How to Identify Truly Exceptional Talent

There’s a great story about Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington’s pianist and collaborator that tells us something about truly exceptional talent. Strayhorn met Ellington in 1938 at age 23 following one of his concerts in Pittsburgh.

Ellington sat Strayhorn down at the piano and challenged him to do his thing. He was clearly impressed with Strayhorn’s artistry, but he already had a piano player. Still, he invited Strayhorn to visit him in Harlem, even giving him subway directions on how to get to his apartment. You can guess the result. Strayhorn turned the directions into “Take the A Train,” the Ellington band’s signature and a permanent fixture in the Great American Songbook.

Strayhorn was a young, exceptional talent in the same way Lin-Manuel Miranda — “Hamilton” — is today. But preternatural talent is not confined to the arts. Elon Musk — Tesla/SpaceX — developed computer code for a video game at age 12. At 24 he turned over his first company to Compaq for $300 million. Evan Williams — Twitter — “invented” blogging while still in his 20s.

What is interesting for those of us in organizational life is that we don’t separate the exceptional from the high potential. We put them in the same talent bucket. Unfortunately, most succession planning tools such as the nine box fail to differentiate the “A+” from the “A” or “B” player, and our learning programs assume wrongly that the truly brilliant should be singularly educated on leadership techniques versus technical, market or entrepreneurial skills.

Yet, we know that exceptional talent is poised to make exceptional contributions. Like the free agent who helps a sports franchise make the leap from second best to world champion, or the “10x” programmer whose architecture disrupts an entire industry, they are worth a disproportionate investment in time and money.

What makes them different? They share a few traits:

Extraordinary ambition: Extraordinary ambition is not just what separates the best from the rest, it drives high profile talent to leave one seemingly satisfying job for another. Money may make the world go ‘round but stories of top talent leaving for salary increases are dwarfed by instances of them leaving for huge challenges — opportunities to leave a legacy, to run something bigger, bring a new idea to market or make a contribution that redefines an industry.

The software industry entrepreneur Ray Ozzie is a classic example. Ozzie moved from Data General, to IBM/Lotus to Microsoft to the startup Talko — each time for a bigger challenge. Exceptional talent in the millennial generation is even more impatient than the tech icons of Ozzie’s era. So much so that among Inc. magazine’s “30 under 30” coolest entrepreneurs, none began their careers at big companies.

Exceptional competency: Competency is a word commonly used to describe extraordinary employees’ capabilities. However, what we know about competencies for exceptional talent is a little confusing. On one hand, they may have the most highly evolved technical skills of anyone in their profession, yet in some cases are missing other competencies — EQ, for example — that are essential to high performance, or, vice versa. Consider Steve Jobs and his partner Steve Wozniak, both were visionaries yet each lacked competencies that would have made one a more well-rounded leader and the other a more influential technical contributor.

Versatility: Exceptional talent is versatile in ways that many high potentials are not. These individuals can quickly pick up specific language, culture and desires from their key stakeholders. And they are typically dilettantes in other functions, surprising peers with their knowledge across multiple domains. Top technology leaders, for instance, could segue from deep technical conversations with R&D fellows to actionable, strategic decisions with business leaders without missing a beat — and they’re comfortable doing so.

What can talent leaders do with these extraordinary talents? At the very least, identify them early, coach them and actively manage their careers. However, an intriguing new way to develop them is through talent incubators, which follow the same approach as incubators that nurture innovation ideas. Talent incubators cast a broad net, then incubate the most promising talent with a test-and-learn strategy that parses out roles and assignments to help gauge interest and fit for strategic roles across a company. Add assessment and coaching to promote reflection, and release them into the organization with opportunities that exceed the normal maturation curve.

To accelerate exceptional talent growth requires an individualized approach. Putting them in the same category as other high potentials may be convenient, but it is unlikely to produce a windfall ROI or give visibility to the next home grown genius.

AUTHOR: John Hendrickson is a partner at Cambria Consulting, Inc.

Reprinted from CLO


Company Culture: How to Capture Your Values

Have you ever walked into work and thought: I’m not sure who we are and why we do what we do?

While there’s no one way to run a company, and businesses operate differently from one to the next, every organization has a culture and exhibits values, whether explicitly stated or not. As a company evolves, it will have to reevaluate its processes and standards to accommodate its growing workforce.

Sometimes this means rethinking whether you are clearly communicating your values and reinforcing them day to day. Whether you’re a budding startup or a centuries-old conglomerate, there are certain key elements and factors that go into revisiting what you stand for, and where you’re headed next.

While culture and values flow from everyday decisions and behaviors, starting the conversation at the top is key to long-term success. If you do not have buy-in upfront from the heads of the company, staying on course will be difficult.

CEOs and their leadership team must exhibit the behaviors they expect of others within the organization. Actions speak loudest. Every choice should take your values into account. From how you evaluate candidates to how you assess and reward existing employees, decisions will be viewed through the lens of your values — Do we do what we say we do?

Ask the tough questions.

If you’re gently reforming or radically overhauling your company culture, the first thing you have to do is be open to change and that means being prepared to ask tough questions.

If you’re a founder-led organization, chances are they have a specific view or focus to convey. If the organization has been around for a while, you might have already established some values or themes. The most effective first step is to ask aloud:

  • What have we said (or shown) our values to be?
  • Have they been explicitly communicated?
  • Are they any unspoken values?
  • Why do we need to state our values? What If we did nothing?

You’ll want to dig into the details you uncover. Sometimes it’s easiest to accomplish this step by bringing in someone from the outside to help. An external facilitator who has been through this process before will offer an outsider’s perspective and help you find what you truly stand for. A good facilitator will tell you to stop, collaborate and listen. Pay close attention to the questions that arose in the earlier steps, specifically where people expressed confusion.

