Why #leadership development #fails & #How to #fix it!

What’s with the # – It’s for #twitter. But imagine if everything was written with a ‘#’, if everything was a keyword? How would that work?

Well, it is no different for the first time leader. A new language, new words, new meanings and too much information which can be blinding. A new place where everything has an alternative and every decision has a repercussion, more than ever. If you are already what one can call a ‘leader’ you know the pressure I am talking about.

The pressure to change, to live up, to manage, to drive and to deliver! But how? With a world where everything seems to be top priority, like the # or the keyword, every new leader takes one of two ways  :

A: Ignores all hashtags ‘#’ and goes with the best guess any way! OR B: Tries to deal with all of them and eventually burns out!

While our poor protagonist is making the wrong choice or the wrong choice, the mounting pressure teaches him/ her to either pretend or defend. That’s the behavioral approach which is the social equivalent of being either a lifelong victim or a ‘know it all’. Where is the ‘leader’ in all this, you ask? So do I!

Add to this, a dose of the ‘leadership development workshop’ and the person in question hears the following :

#Sources of power for a #leader | #Types of #leaders | #Leadership principles | #Leadership Best Practices | #Leadership Models | #Delegation | #Situational Leadership | #Action centered #leadership | #level5 Leadership | #Feedback | #Lead by #example | #Team-Management | # Task-Management | #Conflict Management | #People & #Project Management | #Inspiration | #Problem solving | #Decision making | #Motivation”

Thats pretty much every two day leadership workshop ever designed. To you, me and every other L&D / HR professional these are must have skills! To the protagonist, nothing but more words.

How do these words benefit them? What should they do when, under pressure, these words frankly just don’t occur to them?

The answer is not to change everything head over heels and de-credit what the best of thinkers and management maestros have thought up. All the buzzwords and # (hashtags) are both important and relevant. The challenge however is in how these are driven and drilled down the to-be leaders #neural network?

The answer may be in Bloom’s taxonomy. Blooms taxonomy is a model that demarcates levels of adult learning. Understanding this could be the key to teaching and driving leadership development.

Most of current leadership content takes people (learners) to the receiving andresponding level i.e. they understand the definitions and are able to recall it when faced with the terms in day to day conversations.

Some workshops, practice oriented sessions and customized learning experiences do manage to take this leadership learning to the organizing level i.e. participants are able to plot valid responses, scenarios and tools together. But is this enough to prepare these learners for the real world challenges and expectations?

To make meaningful difference, we need to take this learning to the ‘Valuing‘  and ‘Internalizing‘ levels. How?

While even through workshops that are limited in content but deep rooted in practice, some amount of this is certainly possible. However, I have always seen the best results through #gamification and #simulation.

Here are some ideas that you can use for the next set of people you work with :

1. Use theatre – It’s nothing complicated and there are many ways of using this. For e.g. Make and prepare a drama club in your office and use them to drive situations where learners participate and get to respond to complex workplace conversations as leaders and managers. Feel free to take this to other avenues of learning like communication and customer service. If not this, give simple scenarios and get teams to role-play them without knowing what the opposition plans to do.

2. Use Gamification – I don’t mean to complicate at all, but this simply means to create content where people get to decide on their own, pay for the consequences and build rewards on their own with limited supervised learning. For the nay-sayers, this is not idealistic because the activity is still very much supervised, the learning is not! For e.g. here are few things you can do :

  • I designed this simulation called the ‘6talk plan’ for managerial development.
  • This is basically the 6 key conversations every manager needs to have with their subordinates – 1. Start of the annual goal setting 2. Quarterly / Incidental Review 3. Half Yearly Review 4. Personalized feedback / teaching moments (Task based) 5. Personalized feedback / teaching moments (Behavior based) and 6. Annual review and appraisal discussion.
  • I recommend that you go the whole hog and invest a week in building content for this. You will need a Fictitious company brief, a CEO brief (To whom everybody reports including the protagonist), a Manager Brief, Team member profiles 4-5 (Fictitious). This is just background.
  • Then you need situational cases for each of the 6 conversations and cue cards for concepts / models that you would like people to use. If possible, even video record these briefs as personal anecdotes instead of words on paper.
  • Each case then needs to be played by unique trio’s , Manager – Team Member – Observer (Regulate roles here!)
  • You can also record an ideal conversation on video so that people can learn and compare to.
  • Quick-tip – Make it tough and realistic at all times. Too basic and you will have people bored, too complicated and they will disengage. Don’t be afraid of some trial and error.

