Employee Owned Leadership Development

The large majority of people I speak with in my leadership development workshops understand the importance of employee owned leadership development. However, in the real world, the development process is nearly always owned by HR.

An employee owned development process will inevitably result in a more engaged workforce, more successful development programs, and a more rewarding environment for those delivering the programs.

With this in mind, how can we move from an environment where the organization drives the process to one where the employee does?

Transferring Power

The reason typical leadership development initiatives aren’t embraced by the employees they were designed for is because many organizations feel the need to dictate what areas employees spend time developing.

Just a few reasons for this:

  1. There is typically more experience with using development to manage poor performance vs. rewarding / encouraging superior performance.  That background inevitably influences the approaches we take towards leadership development, intentional or not.
  2. Development Professionals are typically working with limited resources and budget, so it is simpler – and viewed as cheaper – to provide a one size fits all approach to development.

While there are certainly many reasons you can use to justify a traditional approach to Leadership Development, it is important to understand that you simply can’t have it both ways.  The essence of “ownership” demands control and autonomy.  Whoever controls the process, owns the process.  If you genuinely want employees to own their development, you must be willing to relinquish control.

I am not advocating a laissez faire approach to development; just the opposite.  A structured approach is infinitely more important with an employee driven process.  Just remember that the goal of your structured process should be to support development, not control it.

Increasing Employee Buy-In

Despite your best efforts, you have likely experienced some lukewarm responses when introducing leadership development initiatives.  It is critical to approach any new initiative with a strong awareness of what I like to call the ghosts of development projects past.    Even if your project is “not like the others”, employees will assume that it is until proven otherwise.

Here are a few tips to get buy-in from your employees to your leadership development initiative.

  1. 1.       Ask Small / Deliver Big – Being mindful of those ghosts and previous development history, approach every new initiative with small wins in mind.  Look to start with smaller projects with a high probability of success and a big upside.  You can use a simple 2 hour leadership development session to initiate self-discovery and help employees identify development goals.  It requires a minimal time investment from employees and delivers immediate value for that investment.
  2. 2.       Charge Admission – Inclusion in your leadership development programs should be viewed as a privilege, not a requirement.  Think like a marketing professional and consider ways to position your programs as premium opportunities within the organization.  No one values things that are ‘free’ so require employees to ‘pay’ for admission through some sort of pre-requisite.  Clients have required employees to complete our Leadership Skills Profile and Development Guide to be considered for certain development programs.  Requiring skin in the game will go a long way to increase the perceived value of leadership development programs.
  3. Game-Day – Leadership Development for development sake is doomed for failure.  The organization needs to be open to and actively provide opportunities for employees looking for ways to express their development.  Safe opportunities to practice and higher stakes opportunities to demonstrate what they have learned on a big stage.  Similar to a triathlete registering for a ‘goal race’, working with employees to identify real world challenges gives them something to develop / train for and a concrete reason for committing to their leadership development.

Initiating the Change

Moving your organization towards an employee owned leadership development culture requires an organizational willingness to let go and an employee population willing to grab on.  The good news is that progress on either front with have a positive influence on both groups and will move you closer to an environment where employees are engaged in their own development.

Until next time, don’t forget to visit SigmaLeader.com to take advantage of our Leadership Skills Profile (LSP) Free Trial and ask us how the LSP can support an employee owned leadership development process.

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