Leading Through Complexity (#HBPComplexity)

hbp booksIf you missed the invite and aren’t in Boston this week participating in Harvard’s 21st annual learning partners’ meeting, you will benefit from quickly calling a peer who might be here, checking the blog sites, and the Twitter posts (#HBPComplexity) to gather up the must-have knowledge that this group is sharing and consuming this week.

Leave it to Harvard Business Publishing, part of one of the most renowned research, business, and leadership academic institutes in the world, to rally up a cadre of 206 hyper-smart business and HR leaders, researchers, consultants, practitioners, and academicians representing 142 organizations in 10 countries to prompt thinking and infuse knowledge around today’s leading talent and business challenges, people strategies, and leadership complexities.

“Leading Through Complexity” is the theme of this year’s learning partners meeting – a theme that permeates Brandon Hall Group’s own research. Be it embedding a culture of leader accountability, transferring knowledge to minimize gaps in our four-generation workforce, determining how to get leaders to coach in the moment, or understanding how best to respond to Millennials’ pleas for “promote me – I’ve been here six weeks and have shown up on time every day,” as opening keynoter Marcus Buckingham said, the issues are complex and stretch across every corner of our world.

Buckingham’s keynote exposed his recent research on today’s salient, and certainly complex, leadership development trends:

  • Changing focus from the organization to team leaders
  • Changing from Big (HR) data to real-time, reliable data (and analytics)
  • Changing from leadership to what leaders actually do

During his message, he underscored, highlighted, and spotlighted the number one responsibility of all leaders through all three trends: leading employees to better performance, which translates to being an effective strengths coach.

A data scientist, researcher and published author, Marcus believes that if your leaders aren’t effective coaches of your employees’ strengths, then your hopes of creating, optimizing and sustaining performance excellence is nothing more than a hope and a prayer.

Brandon Hall Group’s research on performance management, succession management and leadership development say the very same. In fact, coaching was cited by 64% of global organizations participating in our 2015 State of Performance Management study as the number one single opportunity organizations must seize to improve employee performance.

In our 2015 State of Leadership Development study, in which Harvard Business Publishing was our key partner, 43% said that the greatest gap in their leaders at every level was their inability to effectively coach their employees.

In our 2015 State of Succession Management research, 50% of organizations cited coaching as the most effective means of developing high-potentials and other top performing employees. Yet almost the same number of organizations (45%) said that they do not use, or use coaching only to a small extent, effectively. You get the idea. And so do all of us in Boston this week. Now, for most of us, it is a matter of just doing it – execute on just one thing – making your leaders better in-the-moment coaches.

While the data is mandatory for creating the story and building the business case, the real learning comes when leaders actually get to experience the message in context As Buckingham closed and before the dinner feast was plated and served, we reflected on Buckingham’s messages, and what they meant in the context of our own organizations, spurred on by the lovely voices of the Boston Children’s Choir. An eclectic group of youngsters ages 7 to 18, four-fifths on economic subsidy, and thus meeting their own leadership complexities head on. They tell their tales of struggles and solutions for win via choral excellence. While they belted out three separate tunes, a room of 200+ sat in awe – of their talent, their courage, their stories, their beauty, their aspiration, and their skill.  The standing ovation was offered without hesitation.

As we stood 200 strong and applauded with vigor, I wondered just how many of us have leaders whose skills have earned a standing ovation? The data suggests not many, and I suspect that is true, unfortunately.

But, as Marcus reminded us, we have the power to change that. We have but one call to action – get our leaders to be effective coaches;- find a way to get every one of our leaders to ask every one of their employees every week just two questions: What are your priorities this week? How can I help you?

Harvard earns a “WOW, you rocked it” for business value of the Day 1 discussions and the rest of the program, which included leaders from IBM, AT&T, and Cinepolis. I also will seek out my own self-directed learning and network with 3M, Cargill, Coca-Cola, Comcast, ExxonMobil, Fidelity, Goldman Sachs, The Hershey Company, Johnson & Johnson, Kimberly-Clark, MGM, Procter & Gamble, Royal Bank of Scotland, Sanofi, Siemens, State Farm, the US Postal Service, and whoever else is willing to share their insights with me on how best to lead through complexity and hold our leaders accountable for being effective in-the-moment coaches with which Marcus challenged us.

I also want to hear your leadership stories, struggles, and insights.  Write to me now with your thoughts and how you might already be using Harvard Business Publishing’s leadership development solutions, wisdom, or insights to accelerate the skills and capability of your leadership, particularly their ability to coach their employees to sustained performance excellence and to lead through complexity.

Until next time…

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

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