Part 1 – Organizational Needs
There is a considerable amount of literature dedicated to organizational perspectives of leadership and organizational development. The bulk of published works tends to focus on the topic from the lens of various industries, individual organizations, or existing leadership within the organization. While these studies provide valuable insight into development and its potential barriers, they may not have examined all necessary angles due to their focus.
Avoidance of professional development due to misconceptions or unknowns regarding leadership and organizational development’s value or measurement contrasted with organizational experts emphasizing the importance of training and pipeline preparations demonstrates a clear and alarming mismatch. However, it may also provide a clue regarding various resolutions. Additional and alternative perspectives are necessary to see and address the underlying or systemic issues that established the existing barriers impeding progress and resolution.
The topic of development is complex, and what follows is not meant to suggest that every nuance has been addressed or discussed. Instead, this examination highlights some of the oversights made in many instances. Exploring organizational needs, development evaluations, common fallacies, and organizational culture may provide a better understanding of development outcomes and the circular reasoning potentially hindering its greater adoption.
Organizations seek engaged employees, productivity, and profitability. However, this likely describes a cause-and-effect situation that begins with engagement. For example, some organizations in both the private and government sectors find that a reduction in turnover, increased productivity, and increased profitability occurs with improved employee engagement (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013). While insightful, disengaged employees remain a top concern for many organizations today.
Only 30% of U.S. employees are highly engaged, half are somewhat or not engaged, and one-fifth have low engagement or are actively disengaged (McShane & Von Glinow, 2013). Some organizations are quick to blame poor leadership (Taking Cisco Into a New Era, 2015). Despite various attempts and tactics to resolve the leadership issue, the problem appears to remain for many organizations.
Recruiting better leaders may be a potential solution. However, LinkedIn Learning Solutions states that “A leadership shortage is one of the biggest barriers to growth at companies around the world” (2021). If that is true, then training employees to be future leaders could potentially resolve the problem. However, 85% of executives are not confident in their leadership pipelines, only 37% of leaders believe their organization’s development programs are adequate, and only 13% of companies believe that they are doing an excellent job developing their leaders (Sinar et al., 2015). Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning recently published their State of Leadership Development Survey, demonstrating that developing future leaders is not a priority for many organizations finding that only 7% of organizations felt they had a “Best in Class” leadership development program (Tildsley, 2016). The survey also provided a warning. Said Ray Carvey, the executive vice president of Corporate Learning and International at Harvard Business Publishing, “Although these survey results do not completely surprise us, they do show that when leadership development programs are designed and developed as a strategic priority, aligned to both goals and key challenges, businesses have a better chance at growth” (Tildsley, 2016, para 2).
These insights may highlight connections between disengaged employees and having inadequate or no leadership development programs. Organizations should consider these links because organizational success and resiliency may depend on it (Swensen et al., 2016). Unfortunately, some recent surveys suggest that many organizations ignore the issue. For example, according to the recent white paper, Bridging the Skills Gap: Workforce Development and the Future of Work, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) found that while organizations say they want to shrink the skills gap, most seem averse to committing the time and funds necessary to do so (Souza & Fyfe-Mills, 2018). Specifically, half of their survey respondents said they had insufficient leadership bench strength, 78% expected their organizations to have a skills gap in the future, and rather than dedicate resources to the problem, there has been a net decrease in the percentage of organizations willing to offer leadership training (Souza & Fyfe-Mills, 2018). An important note considering such leadership gaps often lead to competitive decline (Paese et al., 2002).
Whether planned or not, change complicates the matter. Disruptive events can profoundly impact organizational norms (Ishak & Williams, 2018). As contingency theory suggests, organizational performance may hinge on a leader’s response to internal or external influences (Andrews & Johansen, 2012). However, internal and external factors continually impact and shape the organization and the marketplace. Sometimes they are linked and can set the stage for a further insult, which may hinder adaptation and resiliency. Organizations and leaders must be acutely aware that financial uncertainty, organizational turnover, competition, political change, natural disasters, disease, and technological innovations are just a few of the many things that require adaptation and resilience from both the organization and its people (Ishak & Williams, 2018).
For organizations to become resilient, they need strong, integrity, and vision-oriented employees and leaders, a culture that fosters communication, creativity, and continued learning, and where change is both anticipated and embraced (Clark, 2019). Unfortunately, the description provided is usually an organizational dream, and organizations regularly look to their employees as both the reason and resolution of their organizational woes. However, organizational leaders must think about how employees can or should contribute to the resolution in a meaningful way when the organization does not recognize their potential to become leaders or when the organization does not value or invest in the necessary development and continued learning to meet the need.
