As a leadership development professional, I am often asked about return on investment:
“If I pull our leaders away from the field for this program, how will I know it’s working?”
To best respond to that question, we need to look at behavior. By tracing back to the conventions that will be changed, you can empirically measure the program’s benefit. These behaviors may be seen in the new leaders themselves—or in the people who report to them.
What are the signs that new leaders need development?
Here are the four we here at Insight Experience see most often.
1. More order-taking than critical thinking:
“We don’t have enough people who look around corners. They just accept work requests and perform them like robots."
Less experienced leaders are used to being rewarded for task completion, regardless of whether the solution has the best long-term outcome or not. These same leaders often defer responsibility for this, citing the direction they were given.
The behavior you want to develop: Upon receiving a work request, the new leader should offer additional insight based on their expertise and ask good questions. They should also encourage their direct reports to do the same; you want the work product to be shaped by those who are closest to the work.
2. Duplicate work and rework:
Rework and “reinvention of the wheel” are constant problems suffered by many organizations and can be traced to novice leaders. New leaders may be unaware of similar projects in the pipeline because of their immature peer network. Their strategic translation skills may be underdeveloped, and so employees spend time on work that ultimately has to be redone.
I once had a leader who asked everyone to estimate the amount of time spent on rework that year. By using this estimate and each person’s compensation, he determined that we spent 20% of our resources redoing work that had already been completed. That meant the average employee was spending an entire day every week on rework. For a 30-person company, we were sacrificing 1,500 days a year that could have been spent on new ideas.
The behavior you want to develop: Leaders should promote a culture in which people, before the work is done, push for clarity from internal and external customers about work requirements. They also need to invest time in peer networking to know what others are working on, and broadcast the work their own teams are doing.
3. Lack of productive conflict:
Company cultures fall along a conflict continuum. At one extreme, there exist the passive-aggressive avoiders and, at the other, the ones who duck and cover. The work cultures at either end of the continuum are often plagued by leaders that promote and reward that behavior.
Productive conflict is a balance and has an important value proposition. Cultures that lack productive conflict have longer cycle times, more rework, less innovation, and higher turnover.
The behavior you want to develop: Look for employees who comfortably disagree across the hierarchy, offer new ideas, and comfortably coexist with different points of view.
4. Quality Problems and Service Failures:
I was once asked by a CEO:
“Why would we invest in leadership development for our front-line supervisors?”
It took a moment to realize he was not joking.
New leaders may be at the first level of a leadership hierarchy, but they are the closest to the customers and their experiences. Production failures, customer service breakdowns, inventory back orders, and other problems impact the customer directly.
New leaders impact these front-line issues directly; the business case for their development is clear.
The behavior you want to develop: You want leaders who tackle each front-line issue by engaging their teams to identify root causes and find creative solutions.
Head here to learn more about our Developing New Leaders simulation-based leadership development programs, which enable new leaders to practice leadership skills in a risk-free environment, cultivate their abilities, and develop a perspective that will allow them to drive success.
Karen Maxwell Powell
Karen Maxwell Powell is the General Manager of Insight Experience, an award-winning global leadership development company with an expertise in business simulations. We develop and deliver group-based learning programs that grow leadership skills, develop business acumen, deepen relationships, and reinforce culture.