Use Leadership Competency Models
As I noted in this previous post, the American Society for Training & Development revealed that after leadership training only about 15% of the skills learned are actually transferred to real life situations in the workplace. Leadership development programs often focus more on theory and ideas rather than on action and learning by doing.
Clearly, we’re structuring leadership development programs in the wrong way. The earlier post notes adult learning theory and how that applies to the failures of most programs. However, regardless of how you structure and present a program, you have to choose the right participants, those who are likely to succeed in leadership roles.
One way to choose your future leaders is to develop competency models. If you don’t focus on developing and encouraging the skills that are most needed and take the time to define what success looks like for each leadership position and how you will measure it, your efforts will be challenging at best, and failures at worst. It will be very difficult to determine when someone has achieved it and your process for hiring and promoting will suffer.
In short, leadership competencies are skills and behaviors that contribute to superior performance in the role of a leader at any level.
This article in Mindtools walks you through the process of developing a competency model. Three principals are identified as critical in developing your framework:
Involve the people doing the work – These frameworks should not be developed solely by HR people, who don't always know what each job actually involves. Nor should they be left to managers, who don't always understand exactly what each member of their staff does every day. To understand a role fully, you have to go to the source – the person doing the job – as well as getting a variety of other inputs into what makes someone successful in that job.
Communicate – People tend to get nervous about performance issues. Let them know why you're developing the framework, how it will be created, and how you'll use it. The more you communicate in advance, the easier your implementation will be.
Use relevant competencies – Ensure that the competencies you include apply to all roles covered by the framework. If you include irrelevant competencies, people will probably have a hard time relating to the framework in general. For example, if you created a framework to cover the whole organization, then financial management would not be included unless every worker had to demonstrate that skill. However, a framework covering management roles would almost certainly involve the financial management competency.
A study by HBR shows that differing levels of leadership require different skills. It also shows that the universal skills may vary in important at different levels.
Why do competency models matter? Your organization most likely has corporate values. Those values, as guiding principles, should have a corresponding set of behaviors that are used when hiring, promoting and evaluating performance. A model will help you align actual behavior with your culture and business strategy. Being able to coach an employee on where she failed to meet a defined set of expectations or where there is room for improvement is a cornerstone to effective performance management and employee development. Conversely, being able to tell her specifically which behaviors are leading to her success will encourage a continuation and development of those behaviors beyond the current situation. Employee satisfaction and engagement are beneficiaries of such clear standards and communication.
Building a strong and effective leadership succession plan is much easier when you have a clearly defined set of skills, knowledge and abilities. Only when you have defined these items can you create a meaningful training program and help you to choose the best employees to be considered for future leadership roles.
Helping you to identify which employees have the needed skills – which can then be developed in training so they can be properly applied in situations a leader may face – is beneficial to creating and maintaining your leadership development efforts. Likewise, your efforts at building the model will help you to determine if your current recruiting and selection process is meeting your needs. Leadership is important at many levels of an organization. If you’re not selecting or promoting employees that have the basic skills you seek, your efforts at leadership development will be empty.