While approval from senior leadership is critical, there’s no better place to turn for input and insights than your employees. They live the culture every day and they know what it’s like to work there. Focus groups can provoke responses you might not have expected. You can also send out a targeted survey to discover what the focus groups might not yield — discomfort, shortage of faith, low morale and more.

Be willing to use a variety of methods to collect and capture information from employees. Some will be more forthcoming than others, but the goal is to get to a 360-degree view of the company. However, do not expect or wait for consensus; you will never get there.

Communicate, put into practice and reinforce.

You’ll want communication to not only come from the top down, but also the bottom up. When you have finalized a set of values, share the wisdom broadly in multiple ways: from senior leadership at company town halls and also between managers and employees in smaller meetings. Let your employees know what came out of the exploratory sessions and where they can find additional tools and resources to serve them better.

Some of what you say will stick, yet other messages won’t take right away. Make sure you’re committed to stay the course and reinforcing the message with action, through behaviors and future decision-making.

Continue to let your employees know you’re assessing the organization and you will report back when it’s the right time to move ahead. Respect your employees for having their say. Repeat the message in company updates and begin emails with, “Because you shared …” They will feel valued and therefore get on board.

AUTHOR:  Matthew Jagoda is the chief people officer at Shutterstock, a content licensing company that includes images, videos and music. 

Reprinted from WORKFORCE

Beyond Lean In

The vision of a corporate boardroom table filled with equal parts men and women, or maybe even dominated by women, has mostly not been realized to date. According to the Center for American Progress, while women hold almost 52 percent of all professional-level jobs, American women still lag behind men in representation in leadership positions. Women are only 14.6 percent of executive officers, 8.1 percent of top earners, and 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs.

Some consultants and companies recommend taking a proactive approach, rather than just sitting back and hoping these numbers change. Leadership programs that focus on advancing women employees, creating internal support networks, and establishing a culture that values the contributions of all employees, including women, are a few of the reasons more women soon may find themselves at the top.

 Learning How Best to Add Value

A common frustration among women employees is that despite their hard, successful work, they’re not noticed. Or when they are noticed, they are not given promotions or development opportunities. “We hear from the women in our programs, who are high potential and seen by their organization as ready for promotion, that they are frustrated that their hard work seems insufficient for their career advancement,” says Rosina Racioppi, CEO and president of consultancy Women Unlimited, Inc. “It is true that individuals who seek to advance need to do good work. It is important to understand that doing good work (or great work, for that matter) just gets you in the game. If you wish to advance, you need to play the game, which means understanding how your work, or skills, adds value to the team, company, or customer.”

Racioppi says companies may need to be clearer in outlining their expectations for each job role, so that it is clearer what all employees, including women, need to do to achieve a promotion, or be eligible for greater responsibilities. At the same time, it helps for companies to think about how ads for job roles are worded, and whether the open positions inside the company are sending a subtle message that male employees would be preferred.

“There may be elements of the organization’s culture that create unintended barriers for women to advance,” Racioppi explains. “Some examples can be found in job descriptions when the requirements are written in more masculine terms and descriptors, providing a subtle bias against female candidates.”

Women may need to “lean in,” as Sheryl Sandberg famously advises in her book by that title, but companies also need to meet women halfway. Leaning in won’t do you any good if those with the opportunities to unlock are unreceptive to women’s efforts. “While the book provides a strong message, it gives the false impression that if a woman just leans in, she will accomplish her goals. But how do you lean in so you don’t fall over?” says Racioppi. “I have seen women ‘leaning in’ in a strong, aggressive manner that did not bode well for their career. Yes, you need to lean in, but you need to do so a way that is received positively by the organization’s decision-makers.”

She emphasizes the importance of developing women to tailor their efforts to the specific expectations and needs of their organization. “In the programs we offer, we help women assess their skills to create a development strategy supporting their career goals in their organization. It is important to understand your unique organizational context, the leadership traits that are needed for the organization’s success, and how the women’s skills meet those needs.”

“In understanding what their company values are, it’s important that women receive regular feedback that lets them know if their aims are matching with the messages they are sending to co-workers and managers,” adds John Futterknecht, president and co-founder at Optimum Associates, which recently launched a Women’s Training Program. “Probably the challenge with the biggest implications (and least talked about) is understanding power dynamics within the organization and being able to leverage power,” says Futterknecht. “Even the most progressive companies experience conflict over whether, how, and when women should exercise authority. The reality is men and women are perceived differently and have different attitudes when it comes to power and toughness.”

Futterknecht says his company’s new program is designed to help women: navigate company power dynamics; effectively promote themselves strategically; project confidence and executive presence; and take care of themselves at work and at home. These are all critical areas to help women leaders achieve their potential and advance their careers.

Learning and Human Resource professionals also can help to address these needs in their own companies, says Futterknecht, who recommends organizations:

  • Create internal mentoring and/or sponsorship programs involving senior women leaders within the organization.
  • Ensure women are obtaining constant feedback about their “buzz” and development opportunities.
  • Form support groups where women can share experiences and successes.
  • Implement training programs focused on women’s leadership, and offering individual coaching when necessary.
  • Review Biases

Men and women sometimes are not reviewed on the same basis, says Carol Vallone Mitchell, Ph.D., author of “Breaking Through ‘Bitch’: How Women Can Shatter Stereotypes and Lead Fearlessly,” and co-founder of Talent Strategy Partners. “Companies can check the performance reviews women and men receive from their managers. These reviews can play right into stereotype biases. Research for by linguist Kieran Snyder has indicated that 76 percent of critical feedback given to women was personality-related, comments such as ‘abrasive,’ ‘judgmental,’ ‘strident,’” says Mitchell. “Only 2 percent of men’s critical feedback included negative personality comments.”

Mitchell adds that research by Stanford’s Clayman Institute for Gender Research indicated that, “compared with men, women receive only half as much performance feedback about their vision and their technical expertise. They receive only a third as much feedback linked to a business outcome.”

