From the Bot­tom Up: A Novel Ap­proach to Lead­er­ship De­vel­op­ment

Trillions - - In this Issue - By Dr. Chance T. Ea­ton

Ac­cord­ing to Gallup re­search in 2015, over 70% of the vari­ance in em­ployee en­gage­ment is due to who leads a team. A com­mon-sense pro­fes­sional in the field of learn­ing and de­vel­op­ment, dur­ing most of my ca­reer, I have placed the bulk of my at­ten­tion on de­vel­op­ing lead­ers to ad­dress low em­ployee en­gage­ment. With­out a doubt, I have seen many cases of en­gage­ment im­prove­ment due to lead­ers in­vest­ing in their lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment. How­ever, I have also seen far too many un­der­uti­lize that in­vest­ment.

As a case in point, I re­cently de­liv­ered a lec­ture on lead­ing high-per­for­mance teams. The very next day, one of the lead­ers from the class felt in­spired to walk around the build­ing to in­ter­act with other em­ploy­ees as an act of build­ing trust – to ful­fill the les­son that peo­ple won’t trust you if you are not present and avail­able. This walk­a­bout lasted for 10 min­utes but didn’t hap­pen again. This leader was in­spired for a mo­ment but couldn’t make the com­mit­ment to fol­low through and re­ally lead. It is al­ways frus­trat­ing when an in­vest­ment in a leader doesn’t take; but when we look at the state of lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment, we can see just why those ef­forts aren’t pay­ing off in the form of re­turn on in­vest­ment.

Lead­er­ship train­ing alone is es­ti­mated to cost around $20 bil­lion per year (ATD, 2012). De­spite the large amount of dol­lars be­ing spent on lead­er­ship train­ing, how­ever, the re­turn on in­vest­ment doesn’t ap­pear to be pay­ing off. The Con­fer­ence Board has been sur­vey­ing job sat­is­fac­tion for the past 25 years, and it has found that job sat­is­fac­tion has de­clined at a steady rate, from 61% in 1987 to 47% in 2012 (Adams, 2012). HR con­sult­ing firm Mercer has found that across the globe, be­tween 28% and 56% of em­ploy­ees want to leave their jobs and 32% want to leave their jobs in the United States alone. The Gallup or­ga­ni­za­tion has found that em­ployee-dis­en­gage­ment num­bers re­main steady, at around 70%. As stated ear­lier, the data point to­ward man­age­ment be­cause 70% of the vari­ance in en­gage­ment fac­tors is due to a work group’s im­me­di­ate su­per­vi­sor (Gallup, 2015). Fi­nally, Forbes mag­a­zine au­thor Casserly (2012) said that 65% of Amer­i­cans would be hap­pier fir­ing their boss than re­ceiv­ing a salary in­crease.

If at­tain­ing high en­gage­ment in the work­place has be­come one of the most im­por­tant mo­ti­va­tions for lead­er­ship, why are our lead­er­ship prac­tices do­ing more harm than good? More im­por­tantly, how do we re­ally make mean­ing­ful im­pacts in the work­place if lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment doesn’t al­ways yield a good re­turn on in­vest­ment? The an­swer is to shift our par­a­digm of lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment.

Tra­di­tion­ally, we see the “leader” from a hier­ar­chi­cal per­spec­tive: the in­di­vid­ual driv­ing per­for­mance. As we move fur­ther away from the in­dus­trial par­a­digm, we need to see the “leader” from a col­lab­o­ra­tive per­spec­tive – one where each team mem­ber has

the po­ten­tial to in­flu­ence shared move­ment to­ward com­mon goals.

What this trans­lates to is shift­ing the fo­cus from teach­ing lead­er­ship only to lead­ers to­ward teach­ing lead­er­ship to the masses. For the past two years, I have strate­gi­cally shifted much of my lead­er­ship train­ing from for­mal lead­ers to front-line em­ploy­ees. Though this may sound contradictory, I have seen out­stand­ing re­sults.

