Increasing employee engagement and creating a supportive culture has proven to be a difficult challenge for businesses. Despite spending millions on leadership training, engagement remains stubbornly low at no more than 35% in most organizations and is often much lower, impacting employee job performance and company success.
Relying on decades of experience in a variety of organizations, Mary Hladio realized that a workforce that is not truly engaged in their work means the leadership training is not working. She decided to address the reasons for this in her book, Developing Leaders: Why Traditional Leadership Training Misses the Mark.
The overriding theme of this book is that organizations are mistaking leadership training as the equivalent of leadership development. Leadership training is usually delivered in a one-size-fits-all format with generic information and does not consider the unique problems or challenges of the organization nor the human dynamics in the workforce.
The organization’s assumption is that canned presentations and non-customized workshop curriculums can fix employee-related challenges, like lack of engagement or inability to adapt to ongoing change. For more specifically on employee engagement read the excellent book The Workplace Engagement Solution.
Leadership development, on the other hand, recognizes that change is not an event. It is an ongoing process with no beginning or end. Leaders need customized information that helps them become agile at applying learning to specific situations as they occur over time. Not only is change ongoing, but the legendary book Innovator’s Dilemma makes the case exceptionally well that is ne necessary.
Organizations talk about change management, but what they should recognize is that change leadership is needed. They are two different things. Change managers are coping with change and trying to handle it, instead of helping employees embrace change in their own unique positive way so they prosper and thrive as a result of change. Ryan Berman is an expert on change. In fact, he wrote the book on it: Return On Courage.
Mary Hladio mentions 10 myths about developing leaders, and each one deserves thoughtful consideration. For example, myth one is that what works for GE or Disney will work for any organization. Her point is that boxed, cookie-cutter training programs are not likely to address an organization’s specific problems. For more on this read the book Give'em the Pickle! which Macy’s uses in its training.
Myth six says training is meant to fix people. Hladio says people do not need fixing. Processes and the broader work environments do. Each myth has this idea at its core: generic training can fix people, culture and all business challenges. It cannot.
The training approach does not force people to identify the specific organizational problems in need of solutions, so nothing really changes. Leaders must understand human nature is such that individuals learn, communicate and respond to change differently, so helping people flourish requires leaders who understand these human dynamics. For more on this you’ll want to read the amazingly insightful books The Advantage and Stumbling On Happiness.
The author makes the interesting point that time cannot be managed because it cannot be changed. Yet, employees can get better organized by linking prioritized initiatives to specific business goals. Instead of managing time, people should manage tasks based on an understanding of priorities. To dive deep into this specific subject you simply must read the book E-Myth.
Hladio also says that leaders cannot manage stress because each person experiences and reacts to stressors in unique ways. Instead, leaders must have the skills to promote a healthy workplace, like policies that benefit worker wellness, employee recognition systems and valuing individuals through organizational culture. Think environmental management instead of stress management. Something that Stanley McChrystal talks about in great and edifying detail in his book Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World.
After methodically making the case for leadership that helps people succeed rather than cope, Hladio discusses the consequences of ineffective leadership development. They include trying to address current problems and anticipate future ones with traditional training that leads to the same old solutions; increased employee disengagement; lack of emotional connection to the workplace which hurts productivity.
A host of non-productive behaviors are also consequences including employee conflicts, lack of initiative, lack of trust, high absenteeism, and so on. There are productivity costs and financial costs to bad leadership development. Good leadership development practices can prevent these consequences, strengthen employee engagement and create a culture in which employees feel supported when change occurs.
Daniel Pink would likely argue that a good amount of this could also be solved by focusing on employees’ intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. In fact he wrote a book DRIVE to share how important and impactful these two motivators are.
Mary Hladio developed a leadership model called FUEL (Find, Utilize, Engage, Lead) that is a roadmap for connecting your company development goals to your corporate strategy. Which is the precursor to the creation of any leadership development system.
FIND refers to identifying the specific competencies that leaders need to develop first, then customizing development activities to address them.
UTILIZE refers to identifying unique success factors for the organization and using them to design customized strategies that address specific organizational initiatives, like hiring and succession planning.
ENGAGE is the stage during which the organization measures what employees value and determines the most effective communication channels for communicating each person’s role in a more productive, sustainable organization.
LEAD ties the other three strategies together. This is where you apply what we’ve learned and put it to the test within the organization’s development planning.
Mary Hladio’s perspective on the failures of leadership training and the need for leadership development may have found the missing link between leadership training and employee engagement. She does a good job of explaining why investments in traditional training activities have failed and then follows up with a blueprint. The author also provides numerous concrete examples of FUEL put into action. Another great book to read on developing your organization for success is Traction.
The ultimate message is that organizations need to identify specific organizational problems and challenges first and then develop change leaders who are effective at developing and implementing solutions for specific problems.