Finding Mentors

Sometimes a high-potential woman leader can be supported to greatness by having a role model who shows her what is possible. Marcy Klevorn, vice president and chief information officer at Ford Motor Company found that having a mentor was a great help in her career progress. “For women in certain areas, such as the STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) careers in which not as many women work, an additional challenge is that it is harder to ‘see yourself ’ in the people around you and realize that there are people just like you with similar support systems and networks who are managing,” she says.

That’s why the company’s mentoring program proved so valuable to Klevorn. The mentor did not work in the same area of the company as she did, but, she says, that wasn’t as important as you might think. “She listened to situations I was facing and gave me tools to consider using. And it ended up being helpful that she was not in my same field because she could look at the situation from another perspective,” Klevorn says. “I am grateful the company provided that mentoring.”

Today, Ford has an internal network especially devoted to women’s success, the Professional Women’s Network (PWN), for which Klevorn serves as the executive sponsor. PWN, one of several internal networking groups at Ford known as Employee Resource Groups, focuses on professional development for women, promoting an environment that attracts, develops, and retains women employees and customers. Every year, the group sponsors motivational speakers, mentoring programs, leadership initiatives, and community projects, and works on bringing together Ford’s female employees from around the world. In May 2014, PWN sponsored Sheryl Sandberg’s visit to Ford, where she presented a sold-out keynote for employees and spent time with the PWN leadership team. “This is an example of the types of activities PWN sponsors that play a strong role in mentoring and supporting women throughout the company globally,” says Klevorn.

Indeed, mentoring can be among the best help you can give women at your company. “Mentoring and sponsorship are essential leadership skills that often are overlooked, particularly for women. More women and men need to hone their mentorship skills and actively take on female mentors,” says Priti Shah, one of the leaders behind learning company Skillsoft’s Women in Action leadership development program. “Then, women need to seek out these mentors and sponsors to develop them and encourage them to take on challenges they likely never would have been offered.”

Recognize Differences in Learning Styles

Just as all people differ in how they learn, there is now evidence that men and women overall tend to learn in different ways, says Terena Bell, founder/CEO of TVRunway. “It’s important to acknowledge that women tend to learn differently from men. There are, of course, exceptions, but by and large, women tend to learn verbally and visually, whereas men are more likely to have a kinetic learning style. Women also think from a relational standpoint,” she says. “We look across multiple subject areas at once to find a solution, and tend to operate in analogies and stories more than men. So allow time in your training for questions and discussion groups. And allow more time than you think you’ll need. The women are going to want to get to know each other a little before working together, so you’ll need that extra time.”

In addition to differences in learning styles, women in corporations often find themselves challenged differently when communicating, says Caroline March-Long, vice president of Sales and Marketing at learning company Scitent. “The greatest challenge for women is avoiding the fear, or hesitation, to speak up and be forceful, in a respectful way, about what they believe is right for the company,” she notes. “We’ve had situations in which we felt that some of our women leaders needed some extra coaching on communication, finding their voice, and encouraging them to ‘speak up’ in a way that they will be heard and command respect. This can involve internal coaching, but we also have asked outside coaches to work with women within our company to help them tap into, and bring out, their strong voices.”


  • Be clear in outlining expectations for each job role, so that it is clearer what all employees, including women, need to do to achieve a promotion or be eligible for greater responsibilities.
  • Train women to tailor their efforts to the specific expectations and needs of their organization.
  • Give women feedback that lets them know if their aims are matching with the messages they are sending to co-workers and managers.
  • Create internal mentoring and/or sponsorship programs involving senior women leaders within the organization.
  • Check the performance reviews that women and men receive from their managers to make sure they are being judged on the same basis.
  • Offer women communication encouragement, and, if needed, training to be more vocal.

Reprinted from TRAINING magazine 

7 Tips for Recruiting Women

March was Women’s History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments of women in the U.S. In recent decades, women have made tremendous strides in the realms of work and education. Despite these accomplishments, women still have a glass ceiling to break through, and a few changes to recruiting efforts can help tremendously.

Women’s labor force participation rate has increased steadily, since Rosie the Riveter first paved the way during the World War II era. Today, women account for 57 percent of the U.S. workforce. Women now earn the majority of associate (60 percent) and bachelor’s degrees (57 percent), as well as 37 percent of all MBAs, according to the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.

When it comes to the working world, women’s participation is important. “The New Business Imperative: Recruiting, Developing and Retaining Women in the Workplace,” a white paper from the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, shows that companies with a higher percentage of women in top management positions have increased growth in stock prices and larger returns on equity.

Women dominate the workforce in sheer numbers, education and business performance. Still, just 22 companies in the Fortune 500 are run by women.

So why aren’t there more women in leadership roles? A number of factors impede women’s progress into executive positions.

There’s a lack of confidence among female leaders. Despite their true talent, female executives are prone to “impostor syndrome,” and may be hesitant to seize opportunities they fear they’re unqualified for.

Caring for children is still a role dominated by women. Although the number of stay-at-home dads has risen markedly in recent years (peaking at 2.2 million in 2010), caring for young children is still a traditionally female role. When a woman drops out of the workforce, it effectively derails her career. The loss of momentum can make it extremely difficult for her to get back on an upward trajectory.

Corporate America still isn’t ready. Without a doubt, our nation has made progress in terms of facilitating women’s leadership opportunities. But like it or not, organizational culture is still plagued with pervasive gender stereotypes and double standards that hold women back from rising through the ranks as quickly as their male counterparts.

