THE start of a new year is a natural opportunity to reset expectations and launch fresh initiatives in all areas of business. If you are tasked with developing frontline leaders in your organisation, then you are no doubt looking for ways to boost your success this year.

I believe there are three key factors you need to consider in your plans this year if you want to greatly increase your return on investment in leadership development, putting your organisation in a position to lead the market this year and beyond:


The changing business landscape

The business world followed a fairly predictable path for most of the 20th century, apart from a few extreme periods. However, these were always followed by a return to “business as usual”. All that is changing.

We are now operating in the new world of the 21st century, one that is being described by some using the acronym “VUCA”. While the term has been around since the 1990s in military circles, it is a relative new one to the business vocabulary and stands for:

•   Volatility: The dynamics and speed of change;

•   Uncertainty: A lack of predictability and the likelihood of surprise;

•   Complexity: The chaos caused by multiple forces at play; and

•   Ambiguity: A hazy reality that sends mixed meanings.


The American Society for Training and Development, which has recently changed its name to the Association for Talent Development to keep up with shifts in its industry, has released an article on “The key to success in a VUCA world”. It believes that in order to succeed in this world, leaders must be able to:

•           Create an environment of openness that values discovery, diverse perspectives and experimentation;

•           Detect weak signals that foretell shifts in customer loyalty or opportunities enabled by new technology;

•           Conduct iterative dialogues that put new ideas into the context of the company’s work and translate new information into differentiating capabilities;

•           Unpack business challenges to reveal the learning gaps for individuals, teams and the organisation’s practices, processes and systems; and

•           Strengthen thoughtful decision making in the organisation.


If this is the environment in which your next generation of frontline leaders will be operating, how well are your development programmes preparing them? If you are still relying on outdated methods and content focused on “business as usual” skill sets, you will find it increasingly difficult to attract and retain the best and the brightest.



Stagnant growth of leadership development

For any field to thrive, it needs to be continually improving. A study by Development Dimensions International and the Conference Board should give anyone who is responsible for developing leaders in their organisation cause for reflection on the subject of continuous improvement.

They revealed that only one in four HR professionals rated the quality of their leaders as high and that only 15 per cent of organisations thought that their supply of leaders ready to step in to fill vital leadership roles was strong.

Just 37 per cent of leaders rated the quality of their organisation’s development programmes as high. The final figure was the same for DDI’s last two leadership forecasts, which means there appears to have been no improvement over the past seven years.

It is sobering to think that no recent advances have been made in the way we develop leaders.

That is a long time to remain stagnant, especially when in that same timeframe we have seen many changes to the way businesses operate that directly impact on the role of frontline leaders.

So what does your organisation have planned to prevent another year going by without any discernable change to the way you develop your most important leadership assets?



A new generation entering the workforce

The issue of generational difference came to prominence more than 10 years ago when organisations struggled to understand the needs of Gen Y employees as they entered the workforce.

Since then most people have come to terms with this cohort and have settled back into a more comfortable routine. However, the lessons learnt from that experience are about to be revived as another new generation arrives on the scene.

Demographer Mark McCrindle is a leading researcher in this field and his summation of this latest generation of workers is that they are:


 Globally focused as a result of technology that has linked the world;

 Visually engaged, preferring video to text to cope with information overload;

 Educationally transformed via changing teaching paradigms; and

 Socially defined, with online relationships dominant in their lives.

While these factors will play a part in the adaptions required to integrate them into the workforce, the real challenge may in fact not be older generations having to yet again adjust for newcomers. It may actually be that for the first time Gen Y will need to learn how to cope with the demands of workers who have a different take on work.