Developing leaders during tough economic times

by HCA27 May 2009

BearingPoint's global HR research suggests that in order to excel in an environment of near-constant change, organisations must devote sufficient time, attention and resources to leadership development. BearingPoint's research suggests that whilst instructor-led training is clearly important, a multidimensional approach to leadership development will actually deliver higher impact results for your target audience.

The following verbatim excerpts are a summary of BearingPoint's global HR research on this topic, entitled 'Developing leaders in a dynamic world'.

While traditional methods of leadership development can be relied on to produce good 'managers', they will not develop visionary individuals who inspire others, collaborate across organizational boundaries and produce 'game-changing' results in the midst of organisational ambiguity.

Whether the challenge at hand is to deepen the competencies of existing senior staff or to introduce new skills to high-potential employees who will take their places tomorrow, forward-thinking organisations recognize that a leadership development strategy which exposes top talent to a broad array of learning situations is required.

According to the BearingPoint research, this type of multi-modal approach to development increases the probability that current and future organisational leaders will have the competencies, judgment and experience necessary to contribute meaningfully to business performance in a dynamic environment. Moreover, senior executives and middle managers from several industries who were surveyed for the research said that such an approach helps reduce the risk to the enterprise that typically occurs when leadership bench strength falls short.

A leadership development approach that uses multiple modes or dimensions of learning is more likely to help leaders successfully translate knowledge from theory into practice. It takes into account the myriad ways in which adults prefer to learn in a work environment. Whether the student is an executive tapped as a potential successor to the CEO or a finance director in the making, each will be better positioned to acquire the leadership tools and experience necessary to succeed in an increasingly dynamic business world.

Globally, BearingPoint has found that organisations recognised for exemplary leadership development programs attribute much of their leadership development success to the use of a multidimensional learning approach. Furthermore, they typically build such an approach on a foundation that links the organisation's strategic goals and objectives to an enterprise-wide leadership competency model.

These organisations are quick to recognise that current and future leaders need a clearly defined competency model to understand existing role expectations and future requirements. They identify specific behavioral indicators and expected proficiency levels for each leadership competency. These help determine, at the individual and organisational level, where performance is on track and where additional development may be required. Competency assessments are used to define proficiency gaps, as well as related leadership development requirements. When it comes to determining how best to grow top talent, they assume that developmental initiatives must be customisable to support individual requirements. Then they proceed to design a flexible portfolio of options that reflect the varied modes in which adults prefer to learn.

What does this mean? For some professionals, instructor-led training in a structured setting may be the right developmental option at a particular juncture in their career or in response to a particular skill shortfall. For others, connecting with a mentor is the appropriate next step in addressing learning requirements. Additional developmental initiatives may include taking on a challenging project that leads to practical, on-the-job coaching, or enriching one's knowledge base through self-study. Even job rotations, although difficult at times to manage, can be created to provide professionals with a cross-organisational perspective.

Blended learning approaches provide realistic and relevant learning experiences that help give learners a "feel" for how best to transfer theoretical knowledge obtained in a classroom environment to improve the performance of actual job responsibilities. Recognising the importance of providing a range of options—whether large in number or small—to address different developmental needs will go a long way toward helping your organization create a high-impact leadership development program.

About the author

Adam Kreuzer is the manager, people and change, at BearingPoint. For more information contact or phone 03 8665 9792