Given the obstacles talented female executives still face, it’s little wonder their climb into the upper echelons of senior management is occurring at a glacial pace. Here’s how to attract more women to your leadership roles and hire who your organization needs:

  1. Assess your screening process. Scrutinize your current selection process to ensure women are not being disproportionately screened out at any stage. If you find this is the case, address the obstacles or bottlenecks that are deterring or unnecessarily eliminating talented females.
  2. Send the right message. Your employment brand has a tremendous effect on women’s application rates. Make sure that both the explicit and implicit messages your brand is sending are inclusive: We want and welcome women; women are leaders with upward career paths in our organization; women have executive opportunities in all areas of our company.
  3. Use your current female workers to recruit others. Women in leadership positions are beacons for other female talent, so shine that light. Make your female executives true recruiting ambassadors, who build your employment brand and broaden your referral network.
  4. Increase your work flexibility policies. For a number of reasons — including pregnancy, child rearing and caring for aging parents — women leaders desperately need flexibility. Remove the obstacles that impede their long-term retention and professional growth within your organization by offering telecommuting, job sharing and other forms of schedule flexibility. When you build a culture that supports the needs of female executives, more will be attracted to your opportunities.
  5. Showcase your brand and culture. Enlist your organization’s marketing, IT and recruiting teams to put your best foot forward with potential female applicants. Within your website’s recruitment pages, create a page just for women. On it, feature biographies, interviews and photos of your company’s successful female professionals and executives. Visitors will perceive your organization as one that welcomes, values and supports women leaders.
  6. Close pay gaps. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics research, women working full-time in the U.S. typically are paid just 79 percent of what men are paid. Audit pay by gender to ensure you’re paying both sexes equally for equal work. Doing so will strengthen your employment brand. Plus, it’s just the right thing to do.
  7. Recruit good women internally. Your future leaders may already be working for you — you just need to nurture them. Systematically identify your promising female protégés and pair them with established female executives in your organization to fast track career growth. Alternately, consider investing in professional and/or leadership development training programs to accelerate upward mobility for women.

Women may be a bit challenging for your organization to recruit, especially in today’s employment market. But the benefits — including improved diversity, fresh approaches to management and enhanced business performance — make it worth the effort.


AUTHOR:  Allison O’Kelly is founder and CEO of Mom Corps, a national talent acquisition and career development firm with a focus on flexibility.

Reprinted from TALENT MANAGEMENT magazine


Stop Pretending to Be an Expert All the Time

As Janet walks back to her office, she reflects on the meeting she’s just wrapped up with her team, the top learning and development staff in their large consumer goods organization. They had been discussing their new people management curriculum rollout, and at one point, she suggested they all participate in one of the pilot groups. Their response? Dead silence, and looks ranging from surprised to puzzled to irritated.

Janet tried again. “We’ve all agreed that many of our executives aren’t excellent people managers. Wouldn’t it be great for us to model the kind of openness to learning that we expect from them?”

No one disagreed with her outright, but she could tell they weren’t comfortable with the idea. She could mandate her team’s attendance. But if they show up looking bored or spend the course surreptitiously checking their phones, it will have exactly opposite the effect she wants.

The other attendees will see them as know-it-alls who don’t think they have anything to learn about people management. And, she thinks to herself, the irony is that every one of them — including her — could use some improvement in their management skills.

Janet’s difficulty is all too common. Senior executives — including learning leaders — often resist learning, even when they need it. From leadership development to learning new company processes, new technologies or industry advances, senior people often act as though they’re supposed to know everything already. It makes it difficult for them to keep up with the demands of an ever-more-rapidly changing world.

What’s a chief learning officer to do?

Fortunately, it is possible to help people at any level become masters of mastery: learners who expand their skills, knowledge and understanding daily. These three things can help you and others become high-payoff learners.

  1. Publicize and reward the power of “noviceness.”Many of the most effective, innovative leaders are willing to be beginners, to acknowledge they don’t know things, and to open themselves up to acquiring emerging skills and knowledge necessary for success. You likely have some of those in your company. Find them, and find ways to showcase them — for not just their achievements but also the learning process they went through to get there. Point out how they tried new approaches, made mistakes, got better and finally succeeded. Most people — most companies — tend to emphasize only the happy outcome, rather than the learning that came before the success. Focusing only on the end product reinforces people’s unrealistic, and unhelpful, expectations about having to be expert at all times. Learning leaders can make sure people are acknowledged for doing the learning that leads to better results.
  2. Make sure learning is happening in learning. Janet has the right idea about having her team model openness to learning. She just has to help them see the value for them and the rest of the organization. People often only want to do new potentially daunting things when they can see the personal benefits of doing them. So, rather than trying to convince them to participate in the pilot management skills course, she could go back to them and ask: “How might it benefit you to be a part of the pilot? How might it benefit our function? How might it benefit the company?” If they can answer those questions in ways that are meaningful to them, they’re more likely to attend and benefit from the training.
  3. Recognize the inevitability of “being bad first.” Humans love to be good at things. But every time we need to learn something new, we’ll likely be bad at first. When you’re attempting to get good in a new area of skill or knowledge, you’re going to feel clumsy, make mistakes, have to ask 101-level questions. You can’t change that, but you can make the process easier by simply accepting it. Tell yourself and others: “We’re going to be bad at this until we get good at it.” If Janet can help herself, her staff and their senior executives shift their mindset into “accepting being bad,” at the start of new learning, it will make them feel less pressured, more capable and hopeful. That will make it easier for everyone to learn and grow.


AUTHOR:  Erika Andersen is the founder of Proteus, a consulting, coaching, and training firm and author of “Be Bad First: Get Good at Things Fast to Stay Ready for the Future.” 



Ten Steps to Building a Learning Culture

A learning culture is an environment that celebrates and rewards learning, incents people to freely share what they know, and helps them to change based on the acquisition of new skills and knowledge. We all like to think we work in a positive learning culture, but that’s not always the case.

There’s no question that learning is likely to fail if it’s poorly designed, the content is weak, or the technology doesn’t work. But learning will absolutely fail if the culture doesn’t support it. As I mentioned in The Three Laws of eLearning Failure, when great learning comes up against a lousy learning culture, the culture wins every time.

