I like to tell myself I’m mechanically inclined. After all, my undergraduate degree is in Mechanical Engineering, so I fancy myself a mechanic. But I’m not…
This past year, my wife’s car needed new brakes. Having the mechanic mentality, I thought I would tackle the problem myself. My qualifications ranged from having witnessed my dad replace his brakes a few times to successfully changing my own brakes on several occasions. The problem: it had been about 10 years since I last replaced brakes on a car. My confidence, however, remained intact since I figured this task was like riding a bike. And if I could save some money, all the more reason to forge ahead.
So, one Saturday I set aside about three hours to take care of it. I purchased all of the equipment and parts I needed and had them on standby. Just to be sure, and aid in my confidence, I even YouTubed it. I was ready to be a mechanic.
Eight hours later, bloody knuckled, frustrated, and two trips to the auto parts store later, I finally took her car for a test drive. Everything felt fine. Victory was mine! Frustrated satisfaction sank in. I had successfully vanquished yet another dragon… so I thought.
Fast forward six months and my wife came to me with a concern. Her car was making a funny, thumping noise in the back end. And while I hate to admit it, I had a strange sense of what it might be.
Sure enough, there was an issue with the brakes. I was hours from heading out of town on business so I took the car to my mechanic and let the experts take a look and track down the problem. After all, they would be faster, and the problem would be solved. I also didn’t have time to do the job twice.
The next day the mechanic called and asked, “Who did your brakes last time? You shouldn’t go back to that guy!” As I choked on my pride, I responded, “Oh yeah, I guess that guy is bad. I’ll be sure to come to you from now on!” There you have it. Solid proof. I’m not a mechanic.
Many companies we talk with at Solutions 21 have the same approach to talent development. They have internal training programs. They can do it themselves. They will make it a priority. They want to save a little money, etc. All of these pushbacks are pretty common. They’re also all true, and likely justified. But that doesn’t make them experts at developing their high-potential, talented employees.
The companies who try to do it on their own develop programs and presentations filled with hundreds of PowerPoint slides and matching good intentions. Where they miss the mark is in the details; the things experts may pick up on. Things like body language, veiled excuses, and biases that prevent the developmental efforts from hitting home and sticking. In the end, these efforts do not produce the expected results, their talent is not impressed with the lack-luster effort, and they may even end up losing talent who desires a company who will truly invest in their growth.
What makes it even harder is the accountability side. Helping someone overcome the habits that stand in the way of them reaching their true potential is challenging. It’s even more challenging when you must look them in the eye every day. Sometimes an objective party can help develop the accountability and discipline necessary to drive long-term habits that have lasting impact.
Developing talent is personal and doing it well is tough. Just as the case with mastering any skill: the more you practice, the better you get. Leaders must practice and build the habits necessary to help them hold their team accountable. They need to develop positive, engaged relationships that enable them to shine light on the challenging aspects of a teammate’s personality when necessary. They must commit to a culture of engagement and learning.
A recent study by Deloitte says that 94% of companies do not feel they are prepared to address their leadership issues. That’s the harsh reality. Being engaged, like developing talent, is tough and takes time.
Changing your culture also takes significant time and energy. For mid-market companies, this can be even more of a challenge because the leaders who might be the most impactful in developing the organization’s next leaders are the same ones who are deeply ingrained in operating the company. It’s a choice: spend time on making payroll or spend time on talent development. If it’s not part of the culture or a habit, it may seem daunting. Similar to the situation with my wife’s brakes; it takes longer, they think they have it right, and when it doesn’t turn out the way the thought, they still end up needing expert assistance.
Talent development continues to challenge many organizations. In fact, 71% of Millennials are not satisfied with the developmental programs offered by their companies. At Solutions 21, we find it almost never has to do with the lack of desire, capability, or passion. It does, however, have a lot to do with capacity. Experienced leaders desire to grow their team but do not have the time to build the programs and momentum necessary to achieve results.
If this is a challenge you find with your organization, consider hiring someone who has developed the expertise and practices handling these kinds of challenges with greater frequency. In the end, you will get the results you need faster, cheaper, and with higher quality.