"As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The person who grasps principles can successfully select methods. The person who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble."
Focus Leadership Development on Performance
Leadership performance, in a business context, ought to result business performance. I may be stating the obvious, but too often our leadership development programs miss the mark. They are discussions of leadership traits. They are exercises in feedback on characteristics. They are assessments of personal competencies. They are explorations of "know thyself." They provide feedback on style, characteristics, and behaviors.
That's not enough. Sorry to say, but that is not enough.
Yes, leadership development requires competency development, trait identification, and feedback from your peers and others. Yes, that's important. It's not enough though.
What's missing? What else do we need? Performance. Oh. Yeah. That's what's missing.
Recently, I partnered with an Talent Development team to build a Fortune 500 leadership development program. At first, we identified these prospective leaders' competency needs. We had a list of thirteen competencies. Thirteen!! Despite the cognitive research that suggests we can only hold about 4 things in short term memory, we wanted leaders to develop thirteen 'key' competencies. To what end? What competencies does the business need? Well, we didn't know. We realized we needed to find out. Fast.
So, we re-calibrated the program to business performance. With a bit of legwork, we found the company priorities included: growth, innovative products, operational execution, and talent. The firm was making promises to Wall Street and others around these few themes. Once we had business results clearly defined, we found that we could narrow to just 4 or 5 competencies, rather than thirteen. Whew! These four or five things could logically and compellingly be tied to business performance. We also could engage executives and other business stakeholders in leader development in a much more precise way.
That's the one-two punch that makes leadership development efforts return so much value to their companies. With a blended perspective on competency AND performance, we can really make a big difference. Leadership is happening in a business after all, and this fact should influence leadership development.
"Individual commitment to a group effort, that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work." Vince Lombardi
It's Difficult to Learn Business by Reading Financial Statements
There are three universal score sheets in business -- The Balance Sheet, the Income Statement, and the Statement of Cash Flows. All companies have them. They are used to determine how well the company is performing. That's a good thing.
Too often, professionals who mean well begin teaching business and finance by showing people these statements. They'll direct people to the annual reports online, or to a company's 10-K in order to teach them about the business. From there, they'll explain each line item in depth, with figures in the millions taken to the penny. Sigh. That's not a good thing.
Using this approach is not much different than teaching soccer starting with lessons in reading a scoreboard. Imagine: A dad coach brings his U8 team to their first practice, and brings the kids together around the scoreboard to train them how to play soccer. Right. That makes no sense. So, when we try to teach business by starting with those financial statements, we're doing the same thing.
We should engage people in playing a position on the pitch (to continue with the soccer analogy). We need simulations, case studies, engaging discussions, and scenarios to show how businesses work. Our learners should work harder than the instructor. Companies are a complex mix of people, circumstances, operations, and so forth. In order to see how it all works, and how to play the game, we need to play the game. Then, and only then, do the scoreboards make sense. We can more easily fill in the white space between the scores we earned and what we did to get them.
Let's focus on engaging in business learning to build business acumen. Let's save the scoreboard watching for some other time. When it's time to learn the business, the best thing is to learn by doing.
"The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the unanimous views of all parts of my mind."
- Malcolm McMahon
Dan Topf, CPT is Sr. Vice President at MDI, Inc.
Business Learning by Dan: Primers for Trainers
PDF versions of short articles on how to integrate business acumen into all training and development:
The Income Statement
Price and Volume
The Circulation of Capital
The Cost of Capital
Financial Services -- Life Insurance/Annuities