But it doesn’t have to be this way. Here are 10 key steps to building a positive learning culture in your organization:

  1. Start with leadership. Culture begins at the top. If senior leadership doesn’t support a learning culture, no one else will. If you are looking for a breakthrough, find leaders who will invest in and champion your efforts, even if the project is smaller, or less visible or significant than you would like. You need some initial success stories to help spread your message.
  2. Expand the mission. You’re going nowhere if you simply equate learning with training. Learning—individual and organizational—is much broader than courses. Don’t make the mistake of talking “learning” but doing only “training.” Think more about a learning and performance ecosystem than simply a course catalog, and then act accordingly.
  3. Get buy-in from the front line. If you want employees to learn, make sure their supervisors learn first. You can’t expect them to get behind something they don’t understand themselves. Build support for learning into their appraisals and reward managers who put learning near the top of their team’s agenda.
  4. Get the content right. Putting lots of content out there does nothing to encourage learning if the content is confusing, inauthentic, biased, low value, hard to access, incomplete, or just plain wrong. Content curation may be the most important thing you can do.
  5. Get the technology right. It’s not just about making sure the technology works, but making sure it’s the right technology for the right use. Be careful the technology doesn’t get in the way of learning, or that you are not using more tech than you need. Technology is important; learning without technology cannot scale, but technology without learning is just a “shiny object.”
  6. Ensure readiness to learn. One of the biggest factors in fostering a poor learning culture is providing learning programs to people who aren’t ready for them or who don’t need them. This can be terribly demotivating. Make sure your learners have the right prerequisites, have clear learning goals, and have adequate time and resources to learn, and are not wasting their time. Provide them with valued incentives to learn, and be sure you understand why they might be resistant to your efforts.
  7. Communicate for the long term. Launching new learning programs can sometimes be more hype than substance. Of course you need to promote your efforts, but be sure your communications strategies are long-term, valuable in the learners’ eyes (“what’s in it for me”), and truly helps them develop their own positive affinity for the learning process itself—an affinity that can be contagious if enough people buy into it.
  8. Provide for learning transfer. Making sure that what they learn in class they can apply at work is critical. And it’s just not being able to do what you’ve been taught; it’s also recognizing that what you’ve been taught is actually helpful to you in doing your job better and easier. The connection between job performance and learning is a key to building a sustainable learning culture.
  9. Demonstrate success. Better to have a small success than a big failure. Demonstration projects, pilots, and proof-of-concept work are all essential in building support for learning. As was noted in step one, culture begins at the top, but it’s also important for rank-and-file to see how the new learning programs work, and how they might benefit. Showing success is much more powerful than just talking about it
  10. Measure results and provide feedback. You want to measure how much is learned, but perhaps more important from a culture. perspective, you want to measure the value people attach to learning. And, of course, nothing speaks louder than the positive impact learning has on individual and organizational performance. So go beyond measuring course-level learning. Find out the real impact of the program on participants and the organization.

Use these 10 steps as a checklist for your organization, if you like. How well are you doing?

Learning fails when nobody really cares about it. You can always mandate learning programs, or hype them incessantly, but that is not culture change. If you truly want your learning and performance strategy to have a positive and sustainable impact—if you really want people to want to learn and the organization to want to invest in learning—you must create an atmosphere of value, support, and appreciation for what you are offering. Without it, people may just be going through the motions.


AUTHOR:  Marc J. Rosenberg, Ph.D., is a management consultant, writer, educator, and expert in the world of training, organizational learning, eLearning, knowledge management and performance improvement. He is the author of the best-selling books, E-Learning: Strategies for Delivering Knowledge in the Digital Age (McGraw-Hill), and Beyond E-Learning: Approaches and Technologies to Enhance Organizational Knowledge, Learning and Performance (Wiley/Pfeiffer).

Reprinted from LEARNING SOLUTIONS magazine


Are You Developing Female Leaders?

When mentoring young women, Skillsoft’s Priti Shah always makes it a point to urge them to advocate for themselves.

“It’s always a quid pro quo,” said Shah, Skillsoft’s vice president of leadership product strategy and corporate development. “The moment the company gives you the opportunity to advocate for yourself, take the bull by its horns — make sure you’re making the most of the development opportunities that are being given to you.”

Shah counts herself fortunate to have worked for companies supportive of her leadership development over her career, but she isn’t naive about the broader reality: a dearth of women in positions of leadership, especially at the senior and C-suite levels.

So she said she was surprised but not-so-surprised at the results of a November survey that revealed not only a lack of women in positions of leadership but also a lack of support to facilitate their mobility to such roles.

In “The Impact of Women in the Workforce: A Skillsoft Survey Report,” while more than 90 percent of female respondents “agree” or “strongly agree” there is an imbalance of women in leadership roles in business today, and just over half of respondents said their organizations having programs targeted to developing female leaders was important, only 24 percent of participants said their organization had a strategy or program in place to that end.

Shah said part of her lack of shock at the survey results was due to the fact that public awareness of the value of women in leadership is still in its infancy. Much of the research substantiating the impact of gender-diverse leadership has only started surfacing in the last 18 to 24 months, she explained. Only now are organizations receiving more pressure to take action.

Research shows that organizations with high levels of gender diversity are more likely to exceed financial performance averages in their respective industries, and further, that organizations with better financial performance or more likely to have women in leadership positions.

“There’s so much research out there that shows if you do have more gender-balanced representation in your executive staff, on your boards, it’s not only the right thing to do, it also has a direct impact on the financials of a company,” Shah said. “The moment you start bringing facts and figures in to amplify what the moral issue is here, there is a lot of awareness.”

Strategically turning this narrative around requires a number of tactics in addition to educating both men and women about the need for leadership development in women.

