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The strategy for better leadership development: Measure twice, cut once

Note: A version of this was previously published on Forbes.

Many CHROs and heads of leadership development invest huge sums of money to build better leaders. However, research continually shows a high degree of disappointment with the outcomes. Let’s face it, even with billions of dollars being spent on leadership development, there are still far too many ineffective leaders. 

In conversations with CHROs, I repeatedly hear about how few of them honestly believe that all that time, effort, and money produced the desired results. 

Why are these solutions such a bad fit? In my experience, few organizations take the time at the start to measure the gap between where their leaders are now, and where they need them to be in the future. I call this the “leadership accountability gap.” 

If we look at skilled tradespeople, they live by the mantra that you should always measure twice and cut once when building something important. 

The brilliance of this simple philosophy is obvious but elegant: you measure twice to ensure that you know the exact size of an object. Doing that ensures you don’t waste time, money, and resources by cutting something at the wrong length. Mistakes like this are wasteful, demoralizing, and – ultimately – the hallmarks of a bad tradesperson. 

I’ve often felt that CHROs can apply the same philosophy to leadership development. 

Measuring the global leadership accountability gap

Leadership accountability encompasses all the skills and traits the most successful leaders demonstrate on a day-to-day basis. Accountable leaders are selfless, self-aware, and committed to the success of the organization. They also own failures and share success with their teams. 

To quantify the leadership accountability gap, I conducted a global survey of senior business and HR leaders. The results were quite stunning: although nearly three-quarters of all respondents said leadership accountability is critical to their success, only 31 percent are satisfied with the degree of accountability being demonstrated by their leaders. 

That survey cut across sectors, industries, and geographies. And while it does capture the size of the problem on a global basis, it may not necessarily help you identify the size of the leadership accountability gap in your organization. 

CHROs need to use the right tool for the job: the leadership accountability gap audit

A carpenter uses a tape measure. An engineer may use GPS to measure the distance between two points. For CHROs, the tool we use is the Leadership Accountability Audit.

The audit is both a questionnaire and a process that gives CHROs an accurate measure of the accountability in your organization right now. It compiles the perspectives of key leaders who might not normally feel comfortable telling the C-suite what they see and hear daily. 

Why is a questionnaire necessary? In my book, Accountable Leaders, I wrote about the role of the CHRO in supporting the CEO and the Board by providing metrics on the state of leadership accountability and culture within the organization. Everyone – from C-suite leaders to the HR department – needs metrics on the state of the organization’s leadership culture. These measurements are vital to not only help the board and CEO connect leadership to business outcomes, but also devise a plan if the data reveals weaknesses. 

The questionnaire takes direct aim at the most important qualities of accountable leaders and their impact on organizations: 

  • That leadership accountability is a critical business issue and a top priority in an organization. 
  • The level of leadership accountability that exists at the current time. 
  • That the organization sets clear accountability expectations for leaders. 
  • Whether the organization tolerates bad behavior and substandard performance from its leaders and teams or confronts under-performers to improve overall accountability. 
  • The level of accountability that exists at all levels of an organization, from the board down through the C-suite and to frontline managers. 

The questionnaire also includes open-ended questions to allow your leaders to describe, in their own words, the current state of leadership accountability. These questions are intended to draw out actual examples of accountable and unaccountable leadership behavior, along with the barriers and opportunities to building greater accountability. 

How can you ensure the audit has maximum impact at your organization? 

CHROs be warned: for those organizations suffering from a leadership accountability gap, the results are going to be a bit surprising and even unsettling. That’s okay – by measuring the size of the gap you are halfway home to building greater leadership accountability.  

Still, you may be wondering how you can use the audit results to build momentum. Here are three key strategies to help you maximize the value of the audit: 

  1. Involve leaders outside your executive team. The ELT needs to take the audit. But why not the extended leadership team? Typically, this means involving the ELT direct reports and middle and front-line managers. Including these leaders ensures that you are getting a view into leadership culture at all levels of the organization.
  2. Aggregate the data and report it to your leaders. It may seem like an overly simplistic strategy but aggregating and transparently reporting the data will build trust among leaders by demonstrating that you are truly committed to building a culture of accountable leadership. 
  3. Create a dashboard of meaningful measures. It is important to not treat this exercise as one-and-done. One must commit to regularly measuring progress on addressing any issues that emerge through your initial audit. Building a dashboard of a few meaningful measures, it will ensure that leadership accountability is always a topic of conversation among the executive team. 

Setting up a process to gather the metrics on leadership accountability is more than half the challenge of building a culture of accountability. The good news is that once those metrics are established, the path to accountability is much shorter. 

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We are Leadership Contract Inc (LCI), your partner in strategic leadership development. We help you operationalize leadership accountability at all levels of your organization so you can drive strategy, shape culture, and spark change.

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