Overcoming the Leadership Development Drought: Case Study

Is something missing with employee engagement? After all, American corporations spend over $4 billion each year on developing the leadership skills of executives and senior managers. This commitment is time-intensive and costly. Given the current state of employee engagement in the nation’s workplace you must doubt this to be a wise investment. Is something missing from this investment that is effecting the payback of leadership development efforts? Could it be that very little of that investment goes where leadership development is needed the most? Is the front line supervisor being left out. What about the leadership of the front line itself? Should they be responsible for their own employee engagement?

American businesses are creating a leadership drought of their own making. As more and more boomers retire, leadership development, as commonly practiced, is causing a crisis. Employee engagement is going to continue to decline, this can be averted if you act.

Think of a flash flood in the dry season. Only the first inch of topsoil gets wet. Very little of that precious water seeps through the hardened topsoil to nourish the roots of the plants growing there. All the rest becomes run-off. It’s the same with leadership development and employee engagement—too much leadership development becomes run-off because it only occurs at the very top. The goal must be to get leadership development to seep deeply into all levels of the company…to the roots.

This is exactly what one organization realized when they were experiencing high levels of employee entitlement, low productivity, high absenteeism, and low employee engagement despite spending several thousands of dollars annually on leadership development. It was not penetrating to the deepest levels. Another problem was the learning was more theory based and (not even) senior leaders knew how to apply them in their world. This is a problem with employee engagement for the vast majority of companies.

Things kept getting worse until they were able to include the front line employees as partners in leadership development.  In addition, they were able to implement practical ways to increase the leadership development of everyone by using employee engagement activities and identifying which ones to use at the right time.

Their collaborative employee engagement activities focused on:

  • Feeling Valued – people learn what is needed to feel valued and what appropriate rewards are
  • Motivation – their abilities are recognized and utilized
  • Openness – they are receptive to new ideas and feel safe to talk freely
  • Ownership – take ownership for getting their needs met and meeting the needs of others instead of complaining behind backs
  • Difference Management – learn to create collaborative relationships with individual colleagues despite being different (having different needs, not race, color, or age)
  • Giving and Receiving Feedback – learn appropriate and effective ways to give and receive feedback
  • Conflict Management – learn to engage in proactive feedback and not wait for dysfunctional conflict.

The employee engagement activities were needs based and enabled all levels to realize their own role in leadership development. The company is now able to experience leadership development growth at all levels. In addition, their productivity and attendance problems have all but disappeared. While their transformation is ongoing (and never ending) they were able to experience results almost immediately.

The ROI on their theory based leadership development is still difficult for them to calculate while the ROI on their employee engagement activities is over 500%. Now they can say their leadership development drought is coming to an end.

Note: The activities were launched due to results compiled from an employee engagement survey using the Satisfaction@Work Index. Go here to learn how to receive free employee engagement surveys using the Satisfaction@Work Index.

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