Build champions: Until boardrooms make a mix of gender representation a business objective, “we’re not going to see the dial move as much as we’d like to,” Shah said. Driving organizational support of the measures necessary to nurture female leaders from within should come from the top down.

“Less talk, more action”: Once stakeholders have been made aware of the issue, that is. Shah called formal and informal mentorship and sponsorship programs for women critical to change the status quo.

“In order to break the barriers of the ‘old boys’ club,’ it’s absolutely necessary for women to know it’s OK to network. It’s OK to have champions and sponsors and mentors who are advocating for them and proposing their name for the right projects, so that they get the opportunities to showcase their hard work, their potential.’

Shah said in instances where mentees worked at organizations without a strategic focus on developing female leaders, she’s encouraged them to actively seek out mentors within their respective organizations. If the advancement of women into leadership is valuable for a company’s culture and mission, such initiatives should be normalized and encouraged.

Further, initiatives should develop women at all levels. Shah said companies that haven’t experienced the type of success they would have liked may be narrowly focused on only a select group of women.

Leverage the power of big data: Research and data have revealed a problem — a disparity in gender representation in organizational leadership. Research and data also have revealed the associated consequence, and they point to an opportunity to change directions. Shah said data analytics now available and used for a range of purposes can inform and add value to corporate decision-making when creating programs and strategies to develop female leaders, and they can measure the effect of those efforts.

“They’re able to measure and track everything, and they can feel good about the fact that as they’re making these investments, they’re getting the return on investment,” she said.

This article first appeared in Talent Management’s sister publication, Chief Learning Officer. Bravetta Hassell is a Diversity Executive associate editor.


The Power of Counterintuitive Thinking in Leadership Development

Some things in life are counterintuitive. The Mpemba Effect is one of them. Writer Mike Williams observed in Science magazine that “One of water’s lesser know properties is that hot water freezes faster than cold water. It is not fully understood why, but the phenomenon, known as the Mpemba Effect, was originally discovered by Aristotle over 3,000 years ago.”

A more recently observed and widely recognized counterintuitive puzzle is what is known as The Monty Hall Paradox. It’s loosely based on the 1960s-70s daytime TV game show, “Let’s Make a Deal,” and is named after its longtime host, Monty Hall.

During the show a participant would be asked by Hall to pick one of three doors to open, and would be awarded the prize hidden behind the door selected. One of the doors concealed a prize of great value (like an expensive vacation), while behind the other two were prizes of low value (like a live goat).

But before opening the participant’s selected door, Hall would open up one of the other two doors, revealing a low value prize. The participant was then given the option to stay with the door originally selected, or switch to the other unopened door.

Standard thinking suggests that it doesn’t matter whether the participant switches doors. The common belief is that, with a car behind one of the remaining unopened doors and a goat behind the other, the chances of getting the car are 50/50 no matter which door is chosen.

Those participants who employed that thinking paid a price.

In fact, statistics show that it always made sense to switch doors. As Alex Stone described it in Discover magazine, “If you switched, the only way you could lose was to have originally picked the door with the prize behind it. But the odds of that were 1 in 3, while there was a two-thirds chance that the prize was behind one of the other two doors. So switching was the same as betting that the first guess was wrong — which it probably was.”

An ability to accept and embrace counterintuitive concepts like these is important to leaders because they face a similar paradox in their own careers. A commonly held belief is that the process of developing leaders must begin by finding and fixing their weaknesses. That belief is built on the underlying assumption that their performance is limited by their weakest competencies.

Because the level of the lowest competency sets the bar for any leader’s overall success, so the thinking goes, that competency needs to be improved and the weakness fixed. Great organizational effort (and often, pain) is undertaken in discovering and communicating these weaknesses to leaders. In turn, leaders are expected to work on these weaknesses to get them fixed.

Weaknesses Don’t Make Leaders Exceptional

Having leaders focus their development on their weaknesses is a traditional approach, widely accepted, but not very effective. This is because great leaders are differentiated by the existence of profound strengths, not the absence of weaknesses. Focusing on fixing weaknesses may elevate a poor leader up to average, but it never made any leader exceptional. Great leaders distinguish themselves by possessing and exhibiting significant strengths in areas that are important to their jobs. They don’t stand out because they’re perfect and have no weaknesses.

In fact, the commonly held belief that the existence of weaknesses will necessarily limit a leader’s job performance is a serious misperception that has taken many leaders down the wrong development path.

A quick way to observe the fallacy of that logic is to consider some of the world’s greatest leaders and take a quick inventory of their strengths and weaknesses. Whether they stood out in military, political, scientific, commercial or other roles, it’s easy to develop a list of the profound strengths that set these leaders apart. They delivered exceptional results because they brought exceptional and easy-to-spot capabilities in areas that really mattered.

However, it’s also usually well-known that they weren’t perfect (think Ulysses S. Grant or Steve Jobs). It’s likely that a list of weaknesses could be easily developed, too. It would be rare to find outstanding leaders who had none. But the key to these great leaders’ successes was their extraordinary strengths — ones so exceptional that the existence of some weaknesses didn’t hinder their overall effectiveness and achievements.

For these reasons the most effective development approach for most leaders is to build a few profound strengths that will help them stand out in competencies that matter. If successful, those they lead will focus on and appreciate their abilities and not their disabilities.

The path to this strengths-based approach starts with leaders selecting the right competencies to develop, and that requires some important insights in three areas. Identifying where these three areas overlap will help leaders make the right selections:

1. Their current competency strengths. Building on an already solid foundation is the quickest and most effective way to develop profound strengths. Open, honest and direct feedback (most often through a 360-degree survey of the leader’s manager, direct reports, peers and others) can help leaders understand where they stand and which competencies can most likely and quickly be developed to an exceptional level.

