Developing Organizational Leadership at Every Level

Most studies show that on average, 60% of new managers fail within their first 24 months in a new position. Furthermore, according to Steve Smith, author of Managing for Success: Practical Advice for Managers, the main reason new managers fail is that they were never properly trained to manage.

Let’s look at how that comes to pass. You hire an employee for a front-line entry-level position. Perhaps it’s something as simple as routine building maintenance including cleaning restrooms and emptying the trash. Say that employee shows a lot of gumption, works hard, and has great attention to detail so you train him to become a machine operator. Just like with his maintenance duties, he has a great work ethic and strong attention to detail in the new position. He quickly be-comes one of your best machine operators. So far, so good right?

A supervisor position for the assembly line opens and since this guy is so good at his job and is well-liked, you promote him. Only you don’t give him any real training in being a supervisor and assume that because he’s a good machine operator, he’ll be a good supervisor of other operators. Maybe yes, maybe no. But if we don’t train him, he will become just another statistic.

Let’s assume we don’t train him but he’s able to motivate his people to do their best because they have great relationships with each other from working side-by-side. When an operations manager job opens up, we think he’s the best candidate, so we promote him to operations manager.

Sooner or later, we’re going to promote him to a level where he won’t be able to make the adjustment without any other training. This is often referred to as the Peter Principle, made famous by business theorist Peter Drucker who was often quoted as saying, “sooner or later we all get promoted to our individual levels of incompetence.”

This isn’t rocket science, so I’m not sure why we leaders do this to our people. We often put them in situations where they’re doomed to fail. We do it because we know they have great skills, failing to recognize that their skillset may not translate over to the next level or that the next level needs their current skillset improved upon for there to be success.

As we’re looking at developing high performing teams and developing an organization destined to hit its business goals, we must be willing to develop leadership at every level in the organization.

That means our training and development plan has to be flexible and adaptable, not only to different levels in the organization but to individual needs as well.

For instance, take our machine operator who was promoted to supervisor of the line. At that level, it would be most effective for him to learn things like how to do a good performance appraisal, set goals with employees, hold employees accountable, and develop a good sense of teamwork amongst employees.

We might think of these things as management 101, but someone coming right off the front line probably doesn’t have those management 101 skills. The training we would give that person to develop him as a supervisor is different from what we might later give him to be an operations or plant manager.

At those levels, we’d get into the less technical side of leadership like how to influence others, develop others, and motivate people towards a common vision. Those are higher level leader-ship traits and it’s not that they’re unimportant for a front-line supervisor, but that’s not what they need upon their initial promotion.

When we look at developing leaders in our organization, the first thing we have to do is look at what we’re expecting out of each level and design a training program to meet the needs and expectations at each level of management. Some of the most successful programs I’ve seen are situations where a newly promoted manager is required to go through several different training programs each year of their first few years in that management role. With each promotion, there is a new series of training options that must be completed to not only develop confidence but al-so to exhibit those behaviors and skills before ever being considered for another promotion.

I have written a lot about succession planning. This type of management development also plays well into meeting the needs of our succession plan.

Ultimately, when developing our leadership we have to stay focused on how the skills are being used to drive business results. The moment someone is learning a skill that shows a disconnect with where the company is going or with the results they’re being asked to achieve is the moment we begin undermining our own professional development initiative. If a learner is unable to create a bridge from the new skills to the desired goal, he will simply assume that he’s in that training session to check a box, and that it’s not really important. Regardless of the level of training we’re giving to our people, we have to connect it back to the importance of the vision and the mission of the organization.

I was recently reading a document on the failure of the Ford Pinto in the 70s. It occurred under Lee Iacocca’s leadership.

Within Ford’s mission statement was a mandate about designing products that enhance the lives of customers. Yet as we all know, the Pinto not only did not support the lives of its customers but also accounted for many deaths due to its poor design.

Most troubling is that during Iacocca’s tenure at Ford, he was often heard saying “safety doesn’t sell.” Anyone working under him at that time would have been forced into a disconnect over what the head honcho wanted versus what the company mission said.

That story truly indicates why we have to pair up our messaging and training programs with the company mission. The culture at Ford got to the point where people wouldn’t bring problems associated with the Pinto to Iacocca because he was too focused on the project objectives and not how the project fit into the overall mission of Ford.

Those key flaws led to the major problems that faced the Pinto when it hit the streets.

I believe that how we develop our leaders is one of the biggest drivers of our organization’s culture. If we fail to keep our eyes on the prize (which is fulfilling our company mission), then we can’t possibly hope to have employees who have been developed in such a way that they can contribute to the results that help us achieve that mission.

To quote John Maxwell, “Leadership is influence – nothing more and nothing less.” If we want leaders throughout all of the levels of our organization to be influential enough to drive business results, we have to be willing to design our training and development programs specifically to their needs.

Your plan of action should look like this:

1. Revisit your company mission statement and look at how your current company goals are or are not supporting it.

2. Look at performance gaps you’re experiencing in your management team. Have your managers been given the skills they need to succeed in their roles and achieve desired results?

3. If they have been given the tools, why aren’t the tools working? What’s wrong with the current training and development plan?

4. If they haven’t been given the tools, then it’s time to get a training and development program in place for your leaders.

I want to close with one thought: training and development is a costly activity. It costs a lot of money to put a program in place and pull people out of their positions to attend the program. However, what we have to look at is not the cost of doing it but the cost of not doing it.

How is your inability to hit your business goals impacting your bottom line? And if the leadership team was better skilled at handling the people of the organization, what could you achieve in terms of your business results? Don’t ask yourself how you can afford to do this, ask yourself how you can not afford to do this.

If you want to have leadership in your organization that drives your business goals and know you’re not there, contact me here and let’s talk about how I can help.