3. Use Business Simulation – Personally, I am a big fan of Ram Charan’s and Larry Bossidy’s book called ‘Execution’. I feel it effectively describes what every leader should know about getting things done. In essence it says that there are three key aspects to perfect execution : People, Operations and Strategy

Points 1 and 2 in this article work really well when teaching ‘People’ and to some extent ‘Operations’ aspects. But for strategy the key is to teach people about the broader picture. Strong debrief, business leader feedback and buy-in are crucial here. If you have a good budget, maybe you can go for some real time online simulation like Capstone etc., if like me the budgets are often tighter and the management wants ‘Harvard’ like learning in ‘private-tuition’ costs, try using Monopoly and/ or Human Chess!

What I have shared here are merely some quick ideas of building more meaningful leadership development options for your workforce. Needless to say that the intent is not to prove that theory isn’t important. The question simply is how to treat it the right way to ensure application?

While you try your hand at the above tips, please do use your judgement focusing on how to leverage on these ideas and not just replace everything else. Let me leave you with a story that tells us why this judgement is critical for both , leadership development and learning in general :

This is allegedly a true story. Engineers at a major aerospace company were instructed to test the effects of bird-strikes (notably geese) on the windshields of airliners and military jets. To simulate the effect of a goose colliding with an aircraft travelling at high speed, the test engineers built a powerful gun, with which they fired dead chickens at the windshields. The simulations using the gun and the dead chickens worked extremely effectively, happily proving the suitability of the windshields, and several articles about the project appeared in the testing industry press.

It so happened that another test laboratory in a different part of the world was involved in assessing bird-strikes – in this case on the windshields and drivers’ cabs of new very high speed trains. The train test engineers had read about the pioneering test developed by the aerospace team, and so they approached them to ask for specifications of the gun and the testing methods. The aerospace engineers duly gave them details, and the train engineers set about building their own simulation.

The simulated bird-strike tests on the train windshields and cabs produced shocking results. The supposed state-of-the-art shatter-proof high speed train windshields offered little resistance to the high-speed chickens; in fact every single windshield that was submitted for testing was smashed to pieces, along with a number of train cabs and much of the test booth itself.

The horrified train engineers were concerned that the new high speed trains required a safety technology that was beyond their experience, so they contacted the aerospace team for advice and suggestions, sending them an extensive report of the tests and failures.

The brief reply came back from the aero-engineers: “You need to defrost the chickens….”


Abhinandan Chatterjee (Article also available independently at www.abhinandanchatterjee.com / www.humanwareworks.com / LinkedIn)

Connect on twitter for #HR folks : @humanwareworks

The ‘Value’ Culture

While working across the board with over 50 organizations and 12 industries, I have always heard employee’s complaint of favoritism, or inconsistency in decision-making, or lack of fairness. This constant cribbing gets to me at times; I can only wonder what it does to the poor HR people!

I am looking at only one side of the story here, the employee’s side, I am sure there is an organizational perspective to justify whatever, but hey, this side is a big one and it is hard not to choose it over others.

I do wonder if you have ever faced this challenge. If so, the problem – and the solution – may be your organization’s values.

On its face, identifying values to guide workplace behaviors and decisions seems reasonable, productive, and highly desirable. Yet such values may, in fact, be detrimental to the organization’s health. In fact, unless managers go beyond merely identifying organizational values, unintended negative outcomes are likely to occur.

For example: An organization where honesty is fostered; maybe pushed too hard, processes become so stringent that they begin to hamper its growth by reducing flexibility. Or for that matter, too much focus on fairness and equality will not let two colleagues with minor hierarchical differences to work together; they will simply be scared that ‘what it might look like?’