2. The competencies that most matter to the organization. The skills and behaviors critical for success to a supply-chain executive in an established global manufacturer may be very different than those important to the CFO of a startup technology firm. It’s important for leaders to develop profound strengths in competency areas that will have the greatest impact on their jobs and most matter to those they lead.

Building a capability in a less-relevant job area is likely to neither matter nor be noticed by others. Understanding what’s important to the organization is also efficiently done through a survey specifically designed for that purpose.

3. The competencies that most matter to them. Developing themselves and improving others’ perceptions of their leadership capabilities can be hard work. Leaders should consider which competencies are most important and interesting to them. Working on something they enjoy and consider essential to their own futures will feel more like a positive personal challenge than negative, weakness-centered drudgery.

The result is they’ll often find themselves working harder and more consistently on their development plans. Their own passions are an important element for leaders to consider when selecting competencies they want to build into profound strengths.

An Exception: When to Focus on Weaknesses

There is a situation where leaders should temporarily defer their focus on building strengths and instead focus on fixing a weakness — that’s when the weakness is both profound (and not merely a “rough edge”) and is a competency that’s critical to the leader’s job or career success. This type of weakness potentially represents a fatal flaw and it’s found in roughly one-quarter of the tens of thousands of leaders the author’s firm has assessed and trained.

Leaders can assess whether they have a fatal flaw by looking at the overlap of two measures. The first is the existence of strong negative feedback in a specific competency area. This is commonly reflected in a low 360 feedback score, but a leader may also learn about it as a result of informal negative feedback from colleagues, in more formal performance reviews or in other settings.

When this kind of negative feedback overlaps with the second measure — a competency assessed as critical in the leader’s current job — it could indicate a fatal flaw. In some situations a leader may receive strong negative feedback, but in a competency area not important in the position. It’s likely in these cases that the leader doesn’t have a fatal flaw, and focusing on fixing that weakness may have a limited impact on overall success.

The ultimate test of a possibly unhealthy fruit tree is to inspect the fruit it produces. A similar type of inspection can help a leader confirm the existence of a fatal flaw. The ultimate indicator of a fatal flaw is being passed over for promotions, failing to be considered for growth opportunities or failure in the current job. If these are shown, it’s likely there are one or more fatal flaws actively offsetting any positive impacts from the leader’s strengths.

Looking at the cases of two accounting executives can help illustrate the difference between a fatal flaw and a less serious weakness. In both cases the executives are exceptional, efficient accountants, but neither is seen as being a powerful, effective communicator. In one case, the executive leads a team responsible for efficiently producing standard accounting reports for internal use.

Is not being a great communicator a fatal flaw for this executive? Probably not — it’s unlikely to result in job failure. In the other case the executive is responsible for not only understanding the accounting reports, but also for communicating and positioning the financial results to the board of directors and external investment community. Not being a great communicator probably is a fatal flaw for this executive.

Like the Mpemba Effect and the Monty Hall Paradox, for many people the idea of building on strengths to develop leaders is counterintuitive. But as George Washington Carver once wrote, “When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way, you will command the attention of the world.”

The leadership corollary is that when leaders can do the important things in their jobs in an exceptional way, they will command the attention of those they lead and the rest of the organization. Now that’s not a paradox.

About the Author:

Bob Sherwin is chief operating officer of Zenger Folkman, a leadership development firm.  Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Monetizing Leadership Development

A learning leader is sitting at “the table” about to make a proposal to the C-group for funding for a new leadership development program.

It is an expensive venture, and the argument will have to be compelling because this will be the only opportunity to make the sale. It requires an attention-getter.

Open with a sentence like this: “Effective leadership drives productivity, operating revenue, cost management and profitability.” No one will disagree with that.

The second sentence could be: “It is imperative that a leadership development program’s outputs make a connection with those financial outcomes.” That will grab attention.

Now, they are waiting to hear how to connect leadership to making money.

Management consultant Peter Drucker posed the most basic question about leadership. He asked, “Leadership for what purpose?” The learning leader can respond by describing how he or she will monetize leadership.

Simply put, leadership equals market plus organization plus individual.

Revenue-generating leadership is a function of analyzing market forces plus the organization’s culture and desired individual (leader) behaviors.

Then, through predictive modeling, learning leaders connect the human and the financial sides of the business.

Predictive Analytics

Learning leaders are smart enough to know they can’t just buy a leadership development program, plug it into an unanalyzed environment and expect positive results.

Leadership is a complex phenomenon involving more than just individual behavior. It is about the interactions among the organization’s vision, brand and culture as they are affected by market forces and management’s strategic plans.

Building an effective leadership model requires an analysis and integration of where — the market; what — the organization; and who — the culture with leader character and behavior.

1. Where — the market: When convincing the powers that be to fund leadership development, start by describing why it is necessary that the C-group provide intelligence on future market fundamentals.

They already have studied this to prepare their business plan. The learning leader needs their conclusions regarding the following issues. Do they believe:

• The economy will grow, be steady or decline in the organization’s market sector?

• Competition will become stronger or weaker, and are there market disruptors on the horizon?

• Customer trends and demands will affect innovation, price, delivery, quality and service?

• Technology advances will enhance employee ability to communicate and perform?

• Skilled labor availability will become easier or more difficult to acquire?

• Government regulations will affect the business?

Change will occur during the next three to five years, but the directions it will come from will have different consequences. For instance, a change in regulations drives one type of management change.

A change in technology will drive another, and changes in customer trends will require yet another type of response and therefore leadership.

2. What — the organization: When making the pitch for funding, the learning leader will describe how the CEO’s vision, the company’s brand and the corporate culture must be aligned and integrated.

These three elements must be coherent, otherwise the employees will be confused. They won’t know what to value or prioritize, how to treat customers or how to work together.

Will people come to the company for top quality or low prices? Will innovation, exceptional service or operating efficiency be paramount?