Per­for­mance Man­age­ment Train­ing for Front-line Em­ploy­ees

The topic of per­for­mance man­age­ment haunts U.S. com­pa­nies. Ac­cord­ing to HCI (2016), only 8% of man­agers be­lieve that the tra­di­tional per­for­mance-value process ac­tu­ally drives busi­ness value and only 10% be­lieve that it is a good use of time. Fur­ther, the Cor­po­rate Ex­ec­u­tive Board has found that 90% of HR heads be­lieve that rat­ings ac­tu­ally yield ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion.

In the past, I have typ­i­cally taught this sub­ject solely to lead­ers, as they are the ones ul­ti­mately re­spon­si­ble for mak­ing judg­ments on em­ploy­ees’ per­for­mance. But notic­ing the in­ef­fec­tive­ness of this ap­proach, in 2016 I de­signed a 10-hour cur­ricu­lum that could be taught to en­tire teams, with the leader par­tic­i­pat­ing at the same time. The cur­ricu­lum con­sisted of (1) know­ing your team (us­ing per­son­al­ity grids us­ing Caliper and Clifton Strengths­finder), (2) know­ing your role (get­ting com­fort­able hav­ing di­a­logues con­cern­ing job du­ties and com­pe­ten­cies), (3) em­ployee en­gage­ment and (4) mea­sur­ing per­for­mance us­ing rat­ing scales and SMART goals.

As a re­sult, I have seen an up­ward pres­sure placed on the lead­ers to per­form. Since the en­tire team was taught the same con­tent, they be­gan to use the same vo­cab­u­lary, be­came per­son­ally ac­count­able to team en­gage­ment, shifted from a weak­ness fo­cus to a strength-based fo­cus and co-cre­ated rat­ing scales to fit their team’s per­for­mance. Out­side the train­ing ses­sions, in a pri­vate set­ting, I have a short meet­ing with the for­mal lead­ers, ex­plain­ing that they, the for­mal lead­ers, have the most po­ten­tial in­flu­ence over a team’s per­for­mance and that the en­gage­ment data can be a nice base­line for mea­sur­ing growth in a team’s en­gage­ment. This cre­ates a leader feed­back mech­a­nism for the for­mal lead­ers and ex­tra ac­count­abil­ity for their own lead­er­ship per­for­mance.

By train­ing the masses, you not only build a cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity for ev­ery­one but you also put an up­ward pres­sure, not down­ward, on the leader by their own team mem­bers. In fact, I had an em­ployee re­cently go back to their su­per­vi­sor and pro­vide feed­back on the su­per­vi­sor’s lack of pro­vid­ing team recog­ni­tion. The em­ployee had learned, in the train­ing, that recog­ni­tion is a valid com­po­nent of per­for­mance man­age­ment, and they needed their leader to per­form just as they were. This re­quires a cul­ture of ac­count­abil­ity and trust, and team per­for­mance train­ing delivers just that. I have also seen teams col­lec­tively re­build rat­ing sys­tems that fit their busi­ness and pro­vide strength-based project as­sign­ment goals, em­ployee self-rat­ing in one-onone su­per­vi­sor meet­ings, a cul­ture of em­ployee-driven recog­ni­tion and higher fre­quency and qual­ity one-on-ones. Quite sim­ply, ed­u­cat­ing en­tire teams – not just the leader – has re­sulted in or­ganic and mean­ing­ful re­sults.

Since lead­er­ship ed­u­ca­tion for the masses is a par­a­digm shift, I have def­i­nitely re­ceived push-back. I re­cently taught a course en­ti­tled “The Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge,” based on Jim Kouzes and Barry Pos­ner’s work (2012). This open-en­roll­ment of­fer­ing to a com­pany re­sulted in 20 par­tic­i­pants, two of whom were for­mal lead­ers while the rest were front-line work­ers. The CEO couldn’t un­der­stand why his ad­min­is­tra­tive as­sis­tant had en­rolled in the class, be­cause she was def­i­nitely not a leader. I had to ex­plain to him that, for one, lead­ers of­ten don’t feel they have the need to im­prove their lead­er­ship skills – hence low en­rol­ment. I know this be­cause that is ex­actly what lead­ers have told me: “I’m al­ready a leader, and I don’t need train­ing on it.” Sec­ond, front­line em­ploy­ees are scream­ing for higher qual­ity lead­er­ship and aren’t find­ing it in their cur­rent lead­ers, so they want to be­come part of the so­lu­tion and en­hance their own lead­er­ship skills in the process. I also know this be­cause that is ex­actly what they told me.