The fact that values are subjective is the reason they may be detrimental to organizational health. To take this discussion further, let’s take the value of ‘Integrity’ as an example. Each of us has a “picture” of what integrity looks like. That picture varies from person to person – and in fact, often is very fuzzy. We tend to think, “I’ll know integrity when I see it.” That’s not good enough: when the pictures vary, so do the judgments of who is acting with integrity and who is not.

You and I could argue all day about whether someone has acted with – or without – integrity without reaching agreement because we’re arguing about a subjective concept. In order for us to resolve this argument, we have to agree on specific behaviors that demonstrate “integrity” so we have a more objective way of assessing the extent to which someone’s behaviors and decisions reflect this value.

I wonder whether it might cover the flight of good intentions from an employee and make him look like being an ‘Asslicker’ (Sorry for the language, the last I checked, this is what we used!)

The impact of such situations can have a life-long effect on the people and the culture of any organization

Hence, there are very real costs to the organization when employees perceive a disparity between stated values and actual behaviors.

Based on this discrepancy, employees might conclude that management is inconsistent, unfair, and shows favoritism.

They may experience feelings such as disillusionment, anger, betrayal, disappointment, confusion, and distrust. An organization that articulates values sets the expectation that its managers’ behaviors and decisions will reflect those values.

What if this can’t happen because employees and managers define values differently? In addition to the above negative outcomes, we can expect low morale, decreased trust, and increased cynicism.

Yes, managers are expected to demonstrate these values, but new managers, new to the role, the team, the task or to the company will find it hard to demonstrate a set of mnemonics he or she barely remembers. In my book, it’s not too much of a fault for them too.

We can maximize the likelihood that employees’ expectations will be met by identifying specific behaviors that indicate people are acting with integrity, having conversations around those behaviors, and distinguishing clearly between desirable and undesirable behaviors.

For example, I would characterize people as acting with integrity when they engage in the following behavior:

– Do what they say they’ll do.
– Tell the truth.
– Make decisions based on stated criteria and logic (e.g. Work    allocation,        promotions, appraisals).
– Hold themselves accountable for their behaviors.
– Hold others accountable for their (others’) behaviors.
– Admit their mistakes and take responsibility for them.

Once we have identified and communicated the behaviors represented by the value of integrity, we can have a productive conversation.

NOW we’re getting somewhere!

Here are nine steps to ensure that your organization’s values are not detrimental to its health:

1. Identify a few values that support the strategic goals and define them at the organization level.

2. Have, Invest in developing people based on their natural value sets or hire based on it, managers and employees collaborate on personalizing those values – i.e. identify specific behaviors that demonstrate each value and groom people who demonstrate them more.

Note: Examples of specific behaviors may change at different levels. All behaviors should be consistent with the organization’s definition of each value so there is alignment up and down the organization. For reference, you can look at the Affective Domain of the Bloom’s Taxonomy – ‘RRVOI’

i.e. Level 1(Frontline) audiences are mostly stuck at the first R-Receiving & R-Responding, Level 2 audiences (Middle Management) take it mostly to V-Valuing and if done with care even O-Organizing. Only the Level 3(Senior Management) can be and should be deemed capable of I-Internalizing the organizational values.

3. Communicate the behaviors through multiple media. Don’t just share the values. Break it down for those who don’t think.

4. Incorporate the values and their respective behaviors into the performance management process – for managers as well as for employees. State what behaviors you WANT, rather than those you don’t want.

5. Ensure all systems support the values and do not punish desired behaviors (e.g., when teamwork is a value, rewards are based on team behaviors rather than on individual behaviors).

6. Provide training as necessary (e.g., how to identify relevant behaviors, how to evaluate behaviors, how to give and receive constructive feedback).

7. Reward/recognize people whose behaviors demonstrate the values.

8. Take corrective action when behaviors violate the values.

9. Ensure that managers consistently model the desired behaviors.

What percent of your employees can identify your organization’s values?

How many of those individuals can tell you what each value “looks like” in terms of their own performance?

Unless you are able to answer nearly 100%, you may want to consider taking the above steps to improve the health of your organization. End of the day, it takes more than an apple to keep the doctor away.