Employee Desire to Advance and Learn
While studies dedicated to discovering employee motivations are somewhat limited, some surveys help demonstrate that an employee’s desire to advance in a career is substantial. According to a survey conducted by ClearCompany, a talent management and ATS software company, 76% of employees desire career advancement, and 87% of millennials said career advancement opportunities were important (Woolf, 2014). Similarly, a survey conducted for the American Staffing Association Workforce Monitor by The Harris Poll found that 48% of U.S. workers will look for a new position within the next year (Harris Pole, 2019). Reasons vary, but an older survey conducted by Middlesex University’s Institute for Work-Based Learning found that 74% of workers believe they were not reaching their full potential in their current position and would appreciate more learning opportunities (Everett, 2012).
These statistics are promising regarding leadership development and organizational growth. Specifically, they demonstrate plenty of room to improve and that employees are eager to advance their careers. Of course, a difference exists between having the desire to advance and having the desire to learn the skills deemed necessary to advance.
The good news is that most employees are hungry for training and say that their number one reason for staying with an organization is their leadership development opportunities (Sinar et al., 2015). This is supported by a study conducted by Meng, Reber, and Rogers that found that employees often seek self-improvement and leadership development (2017). Moreover, according to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, 74% of employees say they are ready to learn a new skill to remain employable (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2018).
In the previously mentioned Middlesex University Institute survey, nine out of 10 employees felt that training was essential (Everett, 2012), and the previously mentioned survey by ClearCompany found that 68% of employees said that training and development were the company’s most important policy. A follow-up survey found that 87% of millennials said professional development was critical (Woolf, 2014). While these statistics are promising, they also present a substantial problem for organizations that offer little to no training.
Holistically, the information may demonstrate organizational neglect of organizational and leadership development opportunities in many instances. The result of this self-inflicted wound may be a continuation of the status quo. However, the organizational neglect of such programs is not for an employee’s lack of desire. Nevertheless, there remains a divide between what the research shows and what businesses do. Therefore, organizations must examine current organizational culture norms, practices, and expectations and then evaluate the impacts each has on organizational outcomes. From there, the organization should consider the potential benefits of development conducive to their desired outcomes.
Organizational Development Programs
Organization development increases organizational effectiveness and facilitates personal and organizational change using interventions driven by social and behavioral science knowledge (Anderson, 2012). Organizational development fosters adaptability to change by identifying issues and learning how to overcome them. However, the endeavor is often complex because the organization comprises individuals. Morgeson, Lindoerfer, and Loring state that within organizational contexts, there are team contexts, and within team contexts, there are team needs, the team’s leadership, and that all of this equates to a team’s effectiveness or ineffectiveness (Velsor et al., 2010).
Such complexities can make identifying issues and deploying solutions difficult, but leadership professionals and organizations must keep in mind that every team comprises individuals with individual needs, contexts, and norms (Weinberg & Gould, 2019). The individual and the organization are interconnected. Therefore, leadership and organizational development initiatives are interconnected, and ignoring either or pushing them off until later can be detrimental (Joint effort, 2011; Santora et al., 2010; Thomas et al., 2017). The stronger the individual team members become, the stronger the team’s potential (Jones, 2012). The stronger the team and team leadership are, the stronger the organization (Soo et al., 2020). By ignoring elements of one, the risk of ignoring elements of another increases.
While the issue is circular, some literature supports the idea that organizational development must start with an individual’s development, including building self-awareness regarding principles, values, beliefs, and character (Hanson, 2013). Conversely, trainers must recognize that individual leaders are merely a tiny piece of a much larger system where various players engage, plan, and produce. Therefore, evaluators and trainers must consider the organization’s situation as a whole (Hanson, 2013).
Based on the preceding, organizations may benefit by developing the individual first as an integrated organizational component. However, the idea is neither new nor groundbreaking. For example, in 2009, Parker and Carroll found that developmental processes regarding the individual leader and the organization tend to intersect and overlap but added that leadership development programs that include an integrated career development component are generally more successful than those without (2009).
As demonstrated, organizations are in need of development, and that development should begin with the individual. In Part 2, we will discuss the reality of leadership development specifically. Remember, with greater understanding comes a better chance of using the information strategically for improved and efficient outcomes.
The Articles in this Series:
- Part 1: Organizational Development Needs
- Part 2: The Reality of Leadership Development
- Part 3: Leadership Development Evaluations and Limitations
- Part 4: The Right Trainer & The Novice Factor
- Part 5: Management vs. Leadership
- Part 6: Organizational Culture
Use of this work is permitted with proper citation.
Acknowledgments & Actions
- Thank you for examining this research. Be sure to share if you find value in it, and be sure to check out the other parts of this series.
- This research did not receive any specific grant from funding agencies in the public, commercial, or not-for-profit sectors.
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