The data is clear: The cur­rent lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment train­ing mod­els aren’t work­ing, and fo­cus­ing sole at­ten­tion on lead­ers is of­ten an in­ef­fec­tive strat­egy. When you be­gin to de­velop lead­er­ship from the bot­tom up, teams or­gan­i­cally be­gin ap­ply­ing an up­ward pres­sure on their lead­ers to per­form. Lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment will never die, but how we teach it and who we teach it to must change. If we want to cre­ate the next gen­er­a­tion of ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship, we need to shift from solely tra­di­tional top-down lead­er­ship de­vel­op­ment mod­els to or­ganic, col­lab­o­ra­tive, team­based lead­er­ship mod­els.

Adams, S. (Novem­ber 10, 2011). “Em­ployee Loy­alty Drop­ping World­wide.” Forbes. Re­trieved at forbes.com/ sites/su­sanadams/2011/11/10/em­ployee-loy­alty-drop­ping­world­wide/#3c0e13bf5d61

Adams, S. (June 28, 2012). “Amer­i­cans Are Start­ing to Hate Their Jobs Less, Study Shows.” Forbes. Re­trieved at forbes. com/sites/su­sanadams/2012/06/28/amer­i­cans-are-start­ing-to­hate-their-jobs-less-study-shows/atd staff (De­cem­ber 6, 2012).

“$156 Bil­lion Spent on Train­ing and De­vel­op­ment.” Re­trieved at astd.org/publications/blogs/astd-blog02012/12/

Beck, R., & Harter, J. (April 21, 2015). “Man­agers Ac­count for 70% of Vari­ance in Em­ployee En­gage­ment.” Re­trieved at news. gallup.com/busi­nessjour­nal/182792/man­agers-ac­count­vari­ance-em­ployee-en­gage­ment.aspx

Casserly, M. (Oc­to­ber 17, 2012). “Ma­jor­ity of Amer­i­cans Would Rather Fire Their Boss Than Get a Raise.” Forbes. Re­trieved at forbes.com/sites/meghan­casserly/2012/10/17/ ma­jor­ity-of-amer­i­cans-would-rather-fire-their-boss-than-get-araise/#1a8b217a6610

Crowly, M. (June 4, 2013). “Gallup’s Work­place Jedi on How to Fix Our Em­ployee En­gage­ment Prob­lem.” Fast Com­pany.

Gallup (2015). “State of the Amer­i­can Man­ager: An­a­lyt­ics & Ad­vice for Lead­ers.” Hu­man Cap­i­tal In­sti­tute (HCI) (2016). “HCI Per­for­mance Man­age­ment In­no­va­tion Con­fer­ence.” Chicago, Ill.

Kouzes, J., and Pos­ner, B. (2012). The Lead­er­ship Chal­lenge (5th ed.). San Fran­cisco: Wi­ley.

Dr. Chance Ea­ton has over a decade’s worth of ex­pe­ri­ence work­ing in the field of learn­ing and or­ga­ni­za­tional de­vel­op­ment. Due to his unique ed­u­ca­tional and work ex­pe­ri­ences in fi­nance, psy­chol­ogy, lead­er­ship and man­age­ment, ed­u­ca­tion, noetic sciences and agri­cul­ture, Dr. Ea­ton pro­vides his clients with rel­e­vant busi­ness so­lu­tions grounded in the­ory and re­search. To learn more about Dr. Ea­ton’s ser­vices, please visit: Hr­so­lu­tion­sin­ter­na­tional.com.

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