Dodging the Downward Slide from Super Star to Super Risk

At every level of our organizations, we have leadership skill gaps. In Brandon Hall Group’s recent Skills Gaps Survey, respondents said leadership skill concerns were the second greatest factor impacting their retention rates and business performance.

In our related Leadership Development Benchmarking Research, more than one-third of respondents said their leadership development was only slightly, or not at all, effective. Leadership impact at all levels is in crisis. When holding the magnifying glass on new leaders – the group that typically comprises more than half of your management team — the challenge is to bring them up to speed faster. Accelerating the performance of first-line leaders’ improves organizational business performance.

So how do high-performing organizations go about closing skill gaps and fast-tracking the performance of first-time supervisors and managers? Four organizational keys enable high-impact first-time leader development:

  • Allocate significant budget
  • Cascade succession plans
  • Enable experiential development
  • Set a culture of accountability

Allocate Significant Budget

On average, lower performing organizations are investing significantly less (less than 15%) of their leadership development budget on first-time leader training than their peers. High-performing organizations allocate a minimum of 25%, and in some cases, more than one-third of their total budget to developing new supervisors.

Cascade Succession Plans

At high-performing organizations, succession planning and management cascades through all levels of leader and purposefully includes first-time leaders – the feeder pool to more senior leaders. With the assistance of talent technology applications and functionality, grooming high-potential first-time leaders’ capabilities in alignment with business goals can — and should — occur across the enterprise. Whatever the size of your organization, regardless of your industry or region, actively including the first-time leader population in your succession planning efforts ensures you have the leadership pipeline and bench strength necessary to fill essential leadership vacancies that are inevitable over time.

Enable Experiential Development

Experiential learning that focuses on business essentials (leader role and value proposition, innovation, performance management, team building, engagement, execution, communication, business acumen) provides the greatest rate of success for transforming individual contributors to high-performing first-time leaders. More than 70% of high-performing organizations leverage experiential development for leadership development.

Organizations’ Use of Various Forms of Experiential Leadership Development


Source: Brandon Hall Group, 2014

All leaders, and particularly first-time leaders, build capability and outperform others when given repetitive opportunity to practice business essentials in a risk-free environment. They further excel when partnered with a caring coach, trustworthy peers, and a supportive manager with whom they can collaborate transparently without fear of retribution. First-time leader development that stretches over multiple months and combines assessments, case study work, in-person facilitated discussions, online access to support tools, as well as coaching, allows for true application and therefore accelerated performance results.

Set a Culture of Accountability

Our research shows that creating a culture of accountability is a top priority and challenge for even the most seasoned leaders. First-time leaders tend to struggle even more. They often confuse accountability with “not being liked.” In high-performing organizations, new supervisors are reminded to focus on earning respect (not friendship), creating loyalty to the organization (not to themselves), and measuring performance results (not activities or effort). In so doing, supervisors are significant contributors of creating and sustaining a thriving organization.

To guide a leading practice approach to first-time leader development, high-performing organizations leverage the principles conveyed in this ACES model. These principles should not be a surprise to anyone plugged into this post. You’ve read and re-read these principles in every trade rag, chat group, discussion forum, LinkedIn Post, FaceBook banter, and Twitter feed. The fact remains that most of our organizations have not moved the principles from the playbook pages to the execution field. Now more than ever, as organizations become more complex, virtual and distributed, it is critical to be as committed to effective first-time leader development as we are to executive and high-potential development.

First-time leader training has measurable business impact. By improving the performance of supervisors, you are improving the performance of your organization…

“Because of rigorous new supervisor training, we are enjoying a 90% customer satisfaction rating and are meeting all of our productivity and cost goals.”

–VP HR from a biotechnology company

Do you have a first-time leader success or challenge story to share? What elements of the ACES approach are deployed in your organization? How can you leverage all ACES’ components to design and implement higher-impact, first- time leader development?

Until next time….

Laci Loew, Vice President and Principal Analyst,
Talent Management Practice, Principal Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

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