The first critical step is to thoroughly understand your organization’s business strategy.
By Bob Hewes, senior partner, Camden Consulting
In today’s business environment, it is critical that your leadership development (LD) efforts are aligned to your business strategy. By doing so, your LD efforts will have a greater impact on the business.
The critical first step in aligning your LD efforts to your business strategy is to understand that strategy. It might sound funny, but this important step often is missed. I don’t mean a passing glance at understanding the business strategy. Rather, you need to understand it thoroughly. Get at the characteristics that define it; be able to describe it in depth and in terms of decisions. A good test or two of understanding would be to list at least five decisions your organization has made that define the strategy or to be able to describe how your business strategy is different from a competitor’s. Once you have a good description of the strategy, you can begin to align your LD efforts to it because you will know where and how to make alignment choices.
With a firm understanding of your business strategy, the next step is to look at the different parts of your LD efforts and the decisions you can make to each one. By adjusting your LD efforts, you can bring them into better alignment with the business strategy. Here are five strategies that will increase the alignment between your LD efforts and the business strategy. The key question to ask is “How can we bring our LD efforts into better alignment with the business strategy?”
Tailor personal and 360-degree assessments to the business strategy. The first place to start is the assessments you use in any LD program, as these are the front end of leadership development work. For example, modify your 360-degree assessment so more of it is directed to the strategy. At a minimum, as it might be too costly to change your competency model, you can have the analysis of the 360-degree highlight certain strategically related items. Another choice is to select personal style assessments that tie directly to elements of a business strategy. For instance, maybe “change” is an important implication of your business strategy. Identify parts of existing assessments that can be emphasized and related to change. Or, identify and use a particular assessment that focuses directly on change.
Select development goals related to the business strategy. When people identify goals, have them describe in their plan how the goal ties back to the business strategy. This activity gets people thinking about how goals relate to the business and why they should tackle a particular development goal. You could take this even further by having a common goal specifically related to your business strategy. Each person’s development plan that comes from an LD program would have this common goal.
Tie training to the business strategy. In general, you have a choice of training topics and the design of the training. Based on your understanding of the business strategy, pick training topics specifically related to it. With the topic choice made, you can design the training to be based on the business strategy. For example, have any training open with a review of the business strategy and vision: Explicitly say how this training ties back to the business strategy. Have a senior leader kick off the training. He or she can describe exactly how the training relates to the current business strategy. At the end of the training, have participants identify their personal takeaways and how they relate to the business strategy.
Select Action Learning projects directly related to the business strategy. Many organizations use Action Learning as part of their LD efforts. This allows participants to practice their development goals. The key decision is selecting the projects. Select those that best fit and push forward the business strategy. Work with your business leaders to identify the best projects. You can imagine a senior leader kicking off an Action Learning session describing how the chosen projects directly tie to the strategy. That would be a powerful alignment instance.
Create a hybrid LD strategy. The prior four strategies are independent. That gives you the opportunity to string them together. Depending on your particular situation, you may be able to combine all four strategies and take action in each area. Or maybe it is just tackling two of them. The key point is to look at each of your decisions in the above strategies, and, depending on your budget, the organization’s particular state, and the appetite for change, choose an overall combination that maximizes alignment to the business strategy and is doable.
From the above strategies, you have many choices that will increase alignment of your LD efforts to your business strategy. The good news is that many of the choices are low cost. By going through each part of your leadership development efforts, you can make decisions and modifications that will create an LD program much more aligned with your business strategy.
Robert Hewes is a senior partner with Camden Consulting, with oversight for leadership development and management training. A strategist, facilitator, and coach, he designs and delivers executive coaching and leadership development services for Camden clients. For more information on Camden Consulting Group, visit www.camdenconsulting.com.