program list. That leaves the company perfectly positioned to concentrate development efforts on the leadership capabilities needed to shape culture and fuel company growth objectives, Jackie Drown explains.

A half-day development program forges the connection between the company's Ways We Win leadership behaviors and corporate strategy. Group activities and dialogue help leaders identify personal and organizational areas of excellence, areas that offer opportunities for improvement, and the behavioral changes that empower leaders to drive strategic execution. According to Drown, response to the program has been positive, and it is proving a constructive tool for culture change, as well as a valuable addition to ConAgra Foods' full array of award-winning leadership development initiatives.

The success stories shared by Amway and ConAgra Foods underscore the recognition that leadership development is a fluid function that thrives when it receives constant attention. Even when an organization does development well, there are opportunities for further improvement. That underlying truth is one reason why leadership development remains a perennial issue atop organizational leaders' agendas.

As business strategies and objectives evolve, development program design must naturally shift. Add or subtract emphasized competencies or behaviors, revisit content, adjust timing, hone delivery methods, and take other actions to ensure that your development program closely aligns with strategic goals and truly helps leaders build the skills needed to achieve them.

Above all, recognize that leadership development is, and will remain, a journey, not a destination. It will always demand tweaking, tinkering and adjustment. It may never be perfect, but with flexibility driving it, leadership development can achieve some pretty impressive levels of excellence.

Carol Morrison is a senior i4cp research analyst and the author of this Playbook. She has authored white papers, playbooks, reports, analyses and other publications on a variety of topics related to human capital, leadership and talent management. Feature articles by Carol can be found in Talent Management Magazine, Chief Learning Officer, HR Executive and in other leading print and online media.