Leadership is different depending on the brand promise and the culture.

How will financials affect leading? Does the C-group foresee a long-term positive or negative trend in market growth?

Will there be major investments in technology? Leading growth is different from directing cost reductions or transforming the culture.

3. Who — the individual: Remind the C-group that the act of leading is a combination of character and skill.

What kinds of values, attitudes and beliefs do they want to see in their leaders? What are the most important and preferred behavioral skills? How do these support the desired corporate culture?

Assessment providers can carry out a study of the current and potential leaders along a number of predetermined abilities.

Accepting that the assessment provider has researched traits for effective leadership, the learning leader is still left with Drucker’s question: for what? Clarify the vision, brand and culture.

The following are a typical set of leadership traits from assessment company SHL:

• Leading and deciding.
• Supporting and cooperating.
• Interacting and presenting.
• Analyzing and interpreting.
• Creating and conceptualizing.
• Organizing and executing.
• Adapting and coping.
• Enterprising and performing.

Potential leaders are assessed on their level of proficiency on such a set. Now connect leaders to the business and predict how the leadership program makes money.

Note: A not-for-profit still must operate efficiently to fulfill its organizational charter, such as providing cost-effective services to its constituency.

Predictive Modeling

Next is the seminal task of the leadership development model: predicting value generation. The learning leader now has to show the C-group how to bond the leadership model to financial outcomes.

This predictive leadership model could open with a study of the market and the organization. This sets the stage to consider the current competencies and future capabilities of the workforce.

First, top management has made its strategic business plans. Competitive advantage comes from replacing generic skills with specific capabilities appropriate for the organization’s plans.

Objectives within the strategic plans are business side issues such as revenue, market share, EBITDA margin — or earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization — and total cost of workforce, along with other financial metrics.

On the human side there are the assessment data. The assessment scores show the level of capability across the various leadership characteristics. To monetize leader skills with the business plan, apply structured equation modeling.

Depending on the problem, select a predictive statistic to link the two sides. Learn how each of the assessment variables can affect the strategic plan goals.

Development Experiences and Financial Connections

In a development tool kit there should be a number of methods to help people learn and grow. Developmental tools are the resources learning leaders apply to the individual skill and knowledge gaps that assessments expose.

For example, if there are deficiencies regarding decision-making, give people a model to study or a course to attend. Interaction problems might be dealt with through mentoring.

Analysis and creativity might be improved through some focused on-the-job training. The point is to match development resources with the assessed deficiencies.

Often development blankets are thrown over everyone regardless of specific needs. Experiments have shown the strongest correlation of effective learning is the recipients’ feeling about what they need to know. Absent that, the development investment is almost totally wasted.

The client’s initial reaction to the HCIS is, “We could never collect that data.” The second is, “We wouldn’t know what to do with it if we had it.” Someone likely will challenge the first objection by pointing out that their HR services already produce most of the raw data, but they have not organized it this way.

Handle the second concern through a couple days of training. The base is accounting logic. This model just requires a commitment to monetize the human capital side.

As the learning leader concludes the presentation to the C-group, they should recognize how the development program will contribute to financial results. Congratulations — the program should be funded.

Jac Fitz-enz is founder and CEO of the Human Capital Source. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Gamification: Deloitte’s Leadership Learning Motivator

Professional services firm Deloitte LLP needed a way to increase engagement on the Deloitte Leadership Academy, its online learning portal for leaders. The portal, which was launched in 2008 and gives Deloitte leaders access via their laptops, smartphones or tablet computers, was designed to streamline content into 12 areas of study and equip leaders with the competencies needed to be successful in the firm’s global business.

But a year ago the program was falling short of the firm’s desired participation, so some of its learning and digital strategy leaders got together to create a solution.

“We were thinking about how can we increase participation and engagement of this platform?” said James Sanders, product manager for the Deloitte Leadership Academy. “Because training content is not always the first thing a person thinks of when they have some free time.”

The challenge was making the learning experience on the Deloitte Leadership Academy more fun, rewarding and engaging for the user. The answer was gamification.

By maximizing variations of gaming techniques used in other traditional educational settings — such as school, where students are placed into levels, handed grades and given rewards for achievements — Deloitte’s learning leaders could motivate its workforce to increase participation in the online portal.

“People are used to being in a very ‘gamified’ environment when they’re going through an educational process,” Sanders said. “And we thought, ‘How could we replicate this digitally on the Leadership Academy?’ That’s where we started to work with Badgeville.”

Started in 2010, the Badgeville gamification platform aims to use rewards and recognition — badges — to help clients maximize engagement and drive behavior through the Web.

“We define [gamification] as taking things that work inside games and then applying them to things that aren’t games,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm. “By rewarding people, mostly by the way of purely virtual rewards, you’re able to drive a very high level of engagement that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

After working with Badgeville on the integration for a few months, Deloitte recently rolled out the completely gamified version of the portal this spring.

“People are already earning badges, [and] people are sharing those badges on LinkedIn and Twitter, which is great because if they’re sharing with their external network then they obviously value them enough to boast about them,” Sanders said.

Users’ ability to share learning achievements through social media is also a major reason why gamification is a successful engagement driver, said Frank Farrall, lead partner of Deloitte Digital in Australia.

Also, Badgeville’s platform includes a leader board, so users can see where they stack up on learning objectives in relation to their peers.

Farrall said it’s not just people’s desire to compete with one another that has made gamifying the platform more engaging; users also have found the learning motivating because they want to try and compete against their own achievements, to “beat their personal best.”

Sanders said it’s too early to collect data showing just how much Badgeville’s usage has increased participation. But there is already empirical evidence showing more engaged behaviors in the portal.

“I don’t think this will increase usage for every single user, but there are a portion of our users that this will really engage — because they’re competitive people, and they’re driven by those types of competitive techniques,” Sanders said.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

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