Many organisations are sitting on a leadership time bomb. That’s not to say they lack leaders, but rather they lack the leaderships skills which will be essential to ensure businesses can continue to grow.
This is something leadership experts at DDI are seeing more and more, particularly as organisations attempt to develop long-term strategies. “CEOs are starting to ask where is the talent that can help their business be successful?” says Verity Creedy, European sales director. “Where are those who can anticipate and react, mobilise and engage, navigate complexity and compete in a digital environment?”
It’s one of the chief executive’s nightmares and for good reason. DDI data suggests only 14 per cent believe they have the leadership capabilities required to execute their strategy, and rate developing the next generation of leaders and retaining top talent as their top concern, ahead of all other business threats.
This fear is reinforced by DDI’s research which demonstrates that it is not the technical or business skills that are lacking, but the so-called “soft skills”, such as conducting effective conversations and influencing people, that drive change and rally staff towards strategy execution.
The failure to develop future leaders is having an impact. In fact, organisations experience a success rate of only 61 per cent for high-potential leaders, according to DDI, equating to wasted expense of about $1.6 million and 1,900 people-days per organisation.
Part of the problem, Ms Creedy believes, is that organisations tend to focus too heavily on developing talent at the C-suite level or one rung below. By doing so, businesses are betting their future on a selected few, whereas leadership is now increasingly about the organisation’s collective leadership capability.
Many team members or individual contributors are unnoticed in their application of leadership behaviours – effective communication, coaching, driving consensus, inspiring action – which positively influence the work that gets done by their teams. While few have the potential to rise to the C-suite, there’s a tremendous amount of leadership potential living in the individuals below the senior teams and organisations can’t afford to leave that potential untapped.
Data from DDI proves firms which identify talent across the pipeline are 4.2 times more likely to outperform businesses that just focus on the senior level.
“You’re looking for people who will take feedback openly and act on it, are comfortable with ambiguity and can think outside the box,” says Ms Creedy. “Those are behavioural or personality-driven elements that you can’t observe in performance alone. Too many companies engineer their succession systems on definitions of leadership that suit their business requirements of the past, not the future.”
Encouraging gender and generational diversity is particularly important; however meeting a particular demographic target isn’t what delivers success. Rather the organisations that are leading in diversity are those who have inclusion embedded within their cultures, encouraging employees to embrace diverse perspectives, and work together across functions and locations.
Once you surface potential in your organisation, you need to help activate it. Often this is where businesses fall down; research by CEB suggests 95 per cent of companies fail to follow through on high-potential development plans. Future leaders need to be made aware of their strengths and weaknesses through early and honest feedback, gain awareness in relation to future opportunities, and ensure everyone has a development plan that will help them activate their own potential.
“Of all the resources in the firm – time, money, collective genius – one of the most valuable is also one of the most overlooked – energy,” says Ms Creedy. “Often the process of potential identification tends to drain energy, so there’s none left for accelerating it.”
Organisations must create conditions within the business to allow people to realise and unleash their potential, to get better at their current roles, and accelerate their development to acquire new leadership behaviours that will help them in future roles.
This could include creating immersive development opportunities to build new perspectives and capabilities rapidly, launching initiatives targeted at organisational priorities, and investing in transferable skills that prepare people for unfamiliar challenges. “Get people in the game earlier, take small risks and allow people to step up and prove themselves,” says Ms Creedy. “It’s essential to generate development and growth opportunities for everyone, not just high potentials, to unleash all the organisation’s potential.”
The organisations that are tapping into individual and team potential across all levels are significantly more likely to outperform their rivals financially
Research found that DDI’s interventions led to three quarters of leaders demonstrating critical future-proof leadership skills, with 82 per cent of managers, peers and direct reports saying they had observed a higher frequency of positive leadership behaviours.
A global defence contractor, for example, reports having at least two ready-now leaders for 80 per cent of all its critical positions, as well as a significant increase in diversity in senior leadership and a rise in the successful internal promotion rate from 30 to 70 per cent.
“We help companies gain a competitive advantage by having a different mindset to potential through an individual, team and organisation lens, and then enabling them to activate and accelerate that talent effectively,” says Ms Creedy.
The benefits of investing in such initiatives are clear. “Ultimately it comes down to financial performance,” she concludes. “You’ll have a stronger development culture and positive impact on engagement, of course, but CEOs are losing sleep over this issue because they know it’s going to limit their ability to financially mature as a business.
“The organisations that are tapping into individual and team potential across all levels are significantly more likely to outperform their rivals financially. That’s the carrot – having ready-now talent to achieve your strategic goals.”
To find out how DDI can help your organisation unleash leadership potential please visit https://www.ddiworld.com/thetimes2018