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Why Every Company Needs a Leadership Strategy

By Bruce Court

Bruce CourtRecently I was meeting with a client’s talent management experts and it quickly became clear that the company’s ability to meet its business goals was at risk. Why? A few things stood out. First, as the conversation progressed, it became apparent that each talent management expert was operating in a silo rather than as part of a cohesive unit. When asked about the business priorities for the organization, there was no agreement; when I asked about their talent management priorities over the next three to six months there were no clear goals, no connections, or any progress measures in place.

Shortly after this meeting I was in a conversation with a CHRO from another company. This organization had been presented with an "opportunity" when a government in this company’s most important market announced a change in its currency regulations. Almost overnight, this company entered a new business: banking. How would they pull this off?

Almost all organizations have a defined business strategy; many also have a cultural strategy. The examples above led me to think about every organization’s need for a leadership strategy.

Today’s business environment requires that leaders at all levels perform efficiently and effectively, regardless of what’s going on around them. How do companies build the required leadership capability and capacity, and the appropriate supporting mechanisms? By implementing a leadership strategy that underpins the organization’s business goals and culture.

Build a bridge

Why Every Company Needs a Leadership Strategy

DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast includes multiple data points that illustrate the benefits of directly linking an organization’s leadership strategy to its business strategy. When leaders at all levels are carefully selected, well trained, well supported, and properly aligned the organization thrives.

Imagine you are standing on a river bank next to your organization’s business needs and cultural priorities. On the opposing river bank are your organization’s performance measures and business outcomes. You need to move everything over to the other river bank as quickly and safely as possible. A well-defined and well-executed leadership strategy is the bridge. What do you need to build the bridge and what support will it need?

Even though you can see the other river bank from where you are standing, the destination cannot be vague. It’s not enough to declare ”we just need to get to the other side.” Determining the intended destination requires a real focus on the most critical leadership priorities, i.e., the challenges leaders must confront to execute the plan. We call these challenges business drivers, they translate the business and cultural priorities into leadership priorities. These drivers are then aligned to the leadership model (i.e. the Success ProfileSM that defines the knowledge, experiences, competencies, and personal attributes that are essential for leadership success).

Business drivers help determine the size of the gap between the two river banks by looking at leadership through two lenses, the current needs and future requirements. The gap analysis means you can forecast the rate at which the organization needs to promote or hire leaders, and identify the individuals who are, or who soon will be, ready to step up as the business moves forward.

Once you know where you need to be and have accurately measured the gap, how do you then get to the other side?

You need an executable leadership strategy

There are three requirements for an executable leadership strategy:

  1. A leadership selection system, to ensure the hiring and promotion of the leaders the business really needs.
  2. Leadership development efforts that support leaders at all levels so they can adapt as the business transforms.
  3. A succession management process that identifies, accelerates, and supports the identification and accelerated growth of the next generation of leaders. Each of these requirements plays a vital role in supporting your leadership strategy bridge.

You need to review all programs and processes to determine if they support the leadership strategy, if they are neutral, or if they could be potential barriers. This review allows for the construction of an action plan that will maintain, improve, or eliminate programs, systems, or processes as well as determine what needs to be built and when. At this stage, roles and responsibilities should be clarified and modified as necessary.

This detailed plan focuses on the next two to three years, outlining and integrating all the relevant programs and processes, eliminating redundancies and low-return initiatives, and ensuring role clarity relative to the top priorities. This is a critical step in the bridge-building process.

To keep every aspect of the bridge-building effort aligned requires tracking mechanisms that allow for focus on the metrics that demonstrate movement on the indicators that prove leadership growth. Your leadership dashboard should be uniquely configured for your organization, with consideration for the strategy and an understanding as to what is required to ensure that accurate data is available to senior leaders "just in time."

Many organizations are littered with good intentions, plans, and partially implemented initiatives because they have been unable to maintain management’s focus over time. One of the reasons why a bridge does not collapse is there is positive tension that acts as a supporting mechanism. A well-executed leadership strategy provides positive growth tension.

The following practices and techniques will ensure the correct level focus on the leadership development strategy, starting with four types of communication:

  • Formal communication, e.g., a message from the CEO announcing the launch of the initiative. Typically this is the first communication.
  • Informal communication, i.e., ‘what’s the word by the water cooler?’ This is a vital source of information as it tells leaders how people are feeling; it also provides a sense of what’s in the rumor mill. It’s a great source of information and feedback; and it needs to be managed.
  • Communication related to the organization’s rituals and symbols. For example, a company with a driving value of “customer first” that allows the CEO and CFO to park right outside the front door is sending an important message that executives aren’t “walking the talk?”
  • The messages that leaders send through their every action. Leaders need to aware that their own behavior is one of the most powerful communication tools.

To focus on the most relevant aspects of any leadership strategy accountabilities need to be clear. At this point it is important to have awareness about how the environment within the organization impacts the construction of the leadership strategy bridge. After all, building bridges over different terrains requires different construction methods and different structures. Are leaders creating the right kind of support mechanisms? Are learners getting time to prepare, practice, and receive feedback? Do the people involved have the required competence and confidence to coach, mentor, or offer advice?

Building a leadership strategy bridge requires the creation of a ‘blueprint’ outlining expectations and outcomes. It should provide the specific requirements for everyone involved in the bridge building effort and connect leadership at every level. Track your leadership strategy bridge building efforts by monitoring the lead and lag measures that were discussed in the design phase.

Is your leadership strategy bridge up to the task?

Bruce Court works with organizations on all aspects of their leadership strategy and coordinates DDI’s relationship with our alliance partner, EY. He’s experienced in all aspects of strategy development and execution. Outside of work Bruce likes to travel with his wife, Maureen, visiting places on their “bucket list.” He loves eating at great restaurants, and “sampling” good wine and craft beers. Bruce is also a huge fan of smooth jazz.

Learn how DDI can help with your organization’s leadership strategy.

Posted: 21 Feb, 2017,
Talk to an Expert: Why Every Company Needs a Leadership Strategy
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