Dr Sujaya Banerjee

Dr Sujaya Banerjee is the Chief Talent Officer - Essar Group, Founder of L&OD Roundtable and Women Leadership Forum of Asia (wlfa.in).

Developing Effective Leaders – Building Robust Leadership Pipelines

Dr Sujaya Banerjee

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The Succession Management Dilemma:

89 per cent respondents of a 2003 Corporate Leadership Council poll believed that succession planning efforts were of utmost importance within their organisation. This near-unanimous verdict re-affirmed the popular belief that in the wake of the war of talent, building a strong and robust talent pipeline was no longer a ‘good to have’ but an ‘organisational necessity’.  A subsequent study by SHRM in 2011 however brought to the forefront the paradoxical finding that even though organisations recognised the need to build robust talent pipelines and succession pools, only 23 per cent of organisations actually had formal mechanisms for developing in-house leaders.

The Vicious Circle of Promotions:

1 - CopyMost enterprises in India Inc. spend significant resources on talent acquisition and on attracting cadres from premiere technical/ management schools year-on-year. In the IT/ Manufacturing sector in particular, the number of new recruits, especially at an entry levels often constitute a significant number of New Employees who in turn need to be inducted and provided meaningful assignments to sustain engagement levels and build positive brand connect.  Research from SHL indicates that, entry level talent in India expect to be promoted within a year of assuming their positions which is significantly lower than that compared to other Asian and European countries. In fact, more often than not the value proposition of a new job being offered to entry level talent is not the quality of work corresponding to the new job role but the designations on offer.

Moreover, external job offers are usually made at a level higher than what the Employee is currently operating in, which leads to him/her rapidly moving up the organisational hierarchy without developing skills which help them manage people effectively and in turn actualise their own potential. If we look around us, we will find plenty of examples of leadership derailment, especially among young managers who rose to leadership positions by rapidly changing assignments in their early years. Many of these managers who were billed as Star Performers in the early years of their career reached a glass-ceiling in their mid 30s where the roles on offer demanded greater leadership versatility and their compensation levels often did not justify the expertise brought on to the table.

Examining Existing Theories of Organization Behavior:

If we look at theories of organizational behavior, we will find that in recent years, proponents of the Trait Theory of leadership have significantly diminished in number. The Trait Theory, as one is aware advocates the fact that leaders are born and possess certain distinguishing characteristics which differentiate them from other employees.  On the other hand, behavioural theories of leadership which have gained wider acceptance in recent years affirm that it is possible to teach people Leadership.

Most of the existing Literature on organisational learning and transformational leadership focuses on listening, empowering, and inspiring people. They are all by in large prescriptive while ignoring the situational aspect of leadership that is a leadership style cannot be generalised and that leadership versatility is key depending on the situations on offer. For example, Hansie Cronje, the erstwhile Captain of the South African cricket team was lauded in his early years of captaincy as one of the greatest motivators of all time, and yet he in his later years was indicted in the match fixing scam, which led to his fall from grace

Leadership Versatility is Key!

2 - CopyEarly Studies by Bake and Mouton in 1964 who defined leadership behaviors in task-relationship oriented dichotomy referred to management approaches which are “focused on finishing assigned tasks with little concern for follower’s human needs” on the one hand (task) and “creating a friendly atmosphere of work but fail to deliver on output” on the other (relationships). Their key findings was that effective leaders utilised both approaches by fitting to the management needs of given people situation. What is important about the ‘middle of the road’ approach is that it involves a ‘balanced need for task accomplishment and maintaining healthy relationships’ style of leadership as opposed to being perceived as popular but someone who is unlikely to initiate changes in the status quo.

Managing Leadership Transitions:

Ramcharan’s Celebrated Model of Leadership focusses on the transitions that employees make as they start of as individual contributors and move on to becoming leaders of people, leaders of teams, manage departments, functions and eventually the business. Therefore it is imperative that organisations invest in structured capability building interventions which help employees manage these transitions effectively. Moreover the overwhelmingly high rates of leadership failure (50per cent of external recruits leave within a year of joining) complemented with the general perception of having an acute middle management crisis bears testimony to the fact that while India Inc may have invested in developing capability among leadership, ad-hoc and standardised interventions are often counter-productive.

