Better Equip Leaders for Turbulent Times

Learning and development teams that promote iterative and personalized programs and spur diversity will better prepare leaders.

Chances are your organization is undergoing change. Think about the past year. How many times have you heard about, experienced or led executive changes, business transformation initiatives or integration efforts? These changes, from micro to macro, all have to be managed and communicated to the organization, and that task falls to corporate leadership. But are today’s leaders properly equipped to transcend turbulent times?

To ensure leaders can perform at their best even as conditions change, L&D must be personalized to the needs of the individual

Learning and development (L&D) executives say no. Moreover, HR leaders say most leaders will undergo a significant change in their roles in the coming years. These changing times mean L&D faces three specific challenges:

  • Leaders’ capability needs are always shifting.
  • Being inclusive is a newly essential competency, spurred by globalization and increased diversity.
  • The needs of individual leaders vary widely, so the standardized and scalable development of the past now fails.

Leaders aren’t ready for tomorrow — now what?

To overcome these challenges, L&D can respond with programs that:

  1. Evolve iteratively and adapt.
  2. Spur and enable leaders to invite and encourage diverse perspectives at work.
  3. Personalize development to the needs of their leaders.
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Iterative programs

Most organizations try to predict which capabilities leaders will need in the future. Often, to cover all their bases, they also develop leaders across a wide range of capabilities to prepare for every eventuality. In looking ahead, though, many of these development processes are linear, and end up producing an out-of-date solution by the time a leader has completed all the steps. An iterative design allows for change as feedback comes in.

Inclusive environments aren’t just nice to have — they are a mission-critical priority

William Hill, a U.K.-based gaming company, realized its development programs couldn’t keep up with fast-changing business needs and leadership roles, so L&D purposely built room for organic growth into its development program for high-potential employees (HIPOs). The approach adopts a build-as-you-go modular approach, and involves senior management and HIPOs as active co-designers of the program.

Diverse perspectives

Organizations are more and more global, diverse and collaborative, so inclusive environments aren’t just nice to have — they are a mission-critical priority. For those in doubt, note that our research shows leaders who effectively manage across diverse cultures outperform their peers who struggle in this metric. If L&D improves the ability to manage and proliferate diversity, they will further the business value of their leaders.

Leaders aren’t a homogeneous group; they have individual needs that vary widely

Red Hat, a software company headquartered in North Carolina, promotes inclusion with open decision making. The decision process doesn’t just rely on people in a certain role or at a certain level of seniority; rather, it includes the right people — those affected or surprised by the decision, and those who care about it.

Personalized development

L&D favors universal competency models for universal work contexts, because they are scalable for large organizations. But leaders aren’t a homogeneous group; they have individual needs that vary widely based on role, team, organization and external environment. To ensure leaders can perform at their best even as conditions change, L&D must be personalized to the needs of the individual.

Microsoft India, a subsidiary of the American software company, created a cloud-enabled training app that enables a personalized focus that can still be scaled to a large audience of leaders. The ASPIRE app, which is part of a broader 12-month customized leader development program, allows leaders to guide themselves through the program and then offers post-program support.

Gartner for HR Leaders clients can read more in the Leadership Quarterly and the 2017 Leadership Development Annual Report, and hear more in the Trends and Innovations in Leadership Development webinar.