Transformation, not training, drives retention

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There are millions more jobs open today than there are people to fill them. On the horizon: a global talent shortage by 2030 of more than 85 million people (resulting in $8.5 trillion in unrealized annual revenue).

This means your best people are being recruited. And your job is to create a magnetic culture where they want to stay. MIT Sloan School of Management found “toxic workplace culture” to be the chief driver of the Great Resignation (outpacing both pay and burnout across all industries), which means leaders have some work to do. Shoring up a magnetic culture means building effective leaders to carry it.

This brings us to leader development. At ADVISA, we set out to refresh the old, broken ways of “training” in favor of true transformation. Instead of a leader development firm, we’re positioned as a leader effectiveness firm. This subtle shift reflects a $50 billion dollar chasm. That’s the number that’s “wasted” on leadership development every year. It’s wasted when it yields no real behavior change in the participant and, therefore, no impact on the organization.

If you’re thinking about retention and you’re interested in a leadership development initiative that’s effective, here are four critical elements you can’t ignore:

Use data to diagnose your own current state.

If you’re inside the jar, you can’t read the label. Collect objective data to get outside the jar.

Specifically, use data to get clear on the behaviors most observed among leaders, and the behaviors celebrated and tolerated organization-wide. This will give you an internal benchmark and shine light on your specific areas of strength and opportunity. It’s tempting to look at Disney or Apple and decide, for example, we should “smile more,” (they do!) but that might not be for you. Don’t look outside, guess, and risk a tone-deaf approach. Brave your own organizational awareness instead.

Knowing isn’t doing.

I love Maya Angelou, but I’d like to respectfully amend her sentiment: When you know better, you can choose to do better. Knowing doesn’t translate to doing. We all know we should eat more plants, brush our dogs’ teeth, and stop scrolling our smartphones while driving. That doesn’t mean we do it.

At work, leaders hoping to see behavior change in a direct report too often reach for a “training.” Sure, there’s a boost in short-term knowledge and perhaps some enjoyment from a day of “trainer-tainment,” but behavior change rarely results. Why? The “doing” takes time, repetition, practice and manager support. Seventy percent of behavior change happens on the job.

Changing our grown-up habits is complex work. Stop wasting your money on one-off, grab-bag workshops. Leader development is a journey, not an event.

When everything is important, nothing is.

I have a client who overcorrects. Since the training grab-bag hadn’t worked for his team in the past, he sent his leaders to learn all 67 of Lominger’s leadership competencies. They returned dizzy.

Remember the Law of Diminishing Returns here—the more we try to achieve, the less likely our success becomes. Insteadselect a qualified partner to help you define the few consistent, observable behaviors that will help enable your strategic aims. Pick five. Then work with that partner to consider which leadership capabilities (rooted in research) those behaviors will require. Pick three. Scarcity forces clarity. And it increases your chances of success.

If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.

My seventh-grade science teacher used to repeat that phrase. Leadership development is multifaceted, and it’s measurable. If you’re investing in a journey for one of your critical players, be sure there’s a way to measure the observable behaviors and capabilities you’re working to refine in the first place. It’s the only way to verify impact.

Born in the mid-14th century, the word “effective” comes from a Latin word meaning,

“that which follows from something else; a consequence, a result.”

When we talk about effective leadership, we’re really talking about specific results that follow specific behaviors. So, preface your development initiative with a people strategy: Diagnose your current state and define the behaviors you need to see in your work culture before you develop leaders to live them out.

This is a process so climacteric that it will transform the very way you define “leadership”—no longer a subjective set of characteristics someone should be but instead a clear job function, composed only of the proficiencies your organization requires to reach its goals. Build a leader like that, and you’ll get to keep them.


Want to hear more from Leadership Consultant Mandy Haskett? Read her previous article, “How to best deal with ‘Debbie Downers'”.

This article originally appeared in the Indianapolis Business Journal on September 9, 2022.