Key Points to Remember while designing Leadership Development Interventions:

At a junior management level, where the focus is on leading self it is imperative that we design leadership development interventions which focus on building technical/ functional competence and enhancing personal/ professional effectiveness. For employees who are at the middle management level, the focus shifts from developing self to managing teams (developing others). Many individual contributors who were high performers in their previous roles often fail to adapt to their new role of being leaders of people. They either fall prey to a general tendency of attempting to do everything by themselves or end us delegating and losing control of individual assignments. Therefore providing structured inputs of managing people, effective communication and coaching direct reports for performance improvement becomes key as part of new leader development programs.

The transition from being leaders of functions to leaders of the business is critical and must depend on whether a higher role exists in the organisational hierarchy. Senior/ middle management transitions are not an entitlement based on tenure and organisations and employees must reconcile to this seemingly discomforting but obvious fact.

At senior management levels, the focus shifts of getting differentiated inputs on managing change efforts to positively impact productivity and levels of engagement. Differentiated offerings must focus on leaders developing a greater perspective on value creation activities and formulating and developing strategy, developing strategic relationships with internal and external stakeholders, managing stakeholder expectations and enhanced financial acumen. A one sized fits approach or partnering with eminent institutes/ service providers under the aegis of leadership development is counter-productive and often a waste of time and resources.

Compensation and Reward strategies must be designed with the objective of ensuring that employees are adequately compensated for putting in discretionary efforts. A robust Talent development intervention is one which is adequately complemented by a robust Rewards and Recognition policy.

A Quick Checklist on Effective Leadership Development Interventions:

Here is my quick checklist of what constitutes effective leadership development interventions:

  • – The program must be aligned to the organisation’s larger business goals and strategy and should not be conducted in isolation
  • – The program must necessarily lead to improved professional effectiveness for participants leading to competitive advantage for the business
  • – The program should not be treated as a “one-off intervention” but should be viewed as a continuous process leading to enhanced performance on the job, improved behavior and achievement of results
  • – The leadership development intervention must be treated as process and not just an event
  • – During the define and design phase one must seek inputs from the program sponsor/ key stakeholders and weave it into the program design

While driving and deploying learning transfer for the leadership development program remember the following key pointers:

  • – One must remember to build the learning transfer support mechanism during the program design and explore the use of automated transfer support systems.
  • – Performance support is vital when providing new skillsets. One must explore providing job aids/ creating e-groups on social learning platforms/ webinars to facilitate this.
  • – While documenting effectiveness of the leadership development program one must measure what you wanted to achieve as part of the define stage and must report out results to your sponsor/ stakeholders in business language and not HR jargon.
  • – The last point is KEY and helps re-affirm credible commitment towards building leadership talent!

What Organisations must NOT do in the name of Leadership Development:

Here is my list of Strict No-No’s while designing and deploying leadership development interventions:

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  • – Most standardised programs are off-the-shelf leadership development initiatives and don’t link to larger organisational goals. Ensure you invest in customising these to suit your own needs.
  • – Learning transfer is key – often content covered is not content that is learnt!
  • – The intervention is often treated like leadership training, rather than a leadership development intervention. This must be avoided at all times.
  • – The intervention must be positioned as one which will help develop skill-sets which will positively impact leaders and make them more productive. The sessions must be designed keeping in mind principles of adult learning and must NOT be prescriptive
  • – The sponsor (usually the CEO) must be accountable for success of the intervention. Lack of ownership adversely impact effectiveness of what may otherwise be a well-designed intervention.

Ensuring early wins by demonstrating the impact of the intervention to relevant stakeholders is key. For example, technocrats actively contributing to financial reviews post participating in a leadership development intervention focused on developing financial acumen are great stories to tell!

Concluding Observations:

Contrary to the general perception that leadership development involves investment of substantial resources, effective talent development interventions are ones which can be executed even at nominal/low costs provided it is designed to help the organisation address an existing pain point and is not implemented in isolation. There are plenty of live cases of organisations building cutting edge leadership development interventions without involving external learning partners / enrolling for continuous education opportunities for foreign universities. The reason these interventions have been successful is because of a credible commitment from leadership teams towards building capability among employees at all levels and understanding what will work and what wont!

Designing effective interventions can be co-related to the analogy to preparing a one course dinner having the flexibility of choosing from exotic ingredients in an open kitchen. It is important that we choose the right ingredients and NOT necessarily all that is on offer – that in my opinion is the formula for what constitutes effective